Does Anthropogenic Disturbance Influence Defensive Behavior of Radio-Telemetered Crotalus atrox in National Monuments?

Cocks, Karina                                                                                                                                             

Department of Biological Sciences and                                                                                                               Colorado Plateau Research Station                                                                                                                 Northern Arizona University                                                                                                                         Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Nowak, Erika M.                                                                                                                                            

School of Earth and Sustainability and                                                                                                   Department of Biological Sciences                                                                                                            

Northern Arizona University                                                                                                                    

Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Calvo, Christopher                                                                                                                                      

Colorado Plateau Research Station                                                                                                             Northern Arizona University                                                                                                                      

Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Rattlesnakes employ multiple well-documented defensive behaviors as a response to approach or attack by potential predators, including human predators. However, there is a popular theory, rarely if at all backed up by experimental or observational data, that rattlesnakes may habituate to human presence and thus be less likely to exhibit defensive behaviors, including rattling, in situations where there is frequent contact. In this study, we assess historical behavioral data collected from adult Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) during 2002-2007 during radio-telemetric studies at two Arizona national monuments, to determine: 1) if the frequency of defensive behaviors differs between sites; 2) if individual rattling or other defensive behaviors decreases with duration of study (i.e., telemetered period for each individual); and 3) if telemetered animals living in close proximity to visitor centers and staff housing have diminished defensive behaviors relative to individuals. Behavioral data is standardized by body temperature. Based on preliminary analyses of the data, we hypothesize that: 1) there will be no difference in frequency of defensive behaviors (tongue flicking, freezing, duration of rattling, escaping) between sites; 2) defensive behaviors are highest in the first two weeks of telemetry; and 3) there is no difference in behavior resulting from proximity to anthropogenic areas. Implications of this research for rattlesnake management in national parks and monuments will be discussed.

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