Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Don't Call Me A "Sidewinder"

Rattlesnakes. Just the very word makes a lot of people uneasy and anxious. As a western historical writer, nature lover, and all around information geek, I’m fascinated with the critters, so when Dearest Husband attended a Continuing Education meeting (required to maintain his veterinary license) that had a lecture on rattlesnakes living in Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Colorado (same general area I wish I lived), I grabbed his lecture notes as soon as the meeting was over.

There are more than 24 known species of rattlesnakes in the US of which the Mojave Rattlesnake is the most venomous. It has venom which can kill a person if antivenin is not administered. These rattlesnakes are aggressive toward humans and will bite without provocation. Although rattlesnake venom isn't as deadly as some other snakes, the volume of the injected venom makes rattlesnakes particularly dangerous. The venom is haemotoxic, meaning that it prevents blood from clotting and destroys tissue.

Most of what I write is set in what was the Wyoming Territory—now the great state of Wyoming. Only two rattlers live in Wyoming, according to the Wyoming Department of Fish and Wildlife: the prairie rattler and the midget faded rattler. The prairie rattler can be found just about everywhere in the state below 8000 feet. The midget is found only in the Flaming Gorge area and is endangered.

Of the two, the midget (what’s midget about a venomous snake that can be as long as 20 inches fully mature?) is much more venomous, more prone to bite, and definitely aggressive. It is an absolutely gorgeous snake—liver and orange colored.

The prairie rattler, on the other hand, has a huge distribution area. These snakes are robust, less aggressive than their midget or Mojave cousins, and aren’t as venomous. Unless cornered or actually threatened, they’ll just slither away through the sage brush and grasses. Most mature prairie rattlers will also prefer, if forced to strike, to deliver a warning, dry bite. (And if I’m ever in a situation where I’ve accidently cornered a prairie rattler and receive a dry bite, I’m still dead because the heart attack will kill me.)

Now, I’m off to go research rattlesnakes in the Big Piney area of Texas for my next romance novel.


Kristy McCaffrey said...

Love it! We have the western diamondbacks in AZ. They aren't aggressive unless you interact with them. When we find them around our house, we capture them and release them in the desert. We're told this isn't ideal for them, as they may not be able to find another water source, but it's preferable to killing them outright, which is what most of our neighbors do.

Stephanie said...

I'm in Eastern Oregon and we have the Great Basin sub-species of the Western Rattlesnakes. Thanks for the great information.