Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Inspired by last April's Blogger Bioblitz, I tried my own variation last Sunday, July 14, in eastern Utah. Riding from the town of Naples, east to the Green River on Interstate 40, I turned south down Route 2776 then back up north along State Highway 45 to return to Naples. The trip of about 40 miles wandered through agricultural land, arid sagebrush steppe, riparian woods and a Pinyon-Juniper community. I tallied all identifiable roadkills that lay to the right of the center lane, and here's the final tally:

Grasshopper (Melanoplus sp.) [1]
Grasshopper (Trimerotropus sp.) [1]
Unidentified Spider Wasp (family Pompilidae) [1]
Painted Lady Butterfly (Cynthia sp.) [1]

Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalus) [1]
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) [2]
Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus) [1]
Robin (Turdus migratorius) [2]
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) [1]
Sage Sparrow (Amphispiza belli) [1]

Mexican Woodrat (Neotoma mexicana) [1]
Richardson's Groundsquirrel (Spermophilus richardsonii) [5]
White-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys leucurus) [1]
Mink (Mustela vison) [1]
Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) [4]
Racoon (Procyon lotor) [4]
Domestic Cat (Felis cattus) [1]
Coyote (Canis latrans) [1]
Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) [4]

No reptiles or amphibians were found, and large, slowly decomposing creatures were over-represented. Keen observers will notice the absence of any Rock Squirrels (Spermophilus variegatus) on the list, even though there's one in the photo at the top. Okay, okay, I set that photograph up after the event.


Blogger Neil said...

Synchronicity strikes again. I was just about to post on my carrion encounters on the lost coast a few weeks ago.

Surprisingly low numbers on the inverts, although I suppose most became adhered to agent of their demise. Equally surprising was your ability to ID most of them to genus!

I'll have to start planning a necroblitz of my own. Jessica will be thrilled...

5:16 PM  
Blogger kimber said...

I'd never heard of necroblitzing, until now.... I have a road trip on the near horizon, and I think this just might keep me occupied for the many hours I'll have in the passenger seat.... thanks!

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been photographing mega necrofauna on my way to school for quite some time now.
Your list, especially the birds and mammals, is quite long. I meet about one mammal/bird roadkill per week (on average) on that rout, and it's 15 km one way. The rout goes through villages, fields and finally enters the city.

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just as I suspected: Coyote 1, Roadrunner 0.

[meep, meep]

1:56 AM  
Blogger Patrick B. said...

Wow, that's quite a diverse list.

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Carel, Yes, I'm still alive.

Three years ago in September, on a trip through Pennsylvania from North to South on Highways 81 and 83. In 248 miles I counted 179 dead deer, including one "special" half mile that was strewn with 11. 65 miles per hour, mostly along streams and rivers and the deer crossing to drink probably twice a day.

I've never done an actual necroblitz, but I DO keep a mental record of various species. In the spring of 2004, after not seeing even one for years, I counted 5 dead long-tailed weasels. I'm still trying to figure out what that was about, as I've only seen one since.

11:53 AM  
Blogger burning silo said...

That's an interesting and species list - quite a bit of diversity. We frequently do necroblitzes while traveling about the region We got into the habit of it as a biologist friend has been doing so for many years (he's very meticulous about his lists - GPS coordinates, a lot of herps and invertebrates, and he collects specimens to measure). We pass along our records for inclusion in his database. We also report turtle roadkills to a database that tracks them for research purposes.

7:09 PM  
Blogger wolf21m said...

Carel, That is an amazing list of former lives. I have to compliment you on your identification. What may I ask do you use as a mammal field guide? We are looking for a good one, but most are only partial lists.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Neil: I was surprised by the small number of invertebrates, too--even though they're more likely to blow away, be completely eaten, or decay to nothing. As for IDing them to genus, Melanoplus, the famous grasshopper genus, was the only one I didn't have to look up.
Kimber: Enjoy your trip. I expect you'll have to stop a whole lot to accurately identify much of what you see (it can be really hard to do that when things are well smashed). A bicycle really is the ideal vehicle for this.
Romunov: That's interesting. Here in western North America, such a list would not be unusual.
Roger: HA!
Patrick: Like I told Romunov, I don't think the list is too unusual for the area. I selected a route without heavy traffic, for safety concerns. On the well-travelled highway west of Vernal I rode past a far greater density of corpses, including two snake species.
Carl: Good to hear from you. On the day you posted your comment, I saw one long-tailed weasel roadkill and four live ones along the roadside. Synchronicity strikes again!
Burning Silo: There's a lot to learn from those roadkills. Two years ago, in western Nevada, I counted about 50 dead Long-eared Owls over 30 miles of highway, as I recall.
Rob: I don't know an excellent North American mammal guide to recommend. Audubon field guides are generally useless for their intended function, but their mammal guide is pretty good, and the one I rely on most. IDing mammals in Utah is much easier for me than anywhere else.

8:37 AM  
Blogger ravis said...

I live in Iquitos and the new road from Iqt to Nauta seems like a good place to do the necroblitz. Other than the fact that I wuld probably end up on my own list after some crazy Peruvian truck driver runs my ass over.
I will plan one at night and I will take my flashlight.

8:01 AM  

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