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Collared lizard on a rock, background plants blurred out.

HOW HERPETOLOGY CAN ENHANCE YOUR HIKES

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A hike is a great way to get outdoors, get a little vitamin D, and enjoy nature. One great part of nature are snakes and lizards you might see along the way. Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians, and the team at Mountain Trail is here to tell you how a little knowledge can help you on the trail. Turn your next hike into an adventure by looking for a few new friends along the way. 

Cuddly vs. Non-Cuddly Lizards

There are a couple of types of lizards you are likely to encounter in the Flagstaff area. Please don’t actually attempt to cuddle the lizards. Depending on where you are, they might be protected by federal law. However, if you happen to find one in your sleeping bag while camping, this guide is perfect.

By far the most likely lizard you will encounter on a trail is the side-blotched lizard. They come in different sizes and colors, but they’re marked by black or blue spots behind their front legs. The males of the species tend to be bigger, flashier, and sport a colored throat. If you ever see them doing push-ups, take it as a direct challenge. Really, they are attempting to threaten you. Drop and give them 20. That’ll show them. 

Another common lizard you might notice is the horned lizard, or horny toad. They’re common but can be difficult to spot. Their primary defense system relies on camoflauge and the spiky “horns” on their body. Oh, they might also shoot blood from their eyes if they feel threatened. However, they tend to default to hiding in plain sight, or try to dig into loose soil. Chances are if you spot one they’ll sit still for a photo opp. Overall, definitely on the cuddly list. 

Collared lizards are a rare treat you’ll want to keep an eye out for. These colorful blue or green reptiles are marked by a double-collar design on their necks. If you’re lucky you might be able to watch them run on their back two legs – but please do not antagonize them to do so. While really cool to look at, they have a wicked bite. No venom. Just tiny sharp teeth. Don’t cuddle them. 

Poisonous Snakes To Watch For

When you’re on a trail the last thing you want to see is a snake. When you aren’t familiar with different snake species, any slithering friend is a potential nightmare. But in this case, you just have the one snake to worry about. The only dangerous snake in the Flagstaff area is the rattlesnake. There are a few different species but all share a venomous bite and the tell-tale tail that rattles when threatened.

Keep your ears and eyes open on your hike, but for the most part any snake you encounter will be of the friendly sort. One common snake of note is the gopher snake. It’s important to be able to identify a gopher snake because they look a lot like rattlesnakes. In fact, they will even mimic the defensive position of one and hiss to emulate a rattle sound. The easiest way to tell the difference is that they have no rattle. Or, if you’re close enough to see and may be freaking out … gopher snakes have a narrow head, unlike the classic diamond shape of the rattlesnake. 

Gopher snakes define the old saying, “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” Because you have nothing to fear from a gopher snake, in fact most of the time when they “strike,” they keep their mouth closed. Gopher snakes do not get aggressive unless threatened. Sadly, people often mistake them for rattlesnakes and kill them on purpose.

For a full list of reptiles you might come across in the Flagstaff area, check out the National Park Service site. Pay attention to posted signs at trailheads for information on dangerous or endangered species.

Looking for more hiking tips? Read more at the Mountain Trail blog

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