Rattlers don’t rattle
I’ve done a lot of hiking out in the Sonora Desert and I’ve seen plenty of snakes. Let’s face it – snakes live out here because the climate suits them. That includes Diamond back rattlesnakes and a few of their cousins. A sobering thought is that these snakes are hard to see. Once I almost stepped on one that was stretched out soaking up the morning sunshine on a chilly November morning. He looked just like one of several thousand cholla cactus skeletons I had stepped across that morning. When you hear one rattle you never forget that sound. This one was just as spooked of me as I was of it. He sounded off and coiled up and I yelped and jumped about ten feet. Then I went back a couple steps to look at him. He was shaking his rattles but they weren’t rattling. Nope they made more of a buzzz sound. I was real leery of cholla cactus skeletons the rest of that hike.
The next one I saw was laying on a jeep trail soaking up some sunshine on a nice March morning. I picked him up with a long stick to get him off the trail instead of driving over him. (I try not to kill desert critters because I figure they have a tough enough life just surviving out here and don’t need any additional harassment from me.) Anyway, this guy was a big fat Diamond back. He was shaking his rattles to warm me off. Trouble is they weren’t making a sound. I suspect he had just shed his skin and his rattles were still green. Whatever the reason I learned right then to not rely on hearing a warning buzzzz from a rattler you get too close to. I also learned that rattlers get pissed off when you interrupt their sunbathing sessions.
This was impressed on my mind after encountering a couple more rattlers. One crawled across the trail a couple feet in front of me while I was busy enjoying the scenery. It was a bit unsettling that I didn’t see him until then. He didn’t pay a bit of attention to me so I just stayed put and let him crawl off. Another one caught my eye on a different occasion while I was sitting on a rock taking a breather. He crawled right through a wash I had just gone through. I figured this one was a good looking snake so I herded him back to a bare sandy area with a long stick so I could take his picture. He never even tried to rattle. I guess he figured I was harmless or he liked getting his picture taken. Or maybe he was just waiting for me to get in range.
The point is that rattle snakes don’t rattle. If they sound off they buzzz and some of them just stay quiet. I think they have evolved. The ones that sound off get spotted and people kill them. The survivors learned to stay quiet. Survival of the smartest! Something to keep in mind too is they really blend in with their surroundings so If they don’t move you probably won’t see them. And a final parting piece of advice. Not all of them den up during the winter so watch where you put your hands and feet anytime of the year when you are out in the desert. Remember that if you actually spot a rattlesnake out in the wild, you have probably walked past a dozen of them without knowing it. Pleasant dreams.