Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Defense of Rattlesnakes…Or Not

When I first moved to Nevada, I wanted to explore the desert.  One evening, as the sun was going down, I took my two small sons into an open area to look for jackrabbits.  Talking all the time, pointing out all the wonders of the desert to them, I lost track of one very important aspect of desert exploration: personal safety.  My oldest son finally asked, “Mom, what is that sound?” I stopped and listened.  A thousand maracas, in every direction.  We were surrounded.   

Luckily, we made it out without incident, and I immediately went home and started researching rattlesnakes. Just the word ‘rattlesnake’ made me cringe, and I needed to know if they were really as bad as all that.  I discovered, well, yes and no. 

Of the thirty two different kinds of rattlesnakes that exist, of course, one of the most dangerous lives in my area: the Mojave rattlesnake.  They don’t lay eggs like most snakes, they have live births.  The babies are born with fully functioning fangs and venom and are capable of killing at birth. Older, bigger snakes have more potent venom and a larger storage capacity, but they do have a little self control. The young ones know no better than to bite and release their entire load.  In other words, even the newborns are very dangerous.

The venom rattlesnakes release destroys tissue, causes internal bleeding and intense pain.  The Mojave venom, additionally, can cause severe paralysis, which comes in handy when it’s time for them to eat.  They bite, the prey is paralyzed and they ingest their food head first, flesh and bone. 

Rattlesnakes have “heat vision” and basically can sense heat signatures from great distances.  In fact, they can detect the heat of a candle from thirty feet away. So, yes, they know where you are, even if you don’t know where they are.

If you happen to be a small animal, your chances of surviving a rattlesnake attack are pretty slim.  But what about humans?  Few die, only because most are smart enough to immediately get to a hospital for anti-venom, but there are always those who think they are such badasses that they can tough it out, suck it out (wrong) or just let the venom pass. RIP suckers.  But even though survival rates are high, it does hurt like hell.         

But here is my defense of the rattlesnake.  I’ve now lived here for sixteen years and have yet to see a live one, although I’ve heard them many times.  They aren’t that interested in humans, because they can’t eat them, and basically just want you to get out of their way.  Nice little creatures that they are, they warn you that they are around by shaking their rattled tail up to sixty times per second (!).  So if you are smarter than a rock, you can turn and walk, or run, the other way.  And you should take that warning. 

In my upcoming novel, Ragtown, the Mojave Rattlesnake has a distinct presence.  Most of my characters are smarter than rocks; but there are a few who think they are badasses...         


Krystal Wade said...

Sounds like you need to take a walking stick with you on your adventures. If you ever get to close to one, you can scare it away with the stick. I hate snakes. At least the one I put my hand on wasn't poisonous.

Erica Lucke Dean said...

I've decided to never go outside again for fear of this snake! LOL, ok I may be exaggerating slightly, but only slightly. We have found many baby rattlers or copperheads in our yard, but no full grown snakes, thank goodness! I don't mind the non-poisonous varieties, but since I can't tell them apart, I'm just going to avoid all things that slither.

Loree Huebner said...

Nice blog.

"Snakes? Why'd it have to be snakes?" ~Indiana Jones