Early-mid September 2006

Puerto Vallarta & Colima, Mexico & vicinity


On the long drive across western Texas, between Langtry and Sanderson, this was the scene on a road cut along Hwy. 90.  Little did I know at the time this deluge was but a taste of things to come further south.  A couple days later, I flew from Phoenix on the start of my southernmost visit into Mexico yet. 

My old amigo Skip Kruse met me at the airport in Puerto Vallarta where we quickly rented the most basic little car that would be easy on gas (gas was about $3.00 per gallon at this time in the U.S.).  Dark, dreary weather greeted us, and it just got worse from there.  We learned our destination southeastward down the coast took us straight into a string of storms, including an approaching near-hurricane.  Unsurprisingly, it rained all day as the winding road got increasingly cluttered with natural debris migrating down the hillside.  I noticed the passerby below had the weather licked, though - why waste money on a cheap store-bought raincoat? 

Herpwise, there were only two D.O.R.s that first day.  The first was an adult boa constrictor that looked very chunky --- gravid?  

We had to cut it open to check, of course.  PHEWWW -- it was just bloated.  I'm REALLY glad Skip had the sharper pocket knife that time !

The second D.O.R. (that's dead on road, in case a non-herper stumbles upon this accounting), was a 'racer', Masticophis mentovarius  (thanks Chris and Toby for the I.D. help).

Just northwest of Manzanillo, we were one of the last cars of a traffic jam to be allowed to cross a flooding river going south.  As soon as we got across, we learned the road ahead was closed.  By then, the police wouldn't let anyone go back, so there was no choice but an overnight stay in lovely Barra de Navidad.  Tasty breakfast tacos from a street vendor in the morning as the weather cleared temporarily. 

Detouring up to Ajijic near Guadalajara, we connected with my old friends James & Marilyn Needham.  James offered to guide our herping in his 'backyard' - the area from Colima to Tecoman on the coast.  In particular, James said he knew how to find true Mexican redleg tarantulas Brachypelma smithi  in the wild.  Though non-herps, they were critters I'd always been curious about.  The road out of Ixtlahuacan (below) was kind of unusual; no use wasting extra pavement on the part you don't drive on, I guess.

The foothills to the right are where we hunted, but it wasn't as easy as just strolling up there.  Redlegs seemed to have a preference for particular conditions with semi-open terrain under a not-too-dense plant canopy, and large rocks partially buried in the soil, typified by the pic below.

Under rocks like these redlegs made their homes.  We soon got a lesson in noodling tarantulas out of their lairs by an expert at the technique.  James took a slender twig and 'tickled' it around at the entrance of a hole that, in his vast experience, he felt was likely occupied.  He wasn't wrong.

Within seconds,  along  came  a  spider  .  .  .  .  .

. . . . to see what kind of tasty morsel was scratching at its door.  It took just the right touch with the stick to mimic a prey critter and trick the spider to appear.  After a little practice, we coaxed about ten of them out into the open.  Wow - what gorgeous spiders!  OK, my tribute to Steve Irwin  -  -  -

 '' ' Krikey, what a beauty ! ' '

A reconnaissance of the area failed to turn up anything else except the flashy spiny lizard below . . . .

. . . . Sceloporus pyrocephalus  - THANX, HaroldD and Don Cascabel, for the correct I.D. on this one.  A very appropriate name, indeed! 

While awaiting dusk, we lingered in the area, including driving up some mountainous roads to admire the view of the Ixtlahuacan valley to estimate where the rain was heading.  Talk about lush!  James assured us it wasn't always like this.

Just before dusk we missed a slender, light brownish, roughly 2-foot long, dark-blotched snake with a distinctive red-orange head.  Its head spread in a flattened triangular shape as Skip tried to delay it with his shoe.  The flashy display worked to make him hesitate long enough for it to slip off the road to safety - exactly the intention of the clever threat display, no doubt.  Wonder what it was  ? ? ?

About 11:00 pm, we caught this little gem on that same two-track road in the pic way above.  Those scattered white ' dings ' looked like scars or fungus on a monotone snake in our flashlights' beams.

Its identity as a perfect 16-inch, index finger-thick (newborn?) new world python (Loxocemus bicolor) became obvious upon closer study.  NICE FIND !   I took this pic the next day while releasing it.

With the wet conditions, sapos were in great abundance, and dodging them on the road became a driving chore.  Many were treefrogs Smilisca baudini, but . . . .

. . . . giant toads Bufo marinus  dominated the roads in the flat, agriculturalized alcove at Tecoman.

The next two snakes weren't so lucky.  This vine snake's Oxybelis aeneus  front was the only unsquished part.  The rest was road pizza; this was my attempt to salvage something useful from its demise.

. . . . and this milk snake.  Feces!  A milk snake would've been a much-welcomed find.

Wait a minute --- those double white rings just don't look right for a Lampropeltis  after all !   Turns out it was apparently a coralito - Micrurus laticollaris  to be exact (Thanks again for the I.D. help, Toby).

The next day before the rain resumed, we cruised quiet roads around Ixtlahuacan  (< I love that town's name - eeks'-tla-wah-kon ) and noticed a sprig of green on a fencepost that wasn't the leafy type (below, left).

Finally, a green iguana!  The close-up above was taken after it hit the ground and froze 'hidden' in the foliage.  Upon closer inspection, however, it turned out instead to be a juvenile spinytail iguana Ctenosaura pectinata, not yet black like the wary adults frequently seen basking around town on walls  > > > .

Interesting cultural note :   A very high percentage of businesses, homes, etc. have rusty re-bar protruding from their concrete columns (as in the above right pic).  I thought it odd that so much construction was seemingly on hold until it was explained to me that 'starting' the 2nd floor of a building project in Mexico delayed taxation.  Aha !

Back to herping, I'd expected green iguanas Iguana iguana, like the huge male below, to be adorning tree limbs on the lush coast, but the only ones seen were caged at the Iguana Museum in downtown Colima.  The facility is actually a rescue / education center trying to save what is now a seldom-seen herp.  The scarcity was blamed largely to harvesting for food by rifle and pellet gun-equipped hunters.

Back exploring the boonies around Ixtlahuacan, flooding apparently forced this mud turtle Kinosternon integrum, or maybe K. chimalhuaca (Thanx again, Don Cascabel) to go walkabout seeking less turbulent waters near a raging creek.

Lower left, one of a pair of striped basilisks Basiliscus vittatus  (crappy shot, shown only for completeness) didn't immediately abandon its sunning spot on a ditch bank at my approach.  I'd deem them a lot more common back home in Florida where they're thoroughly established exotics now. 

We also found another D.O.R. (above right) that once again baffled us.  Looks a juvenile Elaphe -like colubrid, a baby Senticolis triaspis, maybe ? 

Back at Puerto Vallarta the evening before flying home, the nightlife of town was urging us to indulge, but we instead chose to give the road a last try after dark.  Barely out of the city limits to the south, on the main road, a for-sure green rat snake Senticolis triaspis was gracing the pavement.

It was nearly three feet long and very nervous and flighty - it took 30+ tries (all digital shots now, so who's counting?) to get this mediocre pic.  A further two hours of roadcruising with heightened anticipation produced absolutely zilch -- sound familiar to anyone?  Still, we were in such a good mood that, once back in town that night, we decided to celebrate and picked up a few bimbos . . . .


Well, Mexico was once again a fun and memorable herping experience.  The serpent-chomping eagle, a national symbol in Mexico reproduced in numerous art forms (like this shop door) was my last herp sighting, but only until next year ! 


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