I’d been sitting on the dead ash log for a good thirty minutes before I noticed that I had company. The rattle caught my eye — what an odd piece of vegetation — then the whole snake popped into consciousness — whoa! The animal was curled catlike, its nose and tail resting on the body. It did not move one tiny little bit for the hour that I watched.
The eye is clouded which, I think, means that the snake is preparing to molt.
A close-up of the scales on the animal’s back (taken with a flash, hence the change in tone from the photos above):
The camouflage was incredible: the head was a perfect match for sun-bleached maple leaves, the dark patches were the color of wet litter. Hard to spot, even when you’re close:
I returned the next day found the snake coiled in exactly the same place, its body shifted slightly. Still very hard to see:
By coincidence, I received a frozen road-killed rattlesnake this week from some colleagues whose vehicle accidentally violated the revolutionary imperative: Don’t Tread on Me. This allows a closer look at the source of the phobias that have etched snakes into the deepest parts of our subconscious (religious allegories, anyone?).
In pulling open the mouth to get a photo, I managed to spike myself on the lower teeth. So when asked whether I’ve ever been bitten by a snake, I can now answer No, but I’ve bitten myself with a rattlesnake. Another entry in the Annals of Zoological Stupidity. As it happens, this week I’m reading David Quammen’s excellent new book, Spillover, which is full of tales of microbes leaping into humans through pin-prick wounds. So far, the end of my thumb shows no sign of incubating the next zoonotic pandemic.
If these images fang you with fear, let me add that I’ve spent thousands of hours in Shakerag Hollow and this is the only close encounter I’ve had with a rattlesnake.
The timber rattlesnake is declining across most of its range due to habitat changes, road mortality and direct persecution from people. In its former territory in the Northeast, sightings are very rare indeed. In the snakes’ place, plagues of tick-bearing small rodents tromp merrily through the woods, their enemy defeated.