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November 24th, 2008 - Non-sacrilegious Edition

I suppose I had better watch that, after all, we are dealing with the serpent here.

These are "Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes" or Crotalus horridus. They are very much alive and come from some small areas in South Eastern Minnesota, where they are native. If I had told you exactly where they came from I would have to "terminate you without prejudice", or at least pull your tongue out. The MNDNR is NOT big on telling people their location, for two reasons; there is a large poaching contingent out there that preys on this animal to provide "pets" for a black-market trade, (there was a bounty on them until 1989) and skins and rattles for wannabe cool biker-types. Another contingent of the population that feels they must kill ANY rattlesnake, ANY animal looking like a rattlesnake, ANY animal imitating a rattlesnake, ANY baby-rattles rolling down a hill, etc.  It's sad.
They are on the Minnesota Threatened and Protected Species List, and exist in very small numbers, after being nearly wiped out completely a couple years ago.
So how did I get this close to Rattlesnakes in Minnesota? Well, one of the keynote speakers (Jim Gerholdt) that presented at our MNA (Minnesota Master Naturalist) Convention this last weekend is an authority on venomous snakes, and brought a few of his to display and demonstrate how to handle them.
They definitely have a different look than the other snakes we normally see: they have a large, knobby, triangular head, a large mouth slit that you tell tell will open VERY wide so that ground squirrel can slide right on down there. They have vertical pupils, prominent nostrils, and large (for their head size) sensing pits. 

They also have body scales that are "keeled", as you can see if you look closely at the above photo, there are raised lines dividing each of the body scales in sort of a coffee-bean effect. 
And they have a rattle, or a bud if they are young, at the end of their tail which gives it a truncated look, instead of the tapered and pointed tail sported by of 90% of our native snakes.
Jim pointed out some interesting facts while he was showing them off, they have multiple sets of venomous fangs, which swing-down from their normally folded-up position inside the mouth. 
If they break a set off while trying to wrestle something big and inject it, the next set swings down to take over right behind the first. They also have another set to back-up after that.
Jim said he has had one close-call in his 30 yrs. of wrangling rattlers, which led to a "dry-bite" or feigned bite where the snake doesn't want to lose it's venom for some pitiful self-defence misunderstanding. He said the real danger once came from a snake that had it's head lopped-off along the highway in California. The headless body continued to strike. And conversely, disembodied rattler heads have been known to strike for many minutes after their own disconnection.  Hmmm. This sounds vaguely familiar.

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