We’ve all heard this colloquial: “there’s a snake in my boot!” And, no doubt, that scenario would be startling to even the most savvy, well-seasoned herpetologist…like myself. When you’re out in the field, you might have the misfortune of running into one of these “limbless land mines.” This is both a startling and serious situation if you’re not prepared.
From The Wild, Wild West
Prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) are common, medium-sized snakes found throughout much of the western united states, covering the vast majority of the Great Plains region. Within their endemic areas, these melodious serpents inhabit the abandoned—well, sometimes not-so-vacant—burrows hollowed-out by previous animals in areas such as rocky outcrops. Keep one eye combing potential hiding places nearby, and the other eye where your next step will be.
Shake And Bake—Well, At Least Shake
Now on to that anatomical quirk on their tails: their eponymous rattle. Simply put, it’s a conglomeration of loosely held together dead scales, which create an alarming sound when friction is applied. A commonly held misconception is you can correlate the segments, the number of individuals “rattles,” with the animal’s age. Just like human hair—it falls off. Rattlesnakes, like all snakes, shed their skin periodically—and with it goes the rattle. Their rattles can easily become too lengthy overtime to hold up, dropping-off individual—or group segments—along the way. Yes, that animal might have eight or nine rattles, but it may only be four-years old. But it can still cause a ruckus.
Pick Your Poison
Like much of their other rattling kin, Prairie rattlesnakes posses hemotoxic venom, a chemical cocktail that attacks the soft tissue, amassing into those cringe-worthy images we often associate with snake bites. Some prairie rattlesnakes have concocted a more neurotoxic elixir, capping-off important biological functions—like breathing and a regular heartbeats.
The best way to deal with getting bitten is to avoid getting near the snake in the first place. Rattlesnakes are solitary creatures, wanting to be left alone and unbothered, un-manipulated—they only attack if you get too close for their comfort. Wearing leather boots and steering clear of places rattlesnakes frequent, such as rocky outcroppings or brush, should keep you relatively safe. If you manage to be one of those unlucky few to get bitten by a Prairie Rattlesnake each year, then the best course of action is to call 911, stay calm, remove restrictive clothing or rings, and keep the bite lower than heart level.
If you lead with respect, you’ll walk away unscathed from rattlesnake country—and they’ll slither away to be a part of the greater puzzle that is our shared biosphere.