It’s rattlesnake week

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This is the fifth in a series about dangerous and irritating Eastern Washington Critters.

Sometimes, when a series of related columns are written to discuss a topic, the series expands from two to three. Never has a series expanded this far. We are on the fifth in a series of …, well, there may be two or three more before the topic of dangerous and irritating critters has been completed.

Today we continue our discussion about snakes in eastern Washington, specifically rattlesnakes, with information gleaned from Fish and Wildlife and other Internet sources, along with my observations and experiences.

We have mentioned rattlesnakes in the last four columns, but today we get into the biology of rattlesnakes and other snakes.

The Western rattlesnake is common in much of eastern Washington. It is distinguished by its broad, triangular head that is much wider than its neck, the diamond-shaped pattern along the middle of its back and the rattles on the tip of its tail. Overall color patterns differ with habitat, ranging from olive to brown to gray. Black and white crossbars may occur on the tail.

Western rattlesnakes measure 18 inches to four feet at maturity. Although many people talk of seeing timber rattlers, diamondbacks and sidewinders, none of these occur in Washington.

The number of segments on the rattle does not indicate the true age of the snake, since rattlesnakes lose portions of their rattles as they age.

Rattlesnakes are most common near their den areas, which are generally in rock crevices exposed to sunshine. They are most likely to be seen at night and dusk during the spring and fall when moving to and from hibernation sites.

Rattlesnake fangs are hollow and are used to inject the snakes’ venom in order to stun or kill their prey, such as mice, woodrats, ground squirrels, young rabbits and marmots. Their fangs are shed and replaced several times during their active season. Fangs may also be lost by becoming embedded in prey.

Rattlesnakes cannot spit venom. However, venom may be squirted out when the snake strikes an object such as a wire fence. This venom is only dangerous if it gets into an open wound and has been used in the development of several human medications.

Rattlesnakes do not view humans as prey and will not bite unless threatened. A rattlesnake bite seldom delivers enough venom to kill a human, although painful swelling and discoloration may occur.

I once called a past Grant County Coroner and asked if anyone had died of a rattlesnake bite in Grant County. She told me there is no record of such a case.

A few days after this report appeared in print, a man called and said he grew up north of Moses Lake in the early 1900s. He said although there may be no record of the event, his younger brother suffered a rattlesnake bite and died as a result. So we know this was before snakebite deaths were recorded.

Received a call from Frank Jones this week. He said he was working cattle on horseback on a 3,600 acre Ranch one day when he heard a strange sound. He described it as a “thump, thump, thump.”

He topped the knoll in front of him and found a 4-point mule deer buck jumping up and down with all four feet almost together with the object of stomping a bunch of baby rattlesnakes.

The deer didn’t pay much attention to Frank and he was able to get within 30 to 40 feet of it. Apparently, deer don’t care for rattlesnakes, either.

The rattlesnakes down south are much larger than those in the Columbia Basin. While participating in the Army Survival School at Fort Rucker, Alabama, the subject of food was discussed.

They had deep fried grasshoppers for us to eat and they required us to eat at least one. Mine wasn’t bad, except for the legs, which were discarded.

They also had a rattlesnake gutted, skinned and strapped to a broomstick. It was being cooked over an open fire as if it was on a rotisserie. The only meat was along the backbone.

The instructor removed two-inch sections from the carcass and passed they out. Wasn’t bad at all and, yes, it did taste like chicken. And then, as the instructor said, the rib bones make good toothpicks.

Next week: Our last two Washington snakes.

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