Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Prickly Situation

Coiled under the prickly leaves of a milk thistle, a small rattlesnake blends in with the brown leaves and dirt.   
On May 30, I was digging up milk thistles in the holding pen. I pushed the shovel into the soil around a tall plant and reached down to pull the last weed stem in my target zone for the day when I noticed a small rattlesnake hiding under the prickly leaves. I decided to leave the plant standing for another day. There was a jumble of rocks fortifying a nearby drainage, and surely that was where the rattlesnake must live most of the time.

I returned the next day and still the little rattlesnake was under the same thistle plant.

Closeup of the small rattlesnake under the thistle plant.
Golden eye of rattler is in the center of the photo with its head pointed to the right.   
I kept returning every day and the rattler was still under the same plant although it would be at a different location at different times of the day to catch tiny beams of sunlight shining between the overlapping leaves. Looking closely, I could see what looked like several small round bedding areas under the thistle leaves.

On Day 6, I had dug out all the other thistles in the holding pen yet the little rattler was still hiding under the same lonely plant. I just leaned over and clipped off the purple flower heads and left the spiny stem and leaves.

I mentioned this behavior to a herpetologist at our annual snake barbecue (to celebrate the close of another season surveying the rare San Francisco gartersnakes at Mindego Ranch, not to eat them) and he said, "Rattlesnakes are creatures of habit."

Sweeping dry flammable material away from the wooden foundations of the buildings. Embers blowing in a wildfire could land in such a pile and eventually ignite the building. Something told me to be careful about reaching under the bench with my bare hands.   
In hot and dry July when we were all fretting about the possibility of wildfires, I was sweeping up dry leaves that had blown against the garage. I uncovered a split log of firewood forgotten beneath a bench. As I pushed the log with the broom, the bark fell off and revealed a small rattlesnake chilling in its log cave by my kitchen door. It was a reminder to not store miscellaneous wood near the house and never stick your hands or feet underneath anything outside if you can't see what's down there. Before it even adjusted to the bright sun, I grabbed my snake gear out of the garage and relocated this rattler away from the house but not to a thistle plant.

A small rattlesnake curled up in resting pose on the left side of the log. It had been hiding underneath the loose bark before I knocked it off. Fence lizards frequently sun and hunt for insects on this concrete, so it wasn't too much of a surprise to see a rattlesnake setting up residence on this imitation forest floor. Some separation between nature and the people house is a good idea.   
Next up is the last and largest snake of 2015.


Northern Pacific RattlesnakeCrotalus oreganus oreganus

San Francisco Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia

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