Wednesday, May 25, 2011

This much excitement could cause brain overload

Sometimes in life things happen to you that raise your adrenaline to such a level that you are sure your brain will ignite from the inability to process it all. Monday was one of those moments......Cindy and I joined Dr. Mills (herpetologist at MWSU), my brother-in-law Tony and my father-in-law Jimmy at the farm where Cindy and I photographed the rattlesnake the other day. After gathering our snake sticks, cloth bags and tongs we headed out across the grass to the concrete slab where Cindy and I found the rattlesnake this past Wednesday.

Dr. Mills immediately noticed about a 6 inch piece of rattlesnake showing from underneath a large slab of concrete. This is the exact same location where we photographed the one the other day. He tried grabbing it with the snake stick but it managed to slither off the stick and make its way further underneath the slab. Jimmy and I pried the concrete slab up and held it while Dr. Mills used his tongs to capture the snake. We placed it safely inside a cloth bag and put it in the shade. One rattlesnake bagged and soon to be tagged. That was almost too easy!

Twenty minutes after finding this snake, Dr. Mills found an additional rattlesnake under a pile of limestone rocks. This particular snake remained coiled and did not move, as if being still meant being unseen. Dr. Mills was holding the large rock up with his snake stick, and could not grab his tongs from the ground and secure the snake. He asked me to use the tongs to grab it, but I was afraid I would not be quick enough and it would get away. I instead opted to hold the rock so he could grab it. I need to practice with the snake tongs on a non-venomous specimen. He quickly grabbed and bagged the snake.

This second snake was much smaller and very docile. It did not rattle once until he placed it in the sack. We put it in the shade with the first rattlesnake. Two rattlesnakes bagged and soon to be tagged.

We moved on into the grassland and flipped over rock piles and looked near trees. When we first started our adventure there was much speculation as to whether we would even see a rattlesnake because of the heat. The afternoon temperatures were sunny and 81 degrees. After finding two rattlesnakes in 20 minutes we were soon proved just how wrong we were.

We continued to explore for over an hour when we came to a rock pile that had two huge Yellow-Bellied Racers (A.K.A Blue Racers) hiding underneath. Dr. Mills had his own unique way of snake wrangling these notoriously cranky snakes. He grabbed it with his snake stick and then whipped it back between his legs, holding it secure with his thighs. Then he slowly fed the body of the snake out by hand until he reached the head, which he could safely grab without getting bit. We all had a good chuckle when he said "Where is the head on this thing!?" It was a very large, long snake....seemingly no end to it, especially if you are holding it between your legs. He also made sure to tell us to not try this technique in shorts......LOL Apparently giving the business end of a snake access to your bare leg is not a good thing!

 (Dr. Mills maneuvering the blue racer to allow for better handling)

 (A very ticked off blue racer)

After photographing the blue racer, we moved on to more rock piles and more likely spots that might contain snakes. No more snakes were spotted and we slowly made our way back to the shed with the two rattlesnakes and began processing the data.

Here is Cindy assisting Dr. Mills in tubing one of the rattlesnakes for safe processing. The snakes were reluctant to enter the tubes and had to be coaxed repeatedly before finally giving up and entering the tube. Once the snakes were safely in the tubes they sexed each snake, using a metal probe. The probe is inserted into the vent of the snake. Depending upon how far the probe is able to be inserted, determines the sex of the snake. If the probe slides all the way in it is a male, if it is met with resistance it is a female. Male rattlesnakes have two penises called an Ospenis. He compared the penis to a rubber glove. Imagine that when you  remove a rubber glove from your hand and the fingers of the glove are inverted...he said that is how the penis lays within the cavity of the snake. When the snake meets a female and mating takes place, the inverted penis expands and allows for breeding.

(Probing the snake)

I was in charge of getting the pit tags ready and recording all the data. I also helped him hold the snake, so the tag could be inserted under a belly scale several inches above the tail.

At the end of this blog post I will include the data.

Here is the second rattlesnake being professionally and "safely" handled by Dr. Mills
Once all the data was collected and recorded we headed back to the areas where we found them.

Dr. Mills preparing to release the first rattlesnake back to the slab of concrete where it was found. It quickly....super quickly actually slithered back underneath the concrete.

