Saturday, December 6, 2014

Prairie Rattlesnake - An Honorable Asp

Prairie Rattlesnake

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" ~ Indiana Jones

Dwelling in Colorado's dark underworld, the prairie rattlesnake is a misunderstood animal that always gets a bad rap. Despite its intimidating appearance, the shy serpent is not looking for trouble. As a matter of fact, the reticent reptile does everything in its control to avoid detection and possible conflict. When alarmed, the snake vibrates its tail rapidly creating an unforgettable buzzing sound. The distinct noise is a warning to all who can hear, "Don't tread on me!"

The reclusive rattler is beautifully colored and patterned in such a way that it blends perfectly into the rocky buttes and mesas that fringe the Front Range foothills. During the dog days of summer, it becomes nocturnal. The stealthy snake hunts at night using its innervated pits to detect heat emanating from warm-blooded rodents.

A lightning-quick strike is absolutely lethal. Delivered by two long, hinged fangs, large amounts of toxic venom are injected into hunting bites. Interestingly, some defensive encounters with humans result in a "dry bite". That's when little or no venom is actually released into the person's wound.

If it feels threatened or provoked, the prairie rattlesnake will turn downright nasty on a dime but not without fair warning. The antagonist better proceed with caution because the rattler will fight back fast and furiously. An angry snake will load up with tissue-damaging toxins and strike several times during a single attack.

The honorable asp seems uncannily self-aware of its destructive power and never strikes until it has generously given notice. Luckily for us, the deadly pit viper is distinguished by the beaded rattle on the end of its tail and the snake is conscientious enough to use it.

We encountered the snake pictured in this post while hiking up South Table Mountain in Golden. Comfortable and docile, she was sunning herself in the middle of the path on a cool, September morning. My wife and the dogs unwittingly walked right over the top of the camouflaged snake.

Bringing up the rear, our youngest was first to spot the coiled creature. A scary situation at first, we kept a careful distance and watched the rattler for about fifteen minutes. After a while, probably tired of our persistence, she slowly slithered off of the trail. She never buzzed once.

An intimidating appearance

A reticent rattler

Beautifully colored and patterned

Buttes and mesas fringe the foothills

South Table Mountain trail

Sunning in the middle of the path

Slowly slithering off trail

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