Sunday, March 24, 2013

Prairie Rattlesnake

Prairie Rattlesnakes are found across the western Great Plains of the United States and southern Canada.  Stebbins (1985)considers this snake to be a race of the Western Rattlesnake, but recent genetic research indicates that rattlesnakes west of the Rocky Mountains are, in fact, a separate species.

Prairie Rattlesnakes give birth to live young (instead of laying eggs) and often females give birth at communal dens. Up to 25 young are born at a time (Wikipedia).  These rattlesnakes feed on a wide variety of small mammals, and young will also take ampibians or reptiles. I suspect the swelling halfway down this snake may be a small mammal. Once a Prairie Rattlesnake got twisted in the lowest trammel of my bird net. Later I autopsied the snake and found two field mice, which created a similar swelling (reminiscent of the boa that swallowed an elephant in The Little Prince).

Usually only careless people are struck by this venomous snake and then only if the snake is injured or feels threatened. Inquisitive children are more often hit than are adults. The snake in this photo, taken at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in southwestern North Dakota, was one of many we found dead on the road. Seeking souvenirs, some people are tempted to cut the rattles off dead snakes. But these people are unaware that freshly dead snakes still retain a striking reflex. Thus more people have been bitten by dead rattlesnakes than by live ones. Being bitten by a rattlesnake is often a very unpleasant experience, often resulting in gangrene, amputation, and, occasionally, death.

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