Photo of a large female Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox).

It’s Going to be a “YUGE” Snake Year

Photo: A large female Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) in a barrel after capture and prior to relocation.

No, this is not a political post. It appears that we are in for lots of snakes this year, hence the “Yuge!” We usually see lots of snakes; after all we’re in the country and prime snake habitat. And, we always have greenhouse snakes; primarily Diamondback Water Snake and Texas Ribbon Snakes, both of which are non-poisonous livebearers and reproduce in the greenhouses. Most snakes which are largely egg layers, can’t reproduce in the greenhouses since there is no sand in which to lay eggs. Outside the greenhouses, we also have many non-poisonous snakes such as Coachwhips, Racers, Garter Snakes, Green Snakes, etc., but this year we seem to have an especially big bumper crop of poisonous snakes. So far, starting with the very first day of spring when a young Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) appeared in front of our warehouse door, we’ve seen four Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, five Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix laticinctus), and a Coral Snake (Micrurus tener). And, this is very early! We rarely see poisonous snakes before May.

Below is a photo of the first poisonous snake of the year, the young Western Diamondback mentioned above. The snake stick in the photo gives it some scale. The distance between prongs of the stick is about six inches. The snake itself is about 14 inches long and is a youngster born last year (yes, “born” since rattlesnakes don’t lay eggs, but have live babies).

Photo of a young Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox).

A young Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) about 14 inches long.

A couple of days ago, Oso (our male German Shepherd) and I were headed from the house to the greenhouses. Before we could even get out of the yard, we encountered a five-foot long rattlesnake I hadn’t seen in two to three years. This female Western Diamondback is distinctive because she has a very deformed rattle. If you look carefully at the photo, you’ll note she barely has a rattle. We first met her about 13 years ago, at almost the exact spot she was today. That first time Susie (wife) and I were sitting in the yard drinking wine with Bear, the German Shepherd we had at that time. Well, Susie and I were drinking wine. Bear was teetotaler. As I watched, the snake crawled toward us until she realized we were there. Then she stopped and froze. Bear, our dog, approached the snake, which coiled up and tried to rattle its tail. No sound came out. Despite the snake being over two feet long, its rattle was just a button that didn’t even rattle. In lieu of rattling, she hissed loudly in warning. I called Bear back and after a while the snake moved away. After that we saw her a couple of times a year until about two to three years ago when she seemingly disappeared. I assumed she’d died, but obviously, she is alive and well.

Seeing her now five-foot long body sprawled across the trail; I recognized her by her tiny, almost useless rattle. I called Oso back before he stepped on her since, at first, he only smelled and didn’t see her as she lay motionless. Oso walked carefully around the snake, finally provoking her into coiling up. She was out in the open and didn’t like it. There was a tree about ten feet away and she wanted to be coiled up with it at her back (just as I prefer to sit with my back to a wall in a restaurant). Oso was in the way so she went after him. Oso wisely backed up and the snake reached the tree, coiled up, and dared us to do anything.

I called Susie and our visiting granddaughter, Elizabeth, out of the house to see the snake. I had Susie watch the snake while I retrieved a snake stick and a 55-gallon plastic barrel from the warehouse about 130 yards away. Since I was bitten by a rattlesnake back in 2004, Susie doesn’t allow me to catch them by hand, hence the snake stick. Returning with the snake stick and barrel, I caught the unhappy snake and dropped her into the barrel. The photo above shows her in the barrel.

After locking the dogs in house, I put the barrel on a dolly and wheeled it and the snake a couple of hundred yards south of the yard where I released her into a dewberry patch.

Okay, I know, people wonder why I didn’t kill the snake. First, rattlesnakes were here way long before we were. Second, they are great mousers and ratters. We have many rodents, including very pesky and destructive gophers. Snakes control rodents. Third, a large rattlesnake maintains a two to three-acre territory and excludes smaller rattlesnakes of the same sex from that territory. Kill a big snake and you open its territory for several smaller snakes. We don’t kill snakes of any kind. We do carry rattlesnakes away from areas we frequ