1. Snakes traveling in pairs...
While you are more likely to see a pair of snakes in the Spring during the breeding season, it is not true that snakes regularly travel in pairs. If you happen to see two males engaged in combat for mating privilege, attempting to see who can raise the highest off the ground and push the other down, then it is more likely that there are three in the area. A female may be nearby. Other than this brief time of year during mating season, snakes are largely solitary when above ground and on the move. More than one snake may frequent the same den, crevice, or basking rock however.
2. Snakes chasing people...
Snakes only want to get away from you, and in this country they don't chase people. If you are between the snake and it's den or other cover, it may attempt to go through you to get to safety, but it is not "chasing" you. An example of this would be if you were walking along and discovered a snake basking on a sidewalk, and you attempted to cross between the snake and the grass. You have come between the snake and its most direct route to safety, so it is probably going to turn toward and try to go between your legs to get back into the grass. The most defensively acting snakes are usually the non-venomous variety, and they will often stand their ground, strike, hiss and rattle their tail in order to protect themselves.
3. Rattlesnakes or other venomous snakes dropping from trees...
Venomous snakes native to the US are not constrictors, therefore they lack the muscle build of most constrictors, which are well known for climbing trees. Unless the tree is nearly horizontal or has very low hanging limbs, any snake you see in a tree is probably a Ratsnake or some other harmless species.
4. Only rattlesnakes "rattle"...
Nearly every snake you encounter may rattle its tail in defense - venomous or not. This is to confuse predators into believing they are in fact rattlesnakes. It is part of their mimic defense.
5. Counting a rattlesnakes rattles to tell age...
Rattlesnakes add a new rattle each time they shed, and they may shed 2-3 times a year. Younger snakes are growing, and shed more often than older ones. A rattlesnake may also loose rattles due to natural causes and its travels across country.
6. Baby venomous snakes can't control their venom delivery/are more dangerous than adult snakes...
Blatantly false. There have been studies which indicate some species may have a slightly more potent venom component when they are young, but overwhelmingly the bite of an adult snake is more dangerous because their venom glands are much larger, and they can deliver much more of it. Also, a baby snake absolutely knows how to control its venom delivery. They are born knowing how to do this. It's instinct. If they don't know how to control their delivery, they waste venom and they may not have sufficient venom ready the next time they need to eat.
7. Coachwhip snakes grasping their tails and rolling downhill...
So ridiculous that I don't thing a explanation is necessary!
8. Cutting a snake's head off kills it quickly, and any movement is just "nerves"...
No, reptiles have very low metabolism compared to mammals and birds. It does take them a long time to die typically. They are capable of both hibernating and holding their breath for long periods, therefore, the brain does remain active for a long time, even after a reptile has its head decapitated. Scientific studies have shown that a snake's brain may remain conscious for up to an hour after decapitation, therefore, severing the head of a reptile is an inhumane means of killing them. Well...the desire itself to kill them is inhumane enough....
I was called out this morning to save a beautiful juvenile, grey phase, Great Plains Ratsnake that had become stuck in duct tape the night before. The tape had been placed around a tree, in an effort to trap army worms from attacking the tree. I was able to free the snake from the tape using mineral oil and gently working it free from both ends. The snake appeared to be fine, and initially had no problems trying to bite me to defend itself, but it required observation and possible rehab for a jaw injury, and injury to the eye spectacle, which the tape had stuck directly to. Within the first 2 days, I noticed that it was having difficulty crawling, which could have been attributed to remaining tape adhesive on the belly, or more serious injury to the spine ( from struggling all that night to free itself ). On the 7/15 the poor snake was discovered dead.
This juvenile Western Diamondback was found on Hwy 82 in Holliday. He had been run over or struck with an object across the back of the head, though was still quite mobile in every way, except biting. His jaw was broken, his head lacerated above the left eye, and his jaw muscles were exposed on the right side. I cleaned and dermal bonded his skin over the lacerations, but could not fix the jaw. I gave him something to mildly sedate him and something for the pain. I expected perhaps he would be a long term case who might need assisted feedings the rest of his life, but he was found dead in the morning.
These are living creatures that do not deserve the inhumane treatment that most uneducated people give them. I grew up in the country around cattle and horses, am mostly conservative, a gun owner, etc...but I learned to use my own brain and evolved past silly teachings, such as it being a religious duty to exterminate one of these creatures. In all the years I have handled these snakes, gone out intentionally looking for them, aggravated them by picking them up...not one of them has ever given me a reason to kill it.
Baby Desert Kingsnake. He was saved from the middle of a highway one night on my way home. I was going to return him well off the road later when I had the time. He had other ideas, however, and shortly escaped. Now he is loose somewhere in my house, or maybe he found a way out by now. I hope he does well, and maybe I will see him around.
First snake rescue of 2008
We rescued this beautiful baby Bullsnake (also known as Gophersnake in some parts) down the street where a new fancy neighborhood is going up. On the way to town I thought I saw something on the road and wanted to check it out. What I original saw was just debris, but as I doubled back and then made the second U turn, this baby was sitting right there on the corner under a high curb. He had probably just narrowly avoided me hitting him, because I didn't see him the first time down the road. Poor little guy probably went into hibernation last year in a nice area, only to awaken and find new houses and landscaping all around which destroyed that brushy thicket he lived in.
His life was probably spared a second time by bringing him in for the night to take pictures of. The previous 2-3 days it had been around 80 degrees and he had probably just come up from hibernation. That night within mere hours of bringing him in, it dropped to freezing and it started snowing early the next morning. He probably would have been caught out in the cold, become unable to move, and might not have survived the night.
