ML 161009


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Peter Garlock, John Burnett  






Herpetology discussion. Includes unidentified voices.  

Interview 32:00 - 42:41 Play 32:00 - More
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Peter Garlock, John Burnett  






Herpetology discussion. Includes unidentified voices.  

Environmental Recording 43:29 - 51:12 Play 43:29 - More
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Buenos Aires NWR ambiance  







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Rattle snake rattles  







Interview 51:16 - 1:12:56 Play 51:16 - More
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Cecil Schwalbe, John Burnett  






Herpetology discussion.  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
19 Jul 2002

  • United States
    Pima County
  • Buenos Aires NWR
  • 31.55   -111.54994
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Decoded MS stereo

Show: Arizona Frogs
Log of DAT #: 8
Engineer: Bill Deputy
Date: 7/19/02

My name is peter garelock, and I work in Tucson sometimes and tookees county most of the time. I grow native plants, plants native to the upper elevations of southeastern Arizona.

you have empirical knowledge of the desert?

yeah, because really I'm a college dropout so I successfully dropped out to become a musician. But when I was in college I was into wildlife biology, just an extension of my childhood. Wild things, and plants and animals

and your love for the Sonoran desert?

yeah, what happened is I quit the music business and I thought "yeah, I need to get outside," so I got a gig in a wholesale nursery, I'm working at some wholesale nursery producing native trees, and I said man, this is it - and I'm doing more and more growing - of course you can't study a tree unless you study what's under it or what's growing around it, or you're not really doing a service or seeing the whole biology of it.

one of the things that would be really helpful to us is the whole notion of the desert coming to life during the monsoon region, which I don't think people outside this ecoregion are going to understand, and remember we're focusing mainly on amphibians. What happens this time of year on this part of the earth?

2:32 PM
So you're in the Sonoran desert around Tucson Arizona. And the rainy season comes and from a if you've got your winter rains in January February, and spring, I used to laugh - there are two days of spring, and the heat hits. And if you really are into this, and you celebrate the desert, you just can't wait for the buildup over a mountain. And what happens when those monsoons come, the critters, the plants, they're waiting as well, because they're not going to come out in the heat, because nothing in their right mind comes out. What happens with amphibians of course, when the puddles come, they use that time to come out and breed, and it's only a short time, we're talking a couple months here of activity. With the Colorado river toads, their main activity time is maybe may, through July, to august, for the whole year. That's phenomenal. But what they're trying to tide in with is rain, and breeding, and keeping the species going, but it comes alive, that's for sure. It's a celebration. I mean, I always wonder about people, it's a sense of place, when you celebrate rain and that's what this place is about. Arid lands, the rain hits, amphibians, there are more snakes, snakes on a day like today you're going to see snakes, instead of at night, during the day. The activity increases, everything increases. Some plants wait for the rain to seed, so you're going to see some activity based around plants getting green or getting seed on them.

3:57 JB
so the whole desert really changes during these two months?

4:00 PM
oh it really does, a simple shrub like a bursage - it's drought strategy is to crinkle up and turn brown. So here it rains and all of a sudden this thing greens up. The best thing, of course¿


well to me the funny thing is when it rains, it's a celebration. And nothing shows it more to me than toads, or reptiles and amphibians, the snakes and salamanders - but the toads are so cool - here are these puddles, and they're not around anywhere, and here are these puddles. And toads come out to breed in them, and they call out to one another. The males will call and the female comes and they have amplexis, this clasping of one another to fertilize.


so there's this thing that happens, the puddles are created by the monsoon, the summer rains, and the toads come out, they get together, they call - they're there to mate to let the species continue. And they call the males, call and the females come into the pools, and they clasp each other, it's called amplexis - pectoral or pelvic. To me it's a celebration, this calling, this celebration.. you know, what could be better than breeding in the rains, you know? It's glorious. So that's what it's about, in the rain, that sense of place. You know, toads are wonderful, they're celebrating the desert as we all should be. Makes me want to have amplexis.

say that last thing one more time, about the toads and amplexis.

