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Snakes and more snakes!

Of all the wildlife we have around here, the snakes are among the most "interesting".  Certain times of the year, and on certain years, I have run across quite a few snakes.  There are rattlesnakes and bull snakes that I regularly see.  If there are other types around here, I don't know about them from personal experience.  The funny thing is that to the untrained eye, both the bull snake and rattlesnake can look the same.  Both have similar markings on their skin.  In fact, if you just get a quick glance of one before it disappears into the brush, you sometimes can't tell what it is.  It becomes more obvious when you have a close encounter and are able to get a closer look.  The bull snake has a more slender head, while the rattlesnake has the more pronounced triangular shaped head common to pit vipers.  The most obvious difference is that, just as their name implies, the rattlesnake has a set of rattles at the end of their tail.  The tails of a bull snake has no rattles and tapers to a fine point.    


Snakes Den - Three Snakes in One of My Pumphouses

Herein lies one of the areas where I am not absolutely sure.  I have heard that tiny rattlesnakes might not have any rattles formed on their tails yet.  So, from what I understand, it would be possible to encounter a baby rattlesnake and mistake it for a bull snake it you only look at the tail.  That's why the best approach is probably to just to steer clear of them all.  That brings to mind something that a neighbor that lives maybe 1/2 mile away once told me.  They had an older gentleman visiting them.  These neighbor warned their visitor to watch out for rattlesnakes.  He was told that if he saw one, then just leave it alone.  Unfortunately for the older man, he didn't follow their advice very well.  Apparently, this fellow noticed a small snake near the house.  He thought he would help get rid of it by picking it up and flushing it down the toilet!  Well, the small snake, which turned out to be a rattlesnake, had the last say in the matter and bit the man.  From what I heard, the older man was very ill in the hospital for a quite a while.  It sounded like he almost died.  Therein lies another lesson.  Apparently, the baby rattlesnakes can be more dangerous than the big old daddy rattlers.  From what I've read, the baby rattlers will usually inject venom on every bite.  The bigger snakes are older and wiser.  They know that the venom is what they use to paralyze their victims so that they can swallow them, so they try to conserve the venom as a means of survival.  It's not uncommon for an older rattlesnake to give a dry bite.  That means that the snake may bite and put it's fangs into your flesh, but it might not inject much (if any) venom. That's good for you obviously, and it's good for the snake as well, so they conserve their venom for their next meal.  Just like a hyperactive kid, the baby rattlesnakes haven't learned this level of self control yet.  So, the small rattlesnakes may actually be more dangerous, as this unfortunate older gentleman found out.  Of course, another lesson in all this would be to never pick up a snake if you aren't 100% sure it's non-venomous.  Better yet, just leave all snakes alone.     

Rattlesnake by House

Kids Looking Out At A Rattlesnake

In the picture above, you can faintly see some of my kids looking out at the latest rattlesnake.  My son even grabbed the play rubber snake that we have in the house.  I guess he wanted to show the rubber snake what a real snake looks like.  In any case, while most of my snake encounters have been out away from the house, we have had some years where there have been quite a few near the house.  One year, we had 3 different rattlesnakes come right up next to the house under the kids' bedroom windows.  I suspect that it was mating season and that the first rattlesnake was a female and left some of her scent there which was picked up by her suitors.  Two more rattlesnakes showed up within a short time.  We had 3 of them in that area near the house within a 24 hour period. 

Rattlesnake by Fields

One of the Many Rattlesnakes I've Encountered on Our Farm

As I've said, most of the rattlesnakes I've encountered have not been next to the house.  The picture above shows one of the many snakes I've run across out by my hay fields or in the outlying areas of our farm.  Sometimes, when I'm in the process of harvesting my hay in the fields, I see more snakes than usual.  There have been times when I have been cutting my hay or baling it, that I've seen birds of prey like hawks swoop down and pick up a snake out of the field.  Sometimes the farm equipment stuns or injures the snake, or it just uncovers their hiding place, and the hawks take advantage of this and swoop down for a free meal.  Sometimes, I've seen a hawk sitting on a hay bale with a snake as it rips off chunks of the stringy flesh.  One time, while I was baling some alfalfa hay, my kids discovered 2 "headless" rattlesnakes near the field that had been partially eaten by hawks.  The picture below shows what was left of these two rattlesnakes after the birds were done with it.  I wonder if the bird first gets rid of the venomous head before it proceeds to eat on down the snake. 

