By Kristy McCaffrey
I live near open desert north of the Phoenix metropolitan area in Arizona and we have frequent interactions with rattlesnakes. I thought I’d share a few pictures with you all and perhaps dispel a few myths.
|A baby rattler we found near a water puddle beside our house during a hot|
summer morning. They sometimes look like a cow patty when sitting
in the dirt. My husband captured it to show our children, then we
released the little guy.
We have Western diamondback rattlers. Their distinguishing feature is a series of black and white rings on the tail. This has helped me to quickly identify a snake I encounter, since bull snakes appear almost identical in markings but aren’t poisonous. Western diamondbacks aren’t aggressive unless cornered and will try to escape you at the first possible opportunity. However, when we find them on our property we do capture and relocate the reptiles since we have dogs.
|We found this one buried in our backyard garden.|
One myth is that snakes hibernate. We’ve not found this to be the case. In colder weather, they are less mobile but we’ve nevertheless seen them. If we’re in the desert, these encounters are benign because the snake is too cold to coil and can’t strike. But if the snake is near our house—usually resting against a wall to get warm—they can be a bit more feisty.
Rattlesnakes are pit vipers. They have a heat sensing pit located behind each nostril that can detect temperature differences, sometimes only a fraction of a degree apart. The heat given off by an animal can be sensed by the snake to determine if it is predator or prey. In captivity, they can live as long as 20 years. Their main source of food is mice, rabbits, lizards, gophers and other small animals.
|Once we begin handling them, they usually get quite mad.|
Another myth dispelled—you can tell the age of a rattlesnake by counting the number of rattles it has. Each time a snake sheds its skin, a new rattle is added. However, these can break off. Also, the frequency of shedding varies from snake to snake, so counting rattles isn’t a reliable way to confirm age.
How do we capture such a strong and dangerous creature? My husband uses a long stick with tongs at the end. He wrangles the snake, then lifts it into a tall garbage can with a tight lid. In the past, we've loaded the can into our truck, driven several miles away, and let the snake go while remaining in the truck bed to avoid it slithering toward us. But we’ve recently learned that this can be a death sentence for the rattler because it will be unable to find its water source. We now transport the snakes about a mile away, but still within their territory.
|My husband grabs the snake with a snake catcher and deposits him into a|
tall garbage can with a tight lid.
|There's a snake inside there. We're trying to coax it to leave|
and escape to the desert.
|When trying to wrangle a snake, it's best to clasp as close to the head|
as possible to avoid the snake striking.
|Snakes will flatten their body (as seen here) as a means of escape. It was a cold|
November night when we found this rather large rattler against our
garage door trying to get warm.
|My husband trying to stay as far away from the snake as possible!|
|We released this one from the bed of our truck.|
I’m sure you’re wondering—why don’t we kill them? Many of our neighbors do. While they aren’t my favorite desert critter to encounter, they do have every right to be here. Moving them from our property allows my husband and I to honor their presence as an important link in the desert ecosystem.
|A western diamondback rattlesnake.|