Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Close Encounter Of The Crotalus Kind

Crotalus horridus, that is; the Timber or Canebreak Rattlesnake. Let me hasten to say it was an encounter of the elective kind. The chosen kind. The nice kind.

We were driving down the road looking for wildflowers and we almost ran over it. W saw it just in time and by the time he stopped, we were close enough to it that I couldn’t see it. I didn’t know why he’d stopped. But when I did, I clambered out to negotiate a photo shoot.

It was minding its own business – making its way across the road.

The sight of a big creature looming above it made it nervous and it stopped,

A closer view of the head. If the color pattern wasn’t a dead give-away, the characteristic pit viper-shaped head says ‘venomous.”

It started to rattle fairly vociferously. This was the first time in four encounters with Timber Rattlesnakes that I’ve really heard one rattle. Obviously I’d entered its personal space. When I stepped back a pace or so, it stopped rattling. (Interestingly, other snakes vibrate the tips of their tails; they just don’t have the rattles.)

It coiled up in a defensive posture, tense, but not showing any signs of striking. I’m sure that could have changed quickly if it had felt the need. Happily it didn’t.

Another close look at the handsome head with the fierce-looking eyes.

After a few minutes, it tested the idea that it might be safe to leave. We had no interest in interfering with it any further.

And off back into the brush at the side of the road.

If anything, this last shot is the scariest to me. I keep thinking of encountering this snake in thick grass or brush. It can be hard to determine the location of a rattling snake that you can’t see. And it’s possible to step on one before it rattles if you surprise it. So….

We tend to only walk in areas where we can clearly see the ground not only in front but also to the side of where we are walking. If we have to walk through thicker grass/brush, we use a snake hook to sweep the area in front and to the side, and tap on fallen logs or rocks under which snakes might be lying in wait for an unsuspecting mouse. I learned these lessons early, growing up in Australia, and they’re lessons well learned and never forgotten and, hopefully, they’ll keep me out of trouble.

Click on an image to view a larger image

Identification resource:

- University of Georgia: Savannah River Ecology Laboratory: Canebrake / Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) – Venomous


Beyond My Garden said...

I agree. I don't like to walk in the rattler's territory if I cannot easily see the trail and the trail's edges. A rattler is very in this area of the country I guess I am glad. Thanks for your bravery so that I can see one at the safe distance of the internet.

JSK said...

When we first moved here - Walton County (GA)- we'd see Copperheads on occasion. We don't see many venomous snakes any more either although, had I not been walking on a mowed path, I might have stepped on one a year ago - in fairly short grass. So it always pays to be alert.

River said...

These are fabulous photos. I've never seen such close shots of a rattlesnake. I always imagined the rattles were bigger. He's certainly pretty to look at.

JSK said...

Yes, they are beautiful creatures. This is the first time I've been able to appreciate the ridges on the scales.
The rattles were about 2-inches long and made quite a bit of noise. I moved in and out of its comfort zone while I was photographing so I heard them several times.
I'm glad the encounter was in the open. It would be quite disconcerting to be standing knee-deep in grass or brush and hear that sound.

David Steen said...

Beautiful Timber. I'm glad you found it and not somebody else.

JSK said...

Unfortunately you're right. Sadly, a lot of people may have backed up, but then taken good aim and run it over. I've seen that happen nearby - even to where, based on the tyre tracks, the truck had to run off the side of the road to kill a Timber Rattler.