Most Bulls have very "hissy" attitudes because they attempt to fool threats into thinking they are rattlesnakes, but this little one is as docile as a Cornsnake so far. Since many of them are killed around here after being mistaken for the Diamondback, we haven't decided whether to put him loose in a better wild area or hang onto him for education since he's so young and manageable. He has already taken a frozen/thawed mouse to eat on his second day here, which is very good for a wild snake to eat so soon after being taken in; and, also to take prey at all that is not live.
Because it seemed appropriate, this little Bullsnake was named "Hissy". Now two years later and just shy of 2ft long, she continues here as an educational animal; helping to educate people about the true nature of snakes, and the differences and similarities between non-venomous and venomous snakes. She has gone to several educational show type events in the last two years, and one school, where she captivated young children.
In 2007 we humanely euthanized a Bull snake found run over on Hwy 79 W between 281 and Kemp. It's internal organ damage was too severe to survive. Later, in nearly the same spot, we also found and euthanized an Eastern Rat Snake that had been run over and was still alive. It was nearly 5ft. in length. A snake this size would had survived much in it's long life, until it's run in on the highway with someone who was safe in their car, but still had to kill something that was not a threat to them. It could have been an accident, but 99% of people in this state will intentionally run over a harmless animal such as this, merely because they are exceedingly ignorant people, who have nothing but unfounded animus and religious based bias against snakes. Rodents kill more people than snakes do.
Rattlesnakes and Bullsnakes
Wichita Falls Reptile Rescue is knowledgeable in the handling of venomous snakes, and takes a particular interest in the Western Diamondback Rattler (Crotalus atrox atrox). We encourage the conservation of snakes such as the Diamondback, which are beneficial for controlling rodent populations. More people in the world have been killed by disease spread by rodents than have ever been killed by snake bites. Wichita Falls Reptile Rescue considers "rattlesnake round-up" type events to be barbaric slaughter, foolish, and counter productive to what farmers and ranchers often complain about; rodents and other small animals which eat and contaminate their feed and supplies with feces and disease.
Rattlesnakes do not rattle when they intend to bite things such as prey, therefore, the rattle is their way of helping you to not get close enough to be bitten. They do not want to waste their venom on that which they cannot eat. In that way, rattlesnakes are most considerate to people. A rattlesnake will be defensive and often stay coiled until you are far enough away that it feels safe to run.
Though it can't be distinguished from the picture angle and lighting, this particular large Diamondback had raised itself more than a 1ft. above the ground.
Below are pictures of the Bullsnake (Gophersnake) which is quite common throughout our area, and the rest of the southwest. The Bullsnake is a non-venomous Colubrid snake. Bullsnakes are often confused for Rattlesnakes and then killed, though they are often docile enough with some time and are taken as pets. The Bullsnake does a very convincing Rattlesnake impression when threatened, by exhaling/hissing forcibly through a bisected glottis, which flaps back and forth producing a very loud "rattle" sound. It will also take on a Rattlesnake-like "S-curve" posture as if it is going to strike. It will vibrate it's tail rapidly amongst the brush or leaves, and may also flatten it's head to make it appear more like a Rattlesnake.
To the untrained eye, it may appear to be a Rattlesnake. The careful observer notes the visible inhalation and exhalation, round pupils, smaller head size relative to it's body, and sharply tapered snout.
The most common Rattlesnake in our area is the Western Diamondback. Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish a Western Diamondback from a Bullsnake, is to look for the lighter colored rattle on the end of the tail. A rattlesnake will also be more likely to have it's tail elevated off the ground so as to get the best rattle (see above picture). The Bullsnake will usually keep it's tail in contact with the ground in order to beat it against something. A Western Diamondback will have black/white banding at the end of the tail; whereas, a Bullsnake will have a sharp pointed tail. The Diamondback also has a broad and blunt snout, as well as two prominent white stripes bracketing the eyes diagonally.
Baby Western Diamondback on road
Business end of this rather docile baby Diamondback. This snake was fed and returned where it was found a day later. Despite the objection of snake-haters who feel they should be killed instead of released, they serve a critical role in the wild in controlling rodent populations. Because they are heat seekers, they are very efficient night hunters, and this is when most rodents are about. Snakes like this are in fact one of man's best friends.
I recently overheard a local veterinarian state that if he found them, he would kill them. I guess he only saves the lives of animals he feels are "useful" to him? Kinda seems like an ethical contradiction for a doctor who tries to save animal lives? Not sure if this veterinarian take a Hippocratic Oath or a Hypocrite Oath...
If you take nothing else from this lesson on snakes, understand that the Rattlesnake and other venomous snakes do not awake, and set out of their burrows with plans to hunt you down and kill your family that day. Humans often organize and do that very thing to them in events called "Rattlesnake Roundups".
The Rattlesnake knows that people are too big to eat, and it would be a waste of its precious venom to needlessly bite something that they can't eat. They are just animals which want what other animals want...to find food, shelter, and a mate, and to be left alone. The rattlesnake's only crime is that it is an efficient hunter compared to other snakes, and that it has a means to defend itself if it thinks you mean it harm. Some people keep guns for protection, and they shouldn't be pre-judged either...If you were a snake and someone was trying to kill you, wouldn't you bite to save your life?
I would bite the hell out of you! Again, and again!
"Wild animals never kill for sport. Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow-creatures is amusing in itself." ~James Anthony Froude, Oceana, 1886