(talk about car noises)

7:51 JB
but obviously this is your favorite part of the year.

oh it is, and I'll tell you - I don't know if this ties in, but I'll go ahead and tell you. Year ago when I played music, and we played up and down one strip in Tucson Arizona, we called it "on tour in the same town," we play every club up and down the street - but the rainy season is the same thing. You felt.. you drive in to town to do that gig, and there's no rain no rain no rain, and one night we're in this bar, and it rained and the club emptied. People are just taking off their shirts, and celebrating on this black asphalt in Tucson Arizona. They were celebrating that rain, and in a funny sense, it's a sense of place. We've been dancing and singing, and it's raining, 'forget it, band, everyone, outside, take off your clothes,' and well that made me want to have amplexis too, of course. But you know it's that celebration and I always try to tell people what the desert is about. If you can't get into a sense of place, then why are you here? Celebrate this, there are wonderful places to live, but if you live some place you should celebrate that place. Frogs are a good example of that, I dunno.. That sounds right to me

I think it's a wonderful example; it's an indicator species that way. We were just amazed that people who are going to be listening to this they don't realize that there are amphibians that require a moist environment in this dry desert.

where do they come from, too? They're not there, so now it rains and now all of a sudden they almost erupt from the soil. The spadefoot toad literally comes out of the soil, they use their back and they're wriggling into the soil, like a sing dancer going backwards on you. But they go into the dirt, and they're sitting there, and the rains come, and they're stimulated by the.. the thunder stimulates them! And they come out. Because they know there will be puddles. What about the tadpoles, the puddles are ephemeral, you talk about ephemeral, the puddles last maybe a week, what if it only lasts 3 days? They gotta breed, lay eggs, and have tadpoles. That's pretty exciting stuff that that all happens right there in front of you- you can see the tadpoles, how many of those hundreds of eggs and tadpoles make it, to bury in the desert and wait for this whole monsoon this summer flow again.

10:16 JB
tell me do you.. does it alarm distress, anger you that the American bullfrog is out here in your desert in such force?

(car talk)

well the bullfrog to me is another indication of what we've done. We've invited all these species, non-native, what was that brought in for, game purposes? To eat their legs? That's bazaar. We bring in this frog from the eastern part of the united states.. for game purposes, for bait, and all of a sudden it starts garbling up our native toads, snakes, it's just taking over. It's delighted to be here, it's happy to be here, again it's like an example of how we've messed up the desert. We've brought in all these exotic species and this is inhospitable. As arid as it is, there are a lot of things that do quite well here. And the bullfrog I think you were saying, you saw them in cow tanks, and they move distances of 2 miles from tank to tank across an arid landscape. It's pretty remarkable. You have to admire them I supposed. I think we should have a more open season on them. All that for legs I guess.

tell me what the top ten invading species are, flora or fauna, let's start with the bullfrog and work our way down.

well I wonder if I can do that. Definitely the bullfrog is an invasive species, in flora which I'm far more familiar with.

(top ten flora)

what do you see that doesn't belong here?

this is a nice park, and it's neat because you can wander through it and find Indian grinding holes, or little pieces of pottery, but the predominant yellow blossom, the yellow color across the slopes, is a plant called penicetum ciliariate, it's buffer grass, it's a south African introduction and it's covered the slopes here. What's happened is, it's a south African grass, that didn't evolve here it evolved to burn in the savannahs of Africa and here it is - it's everywhere, it's everywhere. Other than that, if you look past that, it's hard unless you're a local plant nut, but it's beautiful piece of desert for an urban park.

let's talk about the Colorado river toad. Tell us about its psychoactive principles, and give us a folk hippy history of the toad.

