We’ve been using radio-telemetry to track the movements and habitat use of four black racers on Martha’s Vineyard. In order to track the racers through several seasons, and learn where they spend the winter, we have been working with Dr. Michelle Jasny to surgically implant the transmitters and remove them 11 months later. While we are able to monitor the movements and health of these black racers after we implant transmitters and release them for tracking, we haven’t been able to monitor them after Dr. Jasny removes their transmitters. This year, we wanted to try using a temporary external transmitter to continue tracking racers after release. We reached out to the herpetologists at Oxbow Associates for assistance, and they were gracious with their time, materials, and expertise.
They recommended we try using a half body wrap of Tegaderm, a bandage/dressing used on people, to secure a transmitter on the outside of the snake’s body. With a loaned transmitter and some Tegaderm, we attached a transmitter to Scooter in May, and released him for monitoring. We were able to track him for almost another three weeks before he shed his skin and dropped the external transmitter.
On July 8th, we recaptured Liatris, removed her internal transmitter, and attached an external transmitter. We are still tracking her. It is rewarding to find methods that allow us to improve our monitoring and gather the best data possible for our efforts.
These black racers have been wonderful ambassadors for all snakes on the island. We have met many people who are fascinated by these large and harmless snakes and others who have stories of capturing them regularly 20 or 30 years ago. Sadly, we only get reports of them along the south shore of the island these days. If you have seen a black racer recently, we want to hear about it. You can map it on our snake survey page by clicking here.