Thursday, April 21, 2011

More Than A Morel

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There are few things more thrilling that finding a good sized morel,  but here is one.  I was hunting in the bottom of a drainage among some old tangled tree trunks when I spotted a nice morel at the base of an ash tree.  When I bent down to cut off the beauty, I heard a sound familiar to anyone who has seen many old westerns.  I turned cautiously without moving my feet and saw what you see to the right.

After a few seconds, I was able to find the business end looking at me from a few logs above and to the right about three feet from me.  After looking around to be sure it didn't have a nearby mate, I carefully stepped back another foot and started taking pictures.  When I stepped on a slender log, a side branch twisted to the side toward the snake and it struck at it.  I was able to use this to get the video below.

Click to enlarge
This Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus, was a real colorful beauty, as big as my wrist in diameter (no, I didn't put my wrist down on it to take a measurement), and between 4 to 5 feet long.  It didn't move away but just rearranged itself in a more safe position while I took pictures.  As you see below, it preferred to be coiled so it could attack if it was in danger.

The Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus, is native to the Northeastern United States.  Previously found throughout Missouri, they are no longer seen in some counties due to habitat loss and persecution by humans.

My snake was doing just what the textbooks say it should.  They prefer rocky slopes in deciduous forests which face the south.  They spend sunny spring and fall afternoons basking in the warmth while looking for rodents and small rabbits which they will paralyze with their venom.  It was no more interested in biting me than I was in being bitten.  Their warning rattle will suffice to discourage most of us.  Wikipedia has this to say about their danger:
"Potentially, this is one of North America's most dangerous snakes, due to its long fangs, impressive size and high yield.  This is to some degree offset by its relatively mild disposition.  Before striking, they often do a good deal of preliminary rattling and feinting."
In Missouri, because of our more varied terrain we also have two other rattle snakes.  The Western Pigmy Rattlesnake is much smaller, the state record being barely over 20 inches.  They are very shy and said to be infrequently seen although we see them more often than timber rattlers on Bull Creek.  They have a faint rust-colored stripe down their back, tiny rattles and a faint sound.  To appreciate any  of these features you have to get closer to them than you would probably like.

The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is a bottom land and wet prairie snake, in between the pigmy and timber rattlers is size and has almost been extirpated from the state.  It is tan-brown with darker brown blotches, quite distinctive from its cousins.

The MDC Field Guide has more information on these snakes as well as a sound file so you can hear what I heard.  The full set of my pictures are at my Picasa site.

4 comments:

  1. What a surpise. Really great close up pictures. We've never seen a rattlesnake on our place. Along time ago our neighbor, who grew up here, told us they liked more rock than we have on our place; just as well.

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  2. Great photos! Even if they don't strike readily...you can keep them on your side of the creek!

    Fred McQueary

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  3. My grandmother once told me that you would die if you eat a rattle snake. Is that true?

    JP

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  4. Grandma was right about almost everything, but not this time. I would not kill a rattlesnake in the wild but have had to kill several on our deck or in the garage at Bull Creek. The long muscles along the spine fry up as very tasty morsels, like a moist chicken thigh.

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