Living the wildlife dream

Working in the wildlife department at the BLM office in Rawlins, Wyoming, I’ve had a wide array of experiences.

The main goal of my mentor, Tony, one of the seven biologists at this field office, is to get an idea of what amphibians and reptiles are present in Wyoming. Not a lot of work has been done in Wyoming around amphibians, and since my independent study was about salamanders, I have been super excited to contribute to this goal!

Our main project is to determine what species are present in an area up by Ferris Mountains. To achieve this, we set up 12 traps, each┬áconsisting of short, hardware cloth fencing, pitfall traps, funnel traps, and cover boards. The idea behind the fence is that reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals will run into the fence and either fall into a pitfall trap or walk (slither) into a funnel trap. I’ve had the opportunity to handle and process many animals now, including rattlesnakes, garter snakes, bull snakes,┬áhorned lizards, shrews, mice, voles, and pocket gophers! After we find an animal, we process them. Since this is a herptile study, we care more about the reptiles and amphibians we find than the mammals. So, we take measurements of all animals but tag or mark only the amphibians and reptiles, with some exceptions. For mammals, we simply take measurements of their hind foot, tail, and ear. For snakes and lizards, we measure tail, SVL (snout-vent length), mass, and sex them. After that, we PIT tag them, which involves making a tiny incision on their side or belly, placing a PIT tag under the skin through the incision, and sealing them up with NuSeal. We read the PIT tag number using a reader so that we can identify the individual upon recapture. For amphibians, we gather similar data but instead of PIT tagging, we perform toe clippings on frogs and don’t actually have a good way of marking or tagging salamanders, since they regenerate appendages. After processing the animals, we set them free if they are alive. If the animal is dead, which sometimes happens with the mammals (to my dismay), we keep them in Ziplock bags and store them in a freezer at the office until we can take them to a museum to be identified.

Holding my second rattlesnake of the summer! It is tubed for our safety!

I have a few favorite things about doing these surveys:

  • Finding the mammals (alive)! Even though I truly admire snakes for their unique morphological traits and adaptations, and amphibians for my experience with them, the mammals are my favorite animals to find in our traps. I think it’s simply because we have more common with the small mammals then the reptiles and amphibians; they are easy to connect with!
  • When we find a species that hasn’t been at our traps yet! This is the second year of surveys, and the last time we trapped was the first time we had a tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium) in one of our traps! Finding an animal that is new to the traps is one of the greatest feelings ever. Now we know that these traps work on these salamanders!
  • When we have a mammal that isn’t aggressive, is docile, friendly, and lets us handle them! I’ve noticed that mice are the most docile, while voles are the most aggressive. So when we have a mammal that is friendly, it’s comforting to know that we might not be causing them huge amounts of anxiety.
  • Noticing differences in physical traits and personality between animals of the same species. For example, we found a vole that had a dot of white-colored fur on both hips, but we never noticed this color and pattern on any other vole.

For the first time ever, we found two live mice huddled together in the same trap. My partner held one while I held the other. It was really cute to see them sniff each other and then ‘boop snoots’, even as we held them! It goes to show how unphased they are by humans.

This is the vole with two white spots on its lower back!

In addition to our monthly trapping, I’ve done raptor nest monitoring, burrowing owl monitoring, dipnetting ponds, a wild horse gather, horned lizard surveys and my two favorite: endangered Wyoming toad surveys and endangered black-footed ferret surveys! I’ will talk more about those in my next post!

All in all, I am super grateful that I acquired this internship because I think it will be a key step on my career path towards working with animals, which has always been my dream. Now with this experience, this dream actually seems achievable. Thanks CBG!


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