Headless Rattlesnakes

Headless Snakes Found On the Farm - Birds of Prey Had a Meal

One time I was baling hay and I just happened to glance back at one point while the windrow of hay was going into the baler.  In a split second, I saw a snake going up into the baler along with the hay.  I tried to shut down the baler quickly (because I don't want to bale up snakes for my hay customers), but it was too late.  The snake went into the baler.  I took note of where this happened, and I decided I'd go back later and examine the bales and find out which one had the snake inside and eliminate that bale.  Well, it was very obvious to see which bale it was.  There sitting in the field was a hay bale with half of a snake hanging out!  Half in and half out, and the half that was out was still slithering around.  This has actually happened on more than one occasion, but thankfully it's not too often.  I'm supposed to be in the business of making hay bales, not snake bales!

UPDATE: A CLOSE ENCOUNTER - I recently had a close encounter with what I believe was a rattlesnake one night out in my hay field.  The reason I say "I believe it was a rattlesnake" is simply because I did not see it.  I sure felt and heard something though!  I was out in my hay field one night around 11PM checking to see if the conditions were right for baling.  It was pitch dark outside and I was walking around with a small head lamp that put out a little bit of light.  As I walked around the field, I reached into the rows of the cut hay to feel if it was in the right condition for baling.  Once, as I reached down into the row to pick up a pile of hay, I felt a sharp pain on my right hand.  I immediately dropped the hay and the first thought that came to mind was "I was just stung by a wasp".  That's sort of how it felt.  As I stood there wondering what just happened, I heard a faint buzzing sound.  I also heard a dragging sound.  The thought then came to me that I might have just been bitten by a rattlesnake!  Problem was that I wasn't 100% sure what happened because I couldn't see what stung or bit me.  I've been around snakes long enough to know that when it's cool out (like it was that night), a rattlesnake will shake its rattles but it will sound different.  Because rattlesnakes are cold blooded creatures, they slow down when their body temperatures cool down.  As a result, even the distinct buzz of their rattles sounds different when they are cooler.  The buzz is fainter and sounds slower than normal.  That's what it sounded like that night.  In addition, the sound like something dragging underneath the row of hay also matched the sound of what a rattlesnake would make while slithering away.  Like I said, I never saw anything with my own eyes, and I had enough common sense that I wasn't about to start digging around in the hay to try to see what it was (and getting bitten again)! 

I went back up to the house and called the hospital to see if they had anti-venom for rattlesnake.  I just wanted to make sure in case I needed to go in.  They did have it.  The nurse asked me if I had gotten bitten.  I said "I'm not sure".  A bit puzzled, she asked, "Did you get the snake?"  I told her that I didn't even see the snake.  I then explained what happened.  She told me that in the 10+ years she's worked at the hospital, she's never seen anyone come in for a rattlesnake bite.  I told her that I know it's not common.  I then went on to describe a little of where we live and how abundant snakes can be down here.  I told her how the day before when I was backing up our van, that I discovered that there was a rattlesnake underneath the van and we didn't even know it was there as the kids stepped up into the van.  It was hiding in the shade underneath the van and we didn't see it until we backed away.  Then the next day, we encountered another snake along our driveway while taking a walk.  Then when I was checking how my hay was drying during the day, I picked up a bunch of hay off the ground, and there I uncovered a snake coiled up right underneath!  Now it was late at night on that same day when I had that close encounter.  So, I explained to her that I know that for most people, getting bitten (let alone seeing rattlesnake) was not a common occurrence, but then again I didn't live in a common place when it came to snakes!  When it was all said and done, I decided to wait and see what symptoms (if any) occurred before going to the hospital.  I was told that they had a small amount of anti-venom for initial treatment at the local hospital, and that then I would need to be transported to another hospital.  Not being fond of hospitals in general, I decided to just wait a little while and see what happened.  After all, I never even saw the snake and I wasn't 100% that it was a snake bite (although I strongly suspected that it was).  In addition, I had been struck right on the last joint at the end of my pinky finger right at a bony part.  There was a small puncture mark there and it appears that I was only lightly struck by one fang. 

To make a long story shorter, my wife and I didn't sleep much that night.  We stayed up to observe any symptoms that might appear.  In the end, my hand and arm did swell some and the joints in my hand and arm felt achy and stiff.  It was not real bad.  It didn't get any worse than that.  It appears that I got about as close to a dry bite as you can get.  Something definitely got me, though.  I've been stung by bees and wasps many times over the years, and I've never had a reaction like this.  So, I suspect that it was really a snake bite (a very light, nearly dry strike), but I never saw the snake anyway and so I can not prove for sure what happened.  Some might say that it was all in my imagination!  In any case, I learned my lesson and I am now a lot more careful now about where I stick my hands!