Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) | Gloss Mountains, Major Co., Oklahoma

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) | Gloss Mountains, Major Co., Oklahoma

I’m always delighted to see snakes, even venomous species, and whenever my collecting takes me west I know my chances of seeing snakes are good. My first stop during the current collecting trip was the Gloss Mountains of northwestern Oklahoma, and although I have visited this place several times since “discovering” it in June 2009, I have seen only a single snake during all of my previous visits—a charming little Western Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius streckeri). I’m a little surprised by this, as the habitat looks perfect for the one snake that truly don’t look forward to encountering—the Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). As I roam the surrounding mixed grass prairies (by both day and night) I am ever on the watch for these terrifyingly aggressive snakes, having learned my lesson with this species a few years ago in South Dakota’s Black Hills. I spent two days in the area during this trip, and I still have not seen one, but I did see a young (just over 2 feet in length) Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)—my first for this species. Although he was lying in an eroded ravine in the red clay talus slopes and partially hidden by an overhanging clump of grass, the diamond pattern immediately drew my eye as something out of the ordinary, and I was able to move the grasses aside (with my net handle!) and get this shot before he even flinched. After the first flash he started getting agitated, and I was only able to get two more (not as good) shots before he’d had enough and began retreating into the thicker grass above the ravine—rattle buzzing vigorously as he left. Comparatively speaking, he was one of the most docile rattlesnakes I’ve encountered, but since this is the only Western Diamondback I’ve seen I don’t know if that is a hallmark of the species or more due to his young age.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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12 Responses to Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

  1. Lisa Vankula-Donovan says:

    Brave, brave, brave. I love almost any insect and even spiders but would not, knowingly venture into snake territory. But glad you did and great capture!

  2. smccann27 says:

    Great! I once saw an Eastern Diamondback in Florida, but it would have been suicide to try to stop on the road it was on with all the big trucks…

    • That’s the only time I’ve seen an Eastern as well, and that was many years ago. It was on the road to Okefenokee Swamp, and I was a little nervous stopping a little further down and tromping through the adjacent pine forests.

  3. sue says:

    What a beautiful photo. The snake is exquisite, and you even have its rattles showing. Do you know if the 5 segments mean that it has shed its skin 5 times and is five years old?

    • Rattlesnakes do add a segment to the rattle each time they shed their skin (it starts as a small cap on the tip of the tail). However, they can shed several times per year and also parts of the rattle can break off, so number of rattle segments can’t really be used to age a snake. Just based on size I would guess this one to be around two years old.

  4. Jon Quist says:

    That’s one of my favorite results of photography; discovering new things.

    I recently encountered my first rattle snake (Crotalus o. oreganus) in the Coastal Range. As it slithered away through a bush, I knelt down about two feet away, and leaned forward to photograph its side for identification. As I was browsing through my pictures on the computer later that week, I noticed that the fella had turned around and was facing my camera from the shady underside of the bush…. Sure glad he/she didn’t strike!

  5. 6legs2many says:

    We have timber rattlers in our area (Crotalus horridus), and when I did a microhabitat study on local snakes as an undergraduate I was extremely impressed with how chill the handful we encountered were. A couple times we hung out with one for half an hour until we could get someone experienced to come help us catch it and tag it. Most snakes took off like a shot once we released them, but I remember these as tending to hang around in the area. They were Not Impressed by us. :)

    • I’ve only encountered one timber rattler, and it was a fairly young one at that. It just sat there fully exposed on the trail until we started trying to take photographs – only then did it try to move away. I probably should have left it alone, but I really wanted some good photos so I ‘caught’ it with my net and moved it to some rocks where I thought it might settle down. That’s exactly what it did, and I got my photos!

  6. Julie Jacobus says:

    Growing up and living in the West (Oregon, Washington and most recently, Nevada) I have encountered only 1 Western Diamondback. The habit of the Western Diamondback is fairly shy. They will retreat if they can before they strike. The one I encountered was on a hiking trail in Central Oregon. When he saw us coming, he quickly slithered off into the brush, not allowing me to take any pictures, rattling all the way. At least you got a picture!

    • I went back to the region a few days later and looked in an area that struck me as good snake habitat, because I really wanted to see an adult. I found one! He started rattling when I was still about 10 yards away – didn’t really try to flee but also never attempted to strike at my net handle as I used it to move aside vegetation that was screening him from view. I got lots of photos that I will post soon.

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