Ever see a rattler? In the wild?

2007-08-23-066-exit78Twice in recent years, we’ve come close enough to rattlesnakes to take photos of them.  In both instances, they’ve done what snakes generally do – slither away.

There are 32 known rattlesnake species and between 65 to 70 subspecies. All are native to the Crotalus_viridis_02Americas, though each species and subspecies have regionally limited ranges.  Some regions have more than others.  For instance, out of twelve types of snakes found in Baja California, six are rattlers.

Our first encounter with a rattler was at South Dakota’s Badlands National Park in 2007.  We were on a trail that was mixture of asphalt and boardwalk.  It was a readily accessible trail on the main park road, with a lot of signs warning about rattlesnakes.  What stood out for us on this trail was a child, not closely monitored by his parents, venturing off the trail.  I wrote about it later that day.

There had been quite a few signs all over the park to watch out for rattlesnakes.

But — really — you never — ever — see any, so why should anyone be concerned.

The chances of a kid coming across a snake on a trail are pretty small, especially a rattler.

Unless — of course — unless he steps off the trail, where he shouldn’t be, when Mommy isn’t watching.


It’s not a great photo, but that is the rattler we had seen just a few minutes earlier.

I think that we did tell the mother that we had seen a rattler in the area earlier.

The other time we saw a rattler was two years later at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado on the Knife’s Edge Trail near the campground. Most of the trail was fairly wide, following an old roadbed, but has started to narrow.  The rattler was in the brush on the right side of the trail when we heard its characteristic sound, the rattle, that sound we’ve all heard many times in the movies and on TV.


The rattlesnake really blends in well in the brush in the image below.



Of course, the rattlesnake blended in very well with the vegetation along the side of the trail. In the closeup crop on the right, I’ve outlined the head and tongue and added an arrow pointing to the rattle.

We didn’t turn around and go back down the trail. There was still a ways to go yet, so, from a safe distance, I started scuffing gravel and rocks toward the snake with my foot. After a little bit of that, it uncoiled and slithered into the brush, still rattling until it was a good ways off the trail.

Rattlesnakes are predators, but people have little to fear from them under most circumstances.  Their prey is small animals that they can swallow.  Rattlers are a potential hazard in that they may strike out defensively if surprised or provoked.  Given the opportunity, like most snakes, they will avoid humans.

america, arkansas, critters, desert, hiking, landscape, mountains, parks, photography, places, south dakota

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  • Rummuser Mar 22, 2014

    We have four deadly snakes who too normally leave human beings alone except to defend themselves. The cobra, the krait and two types of vipers.
    Rummuser recently posted…Loose Bloggers Consortium. LBC.My Profile

    • Mike Mar 22, 2014

      We have six types of poisonous snakes in Arkansas — copperhead, pygmy rattlesnake, cottonmouth / water moccasin, coral, timber rattler, and western diamondback rattler, in increasing order of danger. We’ve see copperheads several times over the years.

      Fortunately, the snake that bit me after I stepped on it back in about 1980 wasn’t venomous.

  • Alan G Mar 22, 2014

    Well really now, what’s not to love about snakes? Why when I was a young boy in my neighborhood I had the nickname of “Snake Boy” – right up there along with Frank Buck and Tarzan. But that’s another story for another day.

    You know, for all the hiking and tramping around in the woods that I have done in my life I have only ever seen one Rattlesnake and that was up around an area in Marshall near the Buffalo River. The only Copperhead I ever saw was down is some woods near Macon, Georgia. But…. if you want to talk about Water Moccasins and Cottonmouths, well I’ve seen many more than I ever wanted to see. 🙂
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    • Mike Mar 22, 2014

      We’ve seen copperheads right here in our 3.5 acres, though not often, on Mt Nebo and on Bona Dea trails in Russellville. Cottonmouths at Bona Dea.
      Mike recently posted…In French, no less.My Profile

  • bikehikebabe Mar 22, 2014

    I couldn’t see some of the rattlers that you said were hidden. YIKES!! One could easily step on one.