Years ago, when I was playing music in Tucson Arizona, and I d drive from way out in the desert where I had a house in the rainy season, the Colorado river toads would come out and they're huge! They're 6 inches across from stem to stern, and when they'd get hit by a car they'd look like beautiful torsos and I thought they were magnificent. They too come out with the rains, well they're a true toad. And I always think that's a funny expression, as opposed to a not-so-true-toad.. but they're a true toad, they have this parotid glands right behind hteir eyes, these right behind there are called parotid glands.. and secretes an compound of various things that will poison dogs, and sometimes they say kill dogs if they pick them up¿ and here's this beautiful hoping mass of 6 inch across matter so dogs like to pick them up. People found out that this poison was good for hallucinogen. And there's well known names out there that actually scraped that secretion off, dried it, and smoked it to cop that buzz.

tell us about that

I don't know anything about it, I had enough vices at the time. What did we call them? Toad lickers¿ people who lick toads I think that was a time of experimentation. That's just a protective device for the toads. I never really knew anybody. Oh.. yes I did

hardly advisable. People said they had wonderful visions. And they talked, most people that I talked to said it was quite a wonderful experience, not long lived, but a wonderful grounding experience. I think toads should be worshipped, not licked.

are there still people around here, that lick toads, smoke the secretions?

I don't know, I imagine. If there's anyone experimenting it's usually teenagers are trying everything. There's a marvelous desert weed, a beautiful weed, a datur or gymsun weed and every years some kids experiment with it. and inevitably die, so I would imagine there's someone out there experimenting with toads. There's published literature, you could probably go on the Internet and find the literature on the compounds in toads - true toads - the ones with the parotid glands. The old warty parotid gland toads.

do you think people who live in modern Tucson appreciate the frogs and the toads that live in the desert?

I don't think so, I don't think so, I think it's a magical place that's covered in tile roves, and it's ethnically cleansed and it's full of white people who don't know what this place is about. It's just a beautiful place that's just growing and growing and it's just covering the desert. One of the most often head quote of ed Abby's is growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. How can you appreciate it if you cover it up. And the irony in the nursing business, is that people decimate the desert and then they want to come and buy a palaverty from you - it was there! It was there for goodness sakes.. They try to justify now by salvaging plants, but there's no justification. You can't put the desert back.

18:10 JB
we're going to go out tonight with a scientist, and we're going to go out tonight and try and cont the native frogs and toads. Ultimately the goal is conservation - to see what their numbers are, to try to establish populations, tio make sure that they are not falling to trends of amphibians across the globe, which is decline. Do you think people around here appreciate the ..What's happening out here when it rains?

18:49 PM
you know, we used to have this joke, an old night club audience. When it's a really small audience you say a "small but intelligent audience,' that there are these people that really care and it's fun to surround yourself with these people, because then you can pretend that everything is okay. We're not saving enough by any means, or I don't know.. I think people care; I just don't think that enough people are caring. The other thing is to just throw your arms up in despair, to hell with it, it's not going to work. Pass the st. John's wort because I'm feeling bad.

What's the chorus of monsoon amphibians remind you of?

oh I don't know. It's definitely celebration. It's the gospel choir. That's the gospel choir, man, singin the song of the monsoon. Those spadefoots have a glorious voice, calling to mate, it's good stuff.

you can hear them at your place?

Yeah, yeah I can, in the puddles, and I find myself racing out just to see it. Why wouldn't you race out to see it is what I want to say to people, and people say to me - you went out to see frogs mating and calling? Why wouldn't I? That's what's surprising to me. Why wouldn't you stop to look at a snake? Why wouldn't you pick up a western box turtle. That's more surprising to me than me doing it.

this may be the 7th grade science teacher approach to it.. what can people do to help enable all of these amphibians that are living in the desert to survive and thrive?

Yeah, what can they do? um, education, it all falls back on those things -how can you just tell the youngsters, tell the kids, because they will be the ones that will be making the difference growing up. That if we change children's attitude about natural history and they fall in love with amphibians in the desert, that will be the big change. Because something is going to have to change it, someone is going ot have to be daring..And more has to be done than now, and it will have to come from the small, intelligent, fun, people on the same wavelength, we need more natural history taught at the grade school level - that's where the change has to come from - and they will make a change.
just describe for me, becauseyo uhave a wonderful way of speaking - we can't see it as well here than we did on the hillside, but describe what happens during the weather, what happens during the day when these convective storms happen, and the fronts come up from the Caribbean up the sierra madre - can you give me a working knowledge - what happens in july and august in the air around here?

