By Dan Weisz
I was walking up a local wash a few days ago. (For those of you new to the area, according to Wikipedia a desert wash occurs “in the flat bottoms of canyons and drainages that lack water at or near the surface most of the year, and are subject to periodic severe flooding events.”) So in other words, I was walking up a “river” that has no water in it and only runs immediately after rainstorms for a very short while. Quite a number of washes run throughout the Foothills.
Walking back down the Campbell Wash I began thinking “it’s 80° this afternoon. Rattlesnakes should be out and about much more very soon.” And as I asked my friend if he walked this wash during the heat of the summer (thinking there are probably a lot of rattlesnakes at that time) I heard the distinct and very loud buzz of a rattlesnake shaking its rattle. I looked at the side of the trail and saw a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake two feet to the left of my friend. I yelled “Stop” followed by “Take a step to the right” which he did.
Then, we began to admire our visitor. Crouching down low, I could get a clear look at the rattler between the brush it had been resting under. Although Rattlesnakes do not display emotions, this face still sent a clear message:
After perhaps one minute of rattling the snake began to move parallel to the trail downhill as if it were pacing us. In reality, it was moving down “its” path in order to escape and return to a more private place. The snake kept a watch on us making sure it was ready for any surprises we might have in store.
We kept our distance but watched closely too. Do you know some of the indicators that hospitals have when they admit most rattlesnake bite victims? First, victims are usually male. Second, they are usually between the ages of 15 and 35. And third, there is alcohol involved. Most male rattlesnake bite victims are bitten on the hands and arms. Most female rattlesnake victims are bitten on the ankles. Rattlesnakes rarely bite unless provoked or threatened.
Here’s a good look at the tail and rattle of this Western Diamondback. The shaking of the rattle deters predators and serves as a warning to passers-by, which we were. The rattles are made out of keratin, the same material our fingernails are made out of. Every time the snake sheds its skin, another rattle is made. As snakes can shed more than once a year, and rattles can break off, contrary to popular belief you cannot tell the age of a rattlesnake by counting its rattles. A rattlesnake can shake its rattle 50 times per second, causing each of the segments to knock against each other causing the rattling sound.
And then the snake left us. From that bulge in the middle of the snake, this Western Diamondback had probably eaten fairly recently. The snake appeared to be about three feet long and you can see the diamond shapes on its back. The Diamondback continued rattling even after we could no longer see it among the grasses up the slope.
Snakes are part of the natural landscape of the Foothills and they have their role. We can admire them from a safe distance. But for the next half a year or so, eyes on the trail every step of the way!!!