Beware The Rattle

Throughout our two-plus decades of married life, my husband and I have hiked many miles in many locations. Wildlife encounters have generally enriched the experience and have, mostly, been of the harmless, and feathered or furred kind – birds, rabbits, squirrels, foxes, coyotes. Our somewhat more borderline interactions with brown bears in Alaska are a different story, but will have to wait for another time. With regard to encounters of the scaly kind, we have made the acquaintance of turtles, lizards, and snakes – the latter predominantly nonpoisonous individuals.

Even though many trailheads in Colorado’s foothills and prairie bear warning signs about poisonous rattlesnakes, it was only three or four years ago that we saw our first, when we nearly stepped on a “baby” that sunned itself in the middle of the trail. I had barely enough time to take a few photos before it shimmied away.

Baby rattlesnake. It is difficult to gauge size in this photo, but it was no longer than a foot.

Just a few weeks back, we had our second sighting (or our third, if we count one we saw through the car window during a May trip to northeast Colorado). When my husband suddenly stopped in his tracks during a hike at a local nature preserve, I nearly ran into him. He pointed to a shallow gully about fifteen feet ahead of us, which we had to cross and where we recognized an elongated albeit slightly stocky form. Even though my partner in crime is colorblind, his ability to discern patterns, especially on the ground, is better than mine, and he often notices amphibians or reptiles before I do. “Look at the triangular head,” he said. “That’s a rattlesnake.” A second glance confirmed his impression, as it revealed rattles at the distal end, and pits underneath the eyes. These house heat sensing organs and are responsible for their classification as pit vipers. We were most likely facing a Prairie Rattlesnake.

Three to four feet long, its body extended instead of coiled, and not in striking distance, it did not pose a threat. We watched it closely, as it did us. When three more hikers approached from the opposite direction, we alerted them to the snake’s presence, and they, too, paused, to catch a few glimpses. The reptilian head swiveled back and forth, between them and us, but the cold-blooded creature neither hissed nor rattled, merely flicked its bifurcated tongue from time to time (though never when I took a photo). After I made a wide arc around it to reach the other side of the gully, it, too, made up its mind to move on, though not far. It slithered behind a sun-warmed rock ten to twelve feet adjacent to the trail and curled up, seemingly ready for a siesta, perhaps to digest a recent meal.

We are convinced that we have been scrutinized by wild critters countless times, without ever knowing about it. Their usual modus operandi is avoidance of large animals, humans included. This fortunately peaceful meeting served not only as an opportunity to admire the greenish hue, white facial, and gray dorsal markings of this specimen that seemed particularly unperturbed, but also as a reminder to be aware of our surroundings. It is possible, not to say probable, that on our way back to the car, we looked behind rocks and over our shoulders slightly more frequently than usual. 🙂

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

45 thoughts on “Beware The Rattle

  1. When we were in western Nebraska last year and encountered a rattlesnake along the path at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, I had a similar reaction to yours: I phoned the headquarters and told them to warn any people who would be walking up the same path.

    From the first comment I learned another German word: Klapperschlange.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would be scared stiff in that situation Tanja.

    I stepped on a baby Tiger snake when I was a child while out hiking with my family and I think I was more scared than the baby snake.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rattlers, yikes! My dad’s family is from lower Georgia so while visiting there every summer as a child, I would always see rattle snakes, it was part of the summer adventure, lol. My dad knocked me back once pretty good to keep me from going towards a Mama rattler on her nest. They say they are not native in Maryland, but there have been a few sightings. Not close to me, thank goodness!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe when one grows up with them, seeing one is not a big deal, but I also know that a lot of people, in a lot of places, kill a lot of snakes. I would not want one in our yard, but I am glad that they still exist, and we should give them their space.
      We could hardly believe it, but we actually saw another specimen during a hike today. Three in two months, a record for us. We wonder what it means!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Die Klapperschlange gehört zum “Wild West”-Mythos, da denkt man gleich an staubige Felsen, verruchte Saloons und rauchende Colts. Obwohl es die Klapperschlange bei uns nicht gibt, hat sie es zu einiger Bekanntheit gebracht, in einem deutschen Schüttelreim:
    Es klapperten die Klapperschlangen, bis ihre Klappern schlapper klangen.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautiful creatures, aren’t they? I’m glad you had the opportunity for a peaceful encounter. I’m thankful to say that almost all of the snakes in my area are non-venomous, and the one rattle snake we have is so rare and so shy it is unlikely one would ever encounter it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Tanja.
    I am like most other people, I am terrified of snakes. It has gotten better with age as I can now look at the pictures at least. Part of this might have been because of the fact that I grew in Nepal where venomous snakes kill many people every year in the southern part of the country. Whenever I visited relatives living in that part of the country, I rarely went outside the home specifically due to snakes. Only three times I’ve actually seen snakes in the wild, one was a water snake in Nepal, the second was a small one that slithered away very fast (also in Nepal) and the third one was a couple of years ago in Sri Lanka. The locals in Sri Lanka called it a rat snake. The venomous ones in Nepal I was always warned about as a child were king cobras, kraits and sometimes boas.
    I am glad you had a safe encounter with the rattle snakes. It sounds scary to me that they might have been watching you several times without you ever noticing. I am glad I live in Poland now as I’ve been told that there are no venomous snakes, and I’ve never seen one yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope it was not too uncomfortable to look at the photos, Pooja. I can relate to how you feel about snakes completely, especially since you grew up in a country with so many venomous ones. I think humans still harbor a deep-seated fear of snakes or spiders for good reasons.
      It is disconcerting to think too much about being a potential target for wildlife, but I think that, for the most part, most animals just want to be left alone, which is fine with me.
      I hope you are well.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ich mag keine Schlangen – aber auf deinen Fotos schaut die Klapperschlange wunderschön aus! Der helle Grünton wirkt irgedwie sehr friedlich. Dein Schlangenportrait ist besonders beeindruckend! Ich hoffe, das Foto wurde mit einem ordentlichen Zoomfaktor gemacht! 🙂 Liebe Grüße, Andrea

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unsere kleinen Nattern im Garten mag ich, aber ob ich Klapperschlangen mag, sei dahingestellt. Ich habe großen Respekt vor ihnen! Aber ihre Muster gefallen mir schon. Und ob habe ich Gebrauch von meinem Zoom gemacht!
      Schön, wieder von Dir zu hören, liebe Andrea. Ich hoffe es geht Dir gut.
      Herzliche Grüße aus Colorado,


  8. That’s a good point about all the times we are being watched. My partner in crime is also colorblind, and picks up things that I miss. It’s very interesting. When we saw a rattler, I beleive he saw it first as well. It was to the side of a trail we were walking, a simialr circumstance to your sighting. All went well, but I didn’t get photos as nice as yours – I have a tendency to keep a shorter lens (a prime lens, so no zooming) on my camera, so when these things happen I rarely can record them. That green is really pretty!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It would be interesting to conduct a study on colorblind individuals, to evaluate their capacity to detect different patterns, and compare it with persons with normal color vision. I expect it would show superior capability.
      As much as I respect rattlesnakes, I find them quite fascinating, and I am glad I had the ability to zoom in from a safe distance!
      Thank you for your visit and comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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