okay so.. if you've lived in the desert any length of time, and you're waiting for a monsoon, you look up at the mountains longingly for a cloud. This whole thing.. the sky is blue, and this is the land of no clouds. I've never missed clouds so much. There's longs stretches with now clouds - but when the monsoons come, clouds start coming and it's like an announcement - 'hey, there's a cloud coming,' goes over the mountains, you get these beautiful billowy clouds over the mountain sand they start turning dark. And you're standing out, and you might live out where I live out, just a few miles out across the grassland form mountains, and you see it sweeping out, and the storms are so isolated they might go north of you might go south of you, they might come right at you - you have no idea where they're going. And they come towars you and you're watching lightening and you can actually see the rain sheeting gout of it coming and touching the ground. And sometimes if you experience the storm, you drive .. like drivin gin to a waterfall, you come to a dry spot and it's like going into a waterfall. That's a monsoon. Its so isolated and it's pouring right there, and all of a sudden the flora and fauna are celebrating within that one little mile. And then you go out the other side and its' dry, but that's the kind of thing those storms are, and you see them coming and you laugh at our house, and you'll see it go there and for a couple weeks we won't get ours. And for a while you say 'well it's nice that someone else is getting it,' but after a while it's like.. 'well, it's our turn,' because you want to be a part of that celebration too.


24:17 - 29:34


walking, very crunchy quality

what is the humidity in the middle of the rainy season?

it'll be about 80 percent..

it doesn't feel that bad to me¿

(talk about party house, fighter jet training)

31:53 Track 6

I love the way you desribe dhow the rain commences the celbration of the desrt. Describe that to me again

well what happens when the monsoon comes, you're talking about months of dryness. You might have gotten you winter rains there are no guarantees in an arid landscape. So you don't know, 'did we get the rwinter rains,' say you get your winter rains in February, and so you've got march april, may, june, and it's a cloudless sky. And the sun is intense in southern Arizona. And everything is waiting, the plants¿

what happens, you've got all these months of dryness going into the monsoon, and ou don't knowhow many months dry because you never know if you've gotten your winter rains. So now it's the monsoon season and you're looking towards the southeast, towards mexico hoping for these glcoudes, billowing clouds to get up against themountains and do something. But everybodys' waiting, everything is waiting. And amphibians are so incredible because they come out of no where. If you appreciate those things, then if you're a human being living in the sonoran desert or the souther part of Arizona - then you too become part of that same wave length. I used to tell people that you beocome part of it all. Box turtles come out, ssalamanders come out, you'll see snakes out in the day time because of the daytime temperatures. But toads are so incredible because they erupt the soil. The spade foots have been buried in soil. Plains.. other types of toads, great plains toads are in the soil,a nd they come out of the soil and they're stimulated by thunder, bu tthey know to come out because there's going to be puddles and that's where they do their breeding and ifyou're into that it becomes a human celebration aas well. It becomes the talk of the town, it's not like 'is it going to rain?' it's more powerful than that. Rain in the desert is significant. You live in te land wher ein Tucson 10 to 11 inches a hyear, in the desrt grassland about 14, so you better get out and celebrate it! you know I laugh with my wife, it started to sprinkle a couple of weeks back, an di said 'I almost had my clothes almost off, and then it stopped, oh man!' I was sorta standing there an dit stoped. And you get out an dyou don't know when you're goin gto see it again so you want to be a part of that. Like the amphibians, you want to get into it.

desribe for me the two month frenzy of mating that happens after 10 months of hybernation

to me, like the spadefoot toad is a wonderful example. He's been in the soil, they come out, they find a puddle. Tey don't know how long a puddles last in the desrt. The sun could ocme out tomorrow and start baking this puddle. So they clasp one another this wonderful thing called amplexis, and the eggs are fertilizaed by the male, and the eggs in that puddle may only last 3 days or maybe a week. Those egg have to hatch tadpoles and those tadpoles have to get legs and get out of there and borough into some mud or wet soil somewhere in order to keep it going, hop around and not get eaten by another toad. And there's all this activity and all it about is keeping the speices going, but in realizty I love that - they're participating wisely in the desrt - why would we want to e out in the yaer, it is the time of year htat benefits us to keep the species going, and it's a great lesson to us about when and how to not be in the desert.

do you thik the amphibians are ghe best symbol of this irrepressible recurrent life in the desert?

