Musings of a roaming nature nerd

Archive for August, 2012

The Nasties: Rattlesnakes

Having just arrived in the warm, green, humid east, rattlesnakes couldn’t be farther from my mind… And yet when I took a jog this evening along the broken sidewalks and tree lined streets of suburbia, I found myself gazing suspiciously at small dark branches laying near my path and instinctively shying away from bushes that I couldn’t see beneath. You never know what’s lurking! Rattlesnakes certainly live in the east, but the chances of seeing one anywhere, let alone in a neighborhood are slim. California however was a whole different story. Rattlesnakes were everywhere and as a result I have become a little more wary on my jogs!

In my eyes snakes have never been nasty. From the time I captured my first Milk Snake at age 9 and named it Molly after my best friend, to the Boa Constrictor I received for my 17th birthday, I have always found snakes fascinating. I now know better than to keep them as pets (they live a looong time and are not well suited for captivity), but still find them intriguing. Rattlesnakes win a slot in the nasty category, not because they aren’t amazing, but because they really do frighten me a bit.

San Diego County seems to have a plethora of rattlers and I saw them just as often in our garden as I did in the field. We gave them nicknames like Smuuv and Sweet Baby Sprinkles, but in all honesty the Speckled, Red Diamond, and Southern Pacific rattlers are nothing to be trifled with! They rarely resort to using their dangerous bite, preferring to rattle and retreat as quickly as possible, but their venom is deadly. The Southern Pacific (ie. Sweet Baby Sprinkles) is known to inject a neuro-toxin which doesn’t respond easily to normal anti-venom and can result in weeks of painful recovery in the hospital if one is lucky. There is little time to react if faced with a rattler coiled in strike posture, however “you will find yourself teleporting instantly away from the snake and not exactly knowing how you moved” a coworker reported early in the season. I found this to be true with most of my encounters. Trundling through sage brush one day, I almost stomped on a Southern Pacific, which reared up and rattled at the last moment. I leapt/ teleported/ flung myself away and looked back in time to see the snake (still in strike posture and rattling like crazy) moving away into the brush. My heart couldn’t stop racing and my knees were weak for a long time.

While watching the Speckled rattlesnakes in our garden, Jason remarked that despite our own fears, the world must really be a frightening place for a snake. You have one dangerous weapon but it’s on your head. As you slither away from predators you must both face the danger and try to navigate how you are fleeing. You are incredibly vulnerable and powerless except for your bite and predators such as hawks and mountain lions know how to avoid your fangs and will eat you. Once, in a Utah canyon I found a huge mountain lion scat with a huge rattle in it. Despite their reputation, rattlesnakes aren’t always the baddest beasts out there!

When I was in the field, my daily worries tended to revolve around avoiding poison oak, not walking into a live fire impact zone, or getting wasps and biting ants out of my pants. But always in the back of my mind was that reminder to be vigilant, to watch every step, to listen for that tell-tale rattle. I will enjoy and shiver at the memories of these interesting creatures, but for the time being, will very contentedly take my evening jogs on the pavement of suburbia!