Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday: the Timber Rattlesnake

Our first night in camp, I struggled to light a fire with wet wood.  Matt squatted beside me to explain what I was doing wrong. Gabe played at the picnic table. There was a small commotion on the opposite side of the camp loop, but the campground was crowded and we were engrossed in our various activities. We didn't think much of it.

The next night, we attended a campfire program on amphibians and reptiles. During the Q&A, the speaker was asked about local rattlesnakes and he flipped back through his slides to illustrate his answer.

"My picture isn't very good," he lamented.

"We have a great one on our phone!" said a woman in the audience.

"Oh, I heard about you! You had two in your campsite didn't you?"

At this point, the conversation had the attention of everyone in the audience.

The family was staying in one of the camper cabins in the campground.  They were collecting firewood for their fire when their young son heard the sound of a rattle.  He backed off and called his mom who promptly called the rangers. Not one, but two rattlesnakes were found at the base of their cabin doing "the dance of seduction." The rangers called someone specially trained to handle venomous snakes. They captured the snakes and took them farther up the mountain away from people.

"I heard they were abundant this year," the speaker said.

I like to think of myself as a nature girl, but I was a little freaked out by this. Coming across a snake in our yard or while cleaning out a stream in Baltimore City is one thing. Poisonous snakes are extremely rare, if non-existent in the Maryland lowlands. Hearing where you're about to spend a week outdoors is potentially infested with rattlesnakes is a whole other ballgame.

I spent half the night thinking every rustle in the leaves was a snake passing through our site. The next morning, I ran into a ranger at the camp store and asked a few pertinent questions. Infested was not at all accurate, but it was mating season and they had seen more snakes than usual.

"We've moved 13-15 out of the populated parts of the park this summer," she said.

So, still a little freaky but manageable. After all, this was their home, not mine.

The boys and I talked about snakes in general and how important it is to watch where you put your feet. We talked about listening with our ears as well as looking with our eyes when we hike.

"So we can hear rattles?" Gabe asked. That boy is no fool.

"Yep," I said. I slept soundly the rest of our trip, but in all honesty, I was a little tense about the boys exploring beyond the perimeters of our campsite.

The boys were completely unphased. In fact, every night, we had competing prayers.

"PLEASE, let us see a rattlesnake and a bear," Gabe prayed.

I would quickly follow, "PLEASE, let us NOT see a rattlesnake and a bear."

Not my photo (I hope to never get this close).
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
My prayers were mostly answered.

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Sources and Further Reading

Crotalus horridus - Wikipedia

Rattlesnakes (video) - Home & Garden Information Center
A University of Maryland Extension

Timber Rattlesnake - Maryland DNR Field Guide to Maryland's Snakes

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