Adventures from Back of Beyond

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Buzzworm

Relocated a large rattlesnake today.

Around here, many of not most people tend to automatically kill rattlers. They're considered to be nothing more than a potentially deadly threat to people and pets, good for nothing.

That attitude has unfortunately and unintentionally resulted in an overabundance of rodents, all kinds. Infestations of vermin caused by upsetting the natural predator-prey balance of life. You name the rodent -- mice, rats, rabbits -- and we're overloaded with them, and they cause property damage and carry disease.

This particular snake was a good size Western diamondback, maybe 3 feet long and about 5 years old, counting the black and white bands and number of rattles on her tail. She was strong and fought hard when I grabbed her, making a surprisingly quick twisting motion that moved the 4-foot stick and my whole arm up to the shoulder, but I held her tightly from just behind the head.

She rattled like crazy, turned her head around several times, then opened her jaws wide to bite down hard on the smooth round aluminum of the stick, trying to inject it with venom.

Found her just outside my house, mid-day. I walked by her, only about 3 feet away, when she started rattling. There was absolutely no way I or probably anyone else would have ever spotted her if she hadn't rattled. She was coiled and well camouflaged in the shade of a bunch of snakeweed below a catclaw bush, just off the path.

She was upset about something, probably stumped as to how to get around the house, and back to her den, which I'd guess is located somewhere in the foothills. So when I walked by she rattled, which is somewhat unusual. More often than not, rattlesnakes around here just hide and won't rattle unless they feel directly threatened. I'm sure I've walked right by them many, many times without knowing it.

But seeing this snake answered one of my questions -- are they still out, or now hibernating in their dens? This is always a question of interest around here, because once they're in for their winter sleep, we can walk around with impunity.

For us, days have been very pleasant so far, with highs generally in the 70s, and overnight lows in the lower 40s. Overall we've had such a mild season that it appears the rattlers are just now in the process on the moving back to their dens from their hunting grounds.

In another month they'll probably be gone, at least until next April or May when the ground warms up enough for them to emerge from their dens.

A couple of months ago I attended a seminar at Montezuma Castle conducted by a woman employed by the USGS who specializes in rattlesnake behavior. She explained that a rattlesnake lives it's entire life within a range that's possible as small as a mile or so in diameter, if that.

According to her research, if a rattlesnake has to be removed the best thing to do is gently move it 15 or 20 feet away from anything developed, and release it into some brush or cover. The snake learns from this -- they don't like being handled -- and will not return.

Or so she says. 15-20 feet wasn't quite far enough for me. So I hiked her dangling from the stick about a quarter mile out into the forest, well away from any development. And I let her go.

I watched with great interest to see what she'd do once released. At first I thought she was injured from being held by the snake stick, which caused a sort of a flap of skin to hang from below her head where I grabbed her. But her tongue immediately flicked out several times, sensing the air, after I let her go.

She sat motionless for several minutes. I then tested her by taking a couple of steps toward her, to see what she'd do. She immediately rattled strongly and moved away, looking quite healthy as she slithered.

Hopefully she makes it back to her den soon. As dines on rodents aplenty for a long time to come.

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