I think toads are, I think toads are marvelous. The Colorado river toad is my favorite toad. It's immenseness and the fact that it's only active three or four months out of the year and timed with summer rains, I love that toad. I think it should be the state animal for goodness sake. I think there are other plants and animals I adore, abut I think amphibians are so wonderful, they celebrate season that is so important to us.

what about bullfrogs? Are they a scourge to the landscape?

you know, um.. I don't know about.. where golf courses are around Tucson, these things called African clawed frogs an bullfrogs and out in the desert grassland, bullfrogs they are a scourge along the landscape. They neat aour native flora and fauana. What are they doing ehre? They're introduced by sportsman - they brought in exotic fish, they brought in all these things from back east - h these are boring rivers or creaks so they brought eastern crayfish for bait, salamanders for bait, or bullfrogs because their legs are good. That kind of thing has ruined it, there's no thought to it. now they're out there, they're displacing natives species by eating them, and eating the snakes, they're an unbelievable vermin. But you can't go backwards. How do you get rid of it?

well, to me, what happens when the toads are coming out to breed, there's this whole thing going on, I don't know if you can hear the quail or doves calling and the doves have just engorged themselves on soworrel fruit - at the beginning g in june these beautiful red fruit is falling off,, and then the monsoon some and you've got these birds that are singing and they're nested away, and then the monsoons come and these toads they get in puddles and they call to one another and there is this glorious glorious sound goes across the desert of toads calling. Calling to mate, biologically, but what it is for a guy or anyone for goodness sake who loves the desert where they live, it's just this gospel choir and they're singing 'glory, hallelujah,' we live in the desert. That's what it's about.

(tail ambi to 40:03)

well what happens fter months of dryness and this non-stop blue sky. You want to say 'no more!" it's a land where a cloud is a cause for celebration too. You say "oh my gosh, it's a cloud,' because of this incessant blue sky. Here comes the monsoon, these clouds laden with moisture coming up out of Mexico, you see them hit the mountains and you say 'oh my gosh, is this the start, is this the start', and you actually talk to each other about it. and you call your wife and you say 'I saw this this morning, this could be it" and then there's this cloud buildup over the mountains, and then they turn dark, and then they start coming across, and you see the rain pouring out of them coming across the grassland, it's a powerful thing -you talk about it casually - you know "I think it' going to rain, what is the weather going to be like," that kind of thing - it's more powerful than that because it's so much more important, it's not like "oh, did you water the garden today?" it's nothing like that. Its' just about being in it and knowing how important it is to the plants and animals - that's what it's about - it's not about oh we didn't have to water the hayfield today. It's so much more powerful than that.

I love that part about monsoon storms, you can look across the way and see as storm coming towards you maybe, or you're driving down the road and you see a storm ahead of you and you drive into it and it's like driving into a waterfall. And you drive out on the other side and you're dry again, and you turn off your windshield wipers, water pounding on to you¿ no visual, and you're out five minutes later and you're dry. You almost want to turn around and drive back into it, you know it's getting pounded on and all the creatures and animals are getting that, and it's so wonderful.

42:43 - 42:54
tail ambi

(taking pictures)

44:03 - "ambience to go with peters interview"
g - ambi. birds twirping back and forth

owl or mourning dove, regular twirping

51:19 Track 12
(some parts left out, thought it didn't have anything to do with the story. Can be filled in later)

so they don't' get fed from October to late april, but watch this guy. He's not wanting to buzz he know's something is up (bag sound) he knows when humans come in it's mana time.

thuds and rattles

I save these for grandkids and nephewsand you can moisten them and they'll uncoil, if you try to unroll it now it's dry and brittle, but if you put a wet paper towel for 15 minutes.. the kids like to take them for show and tell.

plastic bags

this will be quite a challenge. One of the smaller bunnies would have been better.
but he nailed it!

see the rule of thumb is snakes can swallow prey four times the diameter of their head. And that rabbit is about pushing that, whether or not he can pswallow that I don't know. There was a young bunny rabbit that I had last night, he would have had that down in a few minutes.

