I don’t know what it is, but even though I am first an entomologist I am also a sucker for snakes. Well, not just any snakes, but rattlesnakes. It must have something to do with my psyche—my favorite color is black, when it comes to music I choose metal (Slayer, anyone?), and I have a collection of replica fossil hominid skulls… in my office! At any rate, when I decided to return to Gloss Mountain State Park near the end of my early June collecting trip to Oklahoma, I also decided to make a real effort to find an adult western diamondback rattlesnake. Why did I decide to do this (other than my psyche)? Because I had seen a juvenile there earlier in the week but still hadn’t seen an adult, and there is an area in the park surrounded by signs that read “CAUTION. Rattlesnakes may be present! Stay out of the tall grass. Don’t reach into holes. Stay on marked trails. Be observant.” So, what did I do? I went in, of course!
Actually, I had been in the area several times already on previous visits looking for these snakes, but for some reason—perhaps the juvenile from across the road still fresh in my mind, I just had the feeling that this time I was going to find one. One always enters cautiously at first, watching their every step as they wade through the waist high grasses while straining to see any sign of the diamondback pattern between the clumps of vegetation or on the steeply eroding red clay slopes above. Caution eventually subsides, however, and after about 15 minutes my attentions started drifting back to looking for beetles. I had walked along most of the southern perimeter of the area when I crested a small rise and my heart was jolted by the sudden and distinctive “buzz” of a full-sized rattlesnake. I couldn’t see it, but the sound was coming from about 10 yards in front of me, so I cautiously crept forward, moving from side to side bit as I did to help me triangulate the precise location of the sound. Within a few steps I finally saw it—a nice, adult western diamondback rattlesnake! It was largely hidden from view within a heavy jumble of vegetation—no hope for useful photographs, so I extended the telescoping handle of my insect net to its full 7-ft length and used it to carefully move away as much of the screening vegetation as I could. The snake rattled vigorously as I did this, its head always following the red grip at the end of the handle but never striking. That 7-ft distance was about as close I could comfortably get, and my 100-mm macro lens is the longest lens I have in the kit, so the full snake shot shown above and some similar shots were all I could really get. How I would have loved to have had a 200-mm or 300-mm lens to get some really close head shots!
I’ll admit that I tip-toed out of the area much more cautiously than I entered, but I did so with my held-held high and chest puffed out a bit knowing that, once again, persistence had paid off.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013