We then proceeded to the rock pile where snake #2 was found to release it back to its original location. Dr. Mills was in the lead, Cindy, Tony and myself were directly behind him....and Jimmy was bringing up the rear. We reached the rock pile and Dr. Mills was just getting ready to open the sack to release the snake when we heard Jimmy scream......well it was more like a YELL actually!

He began dancing around and hollering for us to "HURRY UP".

Dr. Mills gently placed the bagged snake in the shade near the rock pile and we immediately ran back to where Jimmy was to see what all the commotion was about. He had stepped on a rattlesnake! He was walking through the grass following us and felt something move under his foot, he jumped back and discovered  the largest rattlesnake of the day slithering away from his foot. Dr. Mills quickly subdued the snake and placed it in a bag. Talk about excitement! Not only had we found two rattlesnakes......but now we had 3!!!! Jimmy was exceedingly lucky to not have been bitten when he stepped on that snakes tail. It easily could have whipped around and hammered him. It is a testament to the docile nature of this particular species of rattlesnake. However, individual rattle snakes can have a wide variance in their personal temperament and should be treated with the utmost respect. These are not a snake to be taken for granted. We quickly released the 2nd snake back to the rock pile so we could contend with the 3rd snake.

We returned to the shed and processed this snake and teased Jimmy about how lucky he was. We told him he should go buy a lottery ticket, because he was sure to win. Cindy wondered if he needed to change his shorts....he chuckled in good humor, but I know the whole incident had him very unsettled and rightfully so.

This is the third and final snake of the day. It was much lighter in color and the biggest find of the day. We were able to process the data and release all three snakes, unharmed back to their rightful place. To say the day was productive would be an understatement. To find three timber rattlesnakes, within 200 yards of each other in 2 hours time was not only unexpected, but incredibly exciting. I think we were all a bit flabbergasted at the luck we were having. My brain was having trouble processing it all.....I could not even sleep that night. I kept waking up with snakes on the overload I'm telling you!

Snake Data

All three snakes were females....which hopefully means there is a male nearby and soon to be babies.Timber rattlesnakes aren't able to breed until the age of 4 or 5 years and will only produce a litter every other year. An average litter will be 8 or 9 young, but they may produce up to 14 offspring.


Weight: 630 grams (1 lb. 6.22 ounces)
Length: 83.5 centimeters (2' 8.87")
Rattles: 5
Tail length: 6 centimeters


Weight: 300 grams (10.58 ounces)
Length: 70.3 Centimeters (2' 3.67")
Rattles: 6
Tail Length: 5.2 centimeters


Weight: 630 grams (1 lb. 6.22 ounces)
Length: 89.0 centimeters (2' 11.03")
Rattles: 7
Tail length: 7.5 centimeters

I hope to keep you all updated as more snakes are found and these rattlesnakes are relocated. We hope to determine their growth season to season and with any luck find how many offspring are being produced. 


Old rattler, it is part of Nature's plan
That I should grind you underneath my heel----
The age-old feud between the snake and man----
As Adam felt in Eden, I should feel.

And yet, Old Rattlesnake, I honor you;
You are a partner to the pioneer;
You claim your own, as you've right to do----
This was your Eden---I intruded here.

                                                ---Vaida Stewart Montgomery


  1. What an AMAZING encounter, Shelly. Love the Ode, too!

  2. Yikes, one needs to watch their step.While portaging i almost stepped on one and my friend jerked the canoe back to save me. i was a bit riled until he told me what I missed.

  3. Thanks Caroline, I am still reeling from it all....I love Mother Nature!!!!!

  4. Anonymous....You are so correct, and we were reminded in a big way to watch our step and be careful. These snakes are so cryptic that seeing them sometimes is impossible. Sounds like your incident was a close call as well.

  5. Shelly,
    Great post. My best friend, back in Louisiana, was a fearless snake/alligator handler, although I was a complete wimp around them. I've finally gotten SEMI-comfortable handling non-venomous snakes, but don't think I'll EVER decide to fool with the vipers.

  6. Thanks Ozarkian. I wouldn't say I am fearless, fascinated is probably a better term. I work hard at overcoming stigmas associated with snakes of all kinds. I hope through education and adventurous stories to help people deal with their fears and hopefully overcome them. Plus with proper knowledge the things we fear become less fearful. I handle non-venomous snakes all the time, and get the bitten too! I still do it, so I am apparently a slow learner...LOL