Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Road Hog

Answer to "What is it?"

Driving down our lane, I encountered an obstruction.  A three foot timber rattlesnake was basking in the 85 degree heat and showed no inclination to move.  When I got out of the truck and approached, it assumed a defensive position rather than escaping into the thickets on either side of the road.

Defensive coil - Click to enlarge
If you click on the picture above, you will notice that its head is tucked, even hidden directly below the rattling tail.  The rattle serves as a warning to those of us who know (or should know) better than to pick up a snake.  It is likely that this developed as a way to lure a curious animal such as a rat that is then dinner, a technique called caudal luring.  Having its head right by the rattling tail allows it to strike the target quickly as well as expose its least vulnerable part while protecting its head.  Another example of caudal luring is the bright yellow tail of a young copperhead, although one study suggested that tail color didn't affect the success in pygmy rattlesnakes. 

Young copperhead - note yellow tail lure
The problem now was it was hogging the road between the two wheel paths.  I was afraid if I tried to straddle it with the truck it would try to escape and be run over.  It had now settled down, still coiled but with its tail upright and motionless.  I tried pushing it to the side with a long stick (let me emphasize long) and merely succeeded in annoying it as seen in this video.

I finally used a long watering tool as a modified snake hook and lifted it to the side and it slithered off in annoyance.  This rattler was smaller than the ones we occasionally see in the same area of the road so I suspect that they have been breeding successfully on the glade.  As long as they stay there and not at the garage and house, we will peacefully coexist.

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