Friday, March 16, 2012

Slither time for our Massasauga Rattlesnakes!

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. All photos by Jonathan Schechter, September 2011

  The day was perfect for a bike ride, and it is a day I will always cherish. And every since that day early
last autumn I try to keep my camera with me to capture the unexpected.
 I had just noticed a sign at Indian Springs Metropark (Oakland County Michigan) reminding hikers and 
cyclists to stay on the paved trail because they were in rattler habitat. 

 The cyclists and hikers did just that. And so did the rattlers.

Cold-blooded rattlers are fond of warm pavement to absorb heat on cool days. 
 I stayed a few yards back, plopped down on my belly and captured the diagnostic mark of all pit 
vipers in North America: the heat sensitive facial pits  used to track warm-blooded prey.
Something that you can not see clearly in the photo are two other definitive ID characteristics
 of all venom-packing pit vipers: keeled middorsal scales and undivided subcaudal scales. 
 DO NOT flip the snake over for scientific scale checks you do not understand!
And getting too close for an ID, or photo, is extraordinarily dangerous.
It wont be long before the entire cryptic population of Michigan's only venomous reptile emerges from 
the moist crayfish holes where they over wintered in a state of near suspended animation.  
Perhaps these very warm days already have them topside!

And unless you are a tasty frog or furry little meadow vole our native little swamp rattlers want nothing
 to do with you. A strange thing about rattlesnake bites: Almost all occur on the dominant hand
 of young  adult intoxicated white males.  I call it the "Hey Joe, Watch  this!" syndrome.
Hike the trails of Oakland County, enjoy yourself, and practice situational awareness. 
Rattlesnakes will do the same and do their best to avoid you.

Perhaps the rattlers read the signs, for they too stayed on the trail.


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