The Catalina Rattler
The Sea of Cortés and the islands within have famously been called the “Galápagos of the north” and continue to fascinate biologists due to high percentages of endemic plants and animals.
From black jackrabbits to spiny tailed iguanas, the islands in the Sea of Cortés have been isolated long enough for plants as well as many species of small mammals and reptiles to have extensively evolved.
We are lucky to view such unique life while onboard the Safari Endeavor and I’m excited to share my experience of a once-in-a-lifetime hike through the valley of the cactus.
While visiting the Bay of Loreto Marine Park, we traveled to the unique island of Santa Catalina. While the island is close in proximity to the peninsula and only about 14 square miles in size, it's home to several endemic species, including dense stands of the giant barrel cactus as well as the Catalina rattler.
This made our hike particularly special as we were able to look at several species none of us had seen before. The giant barrel cactus (Ferocactus diguetii) is endemic to the Baja peninsula and several islands. It can grow to be over 12 feet tall but in its younger, smaller stages reminded many of our hikers of the Star Wars robot, R2D2.
While weaving our way through our cactus-filled arroyo, we spotted the tiny skeleton of the Catalina rattlesnake. However, this snake had no rattler. The rattle at the base of its tail was vestigial and silent.
Over time, rattles may have evolved to protect snakes from being trampled by hoofed animals that roamed the plains during early rattlesnake evolution. On an island void of such large animals, perhaps the rattles became useless.
However, other experts have suggested that because of the large bird species on the island, the snake abandoned its rattles and developed longer teeth to be able to silently climb trees and bite through the feathers of its prey.
Needless to say it was thrilling finding this skeleton on the only island in the world that it exists. What will you discover on your adventure?