Friday, July 29, 2011

Massasauga Rattlesnakes: Live and Let Live - Encounter on a busy park trail.

all photos by Jonathan Schechter
Images shot on July 27, 2011 at Indian Springs Metropark

This Earth Almanac blog is a photo supplement for my hiking column that appears in The Oakland
 Press on Sunday July 31 ( ) that details my surprise encounter with an
 adult eastern massasauga rattlesnake on the popular Hike-Bike Trail of Indian Springs Metropark. 
 Information on our Metroparks: 
Detailed information on massasauga rattlesnakes from the Michigan DNR:,1607,7-153-10370_12145_12201-32995--,00.html

Wild creatures - including rattlesnakes - have been a part of the ever changing ecological matrix
 in which fearful humans have evolved.  Many of us have failed to come to terms with creatures
with claws, big teeth or fangs. A few days ago I posted a picture (above) of a rattler sunning on the
 trail to Facebook with little comment beyond that it was photographed in a park in Oakland County. Over 30 comments came my way. Many praised its beauty and shared my excitment.  I was
especially happy with the spirituality expressed in a post and direct note from Sakoieta' Wedrick,
an instructor at Brock University - Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Education and Research. 
 He shared insightful thoughts on the Mohawk Community - Eastern Door Keepers of the Great Longhouse of the Iroquois Confederacy, timber rattlesnakes and their co-evolving history
and human behavior.
Thank you my friend!

I was saddened - perhaps angered - by a post from a woman that wrote:
 "I try my best to make them dead."
That comment screams loudly there is much needed in the way of understanding and perhaps it
was  her subconsious fear of flesh-eating beasts - even though we are far from a prey species - that
would create such a cruel, grim comment  of anger and hate towards this beautiful creature.
Another wrote to say she will rescue all creatures--except for rattlesnakes.

The rattlesnake I photographed was sunning peacefully on the trail just a few hours before
torrential rains soaked the earth. Perhaps this highly evolved reptile sensed it was time to warm
 quickly to aid in digestion of whatever small meadow vole or other creature it consumed.

In Michigan this shy and reclusive reptile - a true pit viper that rarely exceeds two feet - is
listed as a species of Special Concern and is fully proteced by law. They are not as rare as you
may think. They live in most of our Metroparks, Oakland County Parks and SE Michigan DNR
State Recreation Areas as well as private lands. Their cryptic camouflage pattern and reclusive
nature keeps them out of sight, most of the time.

 Almost all  massasuaga bites occur on the dominant hand of intoxicated white males.
No further comment needed there!
Caution is needed around wildlife of all species. Fearful attitudes are not needed. Keep in mind  Michigan has not had a rattler releated death in dozens of years, while every year, seven, eight
or more people are killed in Michigan by deer that collide with cars.

I was thrilled by the encounter and the calmness of others that stumbled into the unplanned
viewing and stayed with me until the snake slowly turned and headed back off  trail. 
That did not happen however  until I laid down  on the pavment about four feer in front of the
rattler  for the image above. His tail sang with a warning rattle and two things happened at once.
He pulled back.
I backed up.
 His message was sent. We established a pact of non-aggression and went our separate ways.

Perhaps the rattler thought this sign along the trail meant he was to stay on the trail.

A road block on the beautiful Hike-Bike Trail first spotted by the in-line skater!

 The snake stayed motionless,  yet aware of  a gathering of dangerous homosapiens.

Nothing like a great trail: for humans and sunbathing rattlers!
After telling me to "buzz off" with a vibating tail he did the same and headed for the grass.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great information. We need to be mindful, yet respectful of these creatures. Especially when we want to share the same space as them.

July 29, 2011 at 8:49 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so tiny!!!

July 30, 2011 at 12:28 AM 
Blogger Jonathan Schechter said...

They are about two feet long. But they are a venom packing pit viper.

July 30, 2011 at 6:18 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely written and another Jonathan adventure shared! Thank you. KW

July 30, 2011 at 1:58 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live by the park and encounter them frequently. They are very calm and I with you, we can live together.

August 9, 2011 at 3:09 PM 

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