    I saw two on hikes last year. I know two people that were bitten last year. Neither saw the snake.

    We saw two rattlers in our yard. They come up from the canyon for water. One was asleep just below the steps. Tom got it in a bucket with water & took it back to the canyon. He was very skinny from lack of water. I have a friend who takes care of 50 non-posionous rescued snakes in her house. Food (unborn mice) & vet costs a lot. Everybody hates snakes. I have to be kind to snakes for her. Her snake remembered my scent after a year.

    • Mike Mar 22, 2014

      We are generally nice to snakes, leaving them be — unless they are venomous and on our property.

      In 2010, we even tried to herd one away from the door to the women’s rest room at the Scottsbluff National Monument visitor center in Nebraska. It wasn’t venomous, but I imagine it might give someone in the rest room a bit of a fright.
      Mike recently posted…In French, no less.My Profile

    • bikehikebabe Mar 22, 2014

      I was hiking with my hike-group, walking beside a woman wearing hiking boots & shorts. She stepped on something soft & we looked back. It was a big, coiled rattlesnake but it didn’t bite her.

      • Mike Mar 23, 2014

        The one time I was bit by a snake, I was walking out of my in-laws place in the morning before anyone was up, opened the door, stepped out barefoot, stepped on something soft, felt something hit at me and quick-stepped out into the driveway. We assumed it wasn’t poisonous and didn’t get it treated — though I would never risk that these days (older, wiser). Nothing developed from the bite and it wasn’t very painful.

  • nick Mar 22, 2014

    I’ve never in my life seen a snake in the wild, only at the zoo. There are so few snakes in the UK that the chances of coming across one are remote. In fact there are no really dangerous animals over here. The worst that can happen to most people is being bitten by a dog.

    • Mike Mar 22, 2014

      Hi Nick,

      My risk related blog post is written and scheduled for tomorrow. It evolved differently than I expected and turned out to be more about another potentially dangerous animal not too very far away from us.
      Mike recently posted…In French, no less.My Profile

  • Cheerful Monk Mar 22, 2014

    We used to have occasional rattlers on our property when we were little. Down in the valley they had enough to make Time magazine when they built a new subdivision — the snakes would come out when the people watered their lawns.

    I saw a huge one slithering away when I was hiking in Bandelier National Monument years ago, and I remember walking in one national monument where the signs warned us to stay on the trail, they didn’t want us to disturb the rattle snakes. Persuasive sign!

    Around here when people get bitten it’s often when they’re climbing and accidentally put their hand in the wrong spot. The poor snake was trying to mind its own business.

    Several years ago I read that a substantial number no longer have rattles. They’re less apt to be killed without them.
    Cheerful Monk recently posted…It’s Spring!My Profile

    • Mike Mar 23, 2014

      When I looked at a wikipedia page listing the deaths from snake bite in the US in recent decades, I was surprised at how many were from people handling snakes — at least 3 were using them as part of their religious services and two of those were a father and son, both killed by snake bite, but years apart.
      Mike recently posted…In French, no less.My Profile

  • Hilary Mar 23, 2014

    Hi Mike .. the rattler in the brush is very well camouflaged isn’t it .. and I sincerely hope the mother was grateful … people just don’t realise do they …

    Love reading more about the rattlers – we don’t have them here – I’m glad to say .. I stepped on a coiled snake in the heather when I was six – and it unwound underneath my tiny feet – I wasn’t happy! But it wasn’t dangerous .. just put me off snakes — for life perhaps – I can tolerate looking at them now .. but in the cowboy movies I used to hide my eyes!

    Cheers Hilary
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    • Mike Mar 23, 2014

      There was another instance of inattentive parents in Arizona back in 2011 where a couple of kids were trying to touch a ground squirrel in a popular area at the Grand Canyon. They are real pests in some areas as people ignore the signs not to feed the wildlife. However, there are other signs warning people about contact with the animals as they may carry diseases such as hantavirus. http://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/

      I made some loud comments about “those critters being dangerous” what with the diseases and all. It seemed to get the parent’s attention.

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