Friday, May 1, 2009

Snake Weather - Part 2

--- Snake moving gear: pack, pillowcases, snake tongs,
ice chest, bottle of ink, coffee mug, muslin net ---

Align CenterOn Friday last week, I woke up to 38-degree weather - perfect weather for moving venomous snakes. When I pulled the pillowcase out of the trashcan with the snake tongs, the rattling started immediately. Even though I knew there was a rattlesnake in there, I still jumped at the noise. There's marketing potential in that sound - wake up people at post-lunch meetings, condition your cat to stay out of abandoned buildings, etc. I dropped the pillowcase into a small ice chest with ice packs. Sometimes, I transport snakes in an ice chest to cool them down so they will be less active.

I selected a release site that is about one mile from the farmyard at a grassland/forest edge with basking rocks where very few people or cattle wander. By the time I walked the 20 minutes to its new home, the rattler had cooled down. When I poured it out of the pillowcase, it barely moved. I pinched it with the snake tongs and shook it out, intending to dip its tail in an opened bottle of ink resting on the ground.

Yes, you read that right. Their rattles are made out of hornlike material, similar to our fingernails, and they don't lose them when they shed. So if you put a unique mark on the rattle, you can figure out if a snake returns to the original capture location. Last year, I tried spray paint but it is awkward to hold the snake in the tongs with one hand and reach out and spray the tail with the other. A friend recommended the dipping method as easier and more permanent. Unfortunately, the snake was still cold, so it didn't want to unkink into a nice straight line for dipping. Eventually, I maneuvered the tail end so that it curled over the lip of the paint jar and the rattle got a black coating with a distinct angled edge.
I gently tossed the rattlesnake out into the grass and it headed downhill away from me. I hope I never see it again. But, if a big rattler shows back up in the farmyard, and it has a rakishly black rattle, I will know I have to move it further away next time. Or maybe, I will just leave the ice chest at the corner of the barn as a deterrent.

--- snake bling ---

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not try to capture or move rattlesnakes unless you know what you are doing and/or have help and advice from an experienced person. Rattlesnakes are venomous and their bites can be dangerous to people. See Living with Rattlesnakes for more information about safety around rattlesnakes.

Weather one week later: it's gently raining and may rain through the weekend. This will probably be our last rain of the season. Although there might be fogdrip, we have no rain all summer. The small ponds will dry up and the hills will turn brown. It becomes the season of bird nesting, fawns, seeds and insects. Goodbye rainy season and my amphibian friends. See ya' next year.


  1. How wonderful to find someone else who gently relocates rattlesnakes. I love your idea of marking the tails with paint. How has that worked? Have your had some returnees?

  2. No marked rattlers have returned yet although my co-workers occasionally tease me that they saw a purple/green/black/red rattle miles away. On one hand, I am glad they haven't returned to the farmyard, on the other hand, based on comments from experienced readers, I am wondering if I am moving them too far and they are unable to survive. I shortened the distance on the last one.

  3. Very interesting technique - researchers will use nail polish. It doesn't stay on forever (think of how long it takes to chip/flake off human nails made of basically the same stuff), but it will do for a season. More durable is injecting nail polish into one of the rattles, but that requires closer handling.

  4. I live in Southern AZ and routinely move young rattlers from the yard. I have been taking them to an arroyo maybe 200ft from our home. Apparently this is not far enough or will they not return to our yard? I have killed off the pack rats in the area but there are always small mice available. Any advice on how far I need to transport in order to eliminate any chance of return?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Tom: see the comments in The Rattlesnake Decision and link to Erika Nowak's study there.


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