this is the same species that killed her in texas. This is in 1917, my grandmother lived on a farm in SE texas, and she was out weeding the field and she reached her arm around and she thought she was in a patch of biras because all f a sudden she was being pricked, but it turned out that a large western diamonback bit her four times between her elbow and her shoulder, and they lived 25 miles from the nearest doctor and there was no motor vehicles at that time and they tried to care for her at home, and she died that next afternoon.

and you became a herpetologist in spite of that

my¿ the¿ my the schalbe clan in texas is basically a rural community and my dad left and went to the city and became an urbanite, but most of them live in rural settings.. most of my relatives live in a rural setting in texas, and they tolerate the rattlesnakes but theyh'd just as soon not have them around the family - especially with my grandmother being killed by one, they know they can affect you. So they were worried about the errant urbanite grandson

55:44 JB
that's the money picture, jess

if you wait until he gets to the shoulders, that will be a picture, he will be fully extended and you'll be able to see spaces through his scales.

this snake is able to eat this rabbit? He can't eat bites though can he?

I had a boa constricter back I mexico I caught with a permit back in the 80's.. our Saturday night entertainment was feeding guinea pigs - and guinea pigs are quite large and we had some gp from the med school that they couldn't use any more, and it took the boa constricter 20 minutes to swallow one. He won't need to eat again for a month.

you could have chopped it up for him..

the majority of their pretty items are much smaller but this is the mother load, he's loving it. you saw him strike when I dropped it in there, he nailed it immediately.. he didn't know it wasn't alive. I prefer to feed my snakes live prey, I think it keeps him healthier, it's like keeping him in shape.

what snakes do you have in your house?

57:38 CS
probably a dozen or so different species. All of these are native to the southwestern desert region, because I use them to teach iin workshop. I have got 6 species of rattlesnakes, I've got a couple of gopher snaeks of two different sub species, I've got a king snake right there in that plastic container¿ he's black and white, and he's gone inside.


rattlesnake noise

59:35 - 59:46

y'all might want to see the gila monster

59:47 - 1:01:15

that's twice as big as anything I've ever fed him.. so I'm not sure he can do it. but that's right at the limits of what they can do. he won't choke, they've got anatomical adaptations

(snake talk about ability to eat large prey)

humans heat their food and eat it, snakes eat their food and then cook it. I'm impressed, he really wants it. it's natural prey on him. He evolved eating cottontails.

(gila monster, "someone is here")

very loud rattling

see, he doesn't like it when they were getting close to him, because they know how vulnerable they are when they're feeding. I'll feed 70 mice a week, all my mice and lizards will eat 70 full grown mice, he'll eat 7, 8, 10. he's never refused them. He's a garbage gut - some snakes kill them and down eat him, but the next day, a day old ,he'll scarf them up. See how long he rattles? I have three pieces of his rattle that were longer than that over the years. I've had that snake in my possession since 1984, and he was in capitivity for four years before then, so this snake can be 50 years old. He's trying to get leverage so he can get his jaw pulled in¿ see, because just the way they swallow birds or bat. The first bat I ever fed the snake, it had wings, and so it got up to the top of the cage and let the wings flop and then swallowed it right up

(feeding snakes as a chore, cleaning the cages, feeding mice)

it's only fiar if you cut thin slivers of pizza and sliced some mice to put on it, don't you think?
See my neighbors doin't really know what all I've got. I had this wonderful neighbor, mildred, she was 84 and we really hit it off well. And I told her I had snakes, and she'd never seen them, and one time her family came to visit, and she insisted that we see my animal room, and that really shocked her mind.
(gila monster story at thanksgiving)
bags, rusty swinging door slam

1:09:30 - 1:11:23
weather report on tv

this is that SE Arizona part¿ so the storms here, there was some safternoon storm in the refuge, but it's basically drying out again. What I would recommend we do, is either go take a few hours and go chasing storms in this area, cause we're just not going to get rousing choruses here because the rains have hit for the day. So that's I think the best thing we can do. most of this intense stuff down here is in the mountains, and it's too high to find the desert toads that we're looking for. But I suggest we eat our pizza, and look at this again and make our decision. I'm going to have to put these in warm water.

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