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About orange-tailed rattlers

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POSTED May 1, 2011 11:29 p.m.

If you’ve read this column for any length of time you may have read that I catch rattlesnakes on a regular basis. I usually turn them into hatbands; sometimes I have them mounted as taxidermy specimens, I even make rattlesnake rugs as a wall mount. Occasionally I’ll even eat a sackful of rattlers for dinner. While I am a big advocate of catch and release fishing, I do not practice catch and release rattler catching. My long-time outdoor companion Donald F, however is a much kinder and gentler person than I and regularly releases the snakes he catches.

Donald F is very much a Da Vinci of the outdoors. He is not only an angler and hunter, but is a trained archeologist, a talented sketch artist, fly tyer, and all around outdoorsman. He is constantly observing and studying the outdoor world. He takes copious notes on his observations and saves them for further reference. I once caught a really unusual fish in a farm pond north of Lodi. It was unlike any fish I had ever seen. A few days later I described the odd fish to Donald F and he began searching through his notebooks from years past. After a half hour of digging he came up with a notebook from the late 1950s and flipped through it until he came to a pencil drawing of an exact duplicate of the weird fish I’d described. “That’s a Warmouth.” he explained, “they are native to California but have been driven almost to extinction by competition from imported black bass and sunfish.” The guy is a walking encyclopedia of outdoor knowledge.

A typical Donald F story is the time we were walking across a hillside covered with dead ankle-high grasses. Donald stopped suddenly and bent down to examine his pant cuffs. He extracted a pair of tweezers from one pocket and a small specimen bottle from the other pocket. “Look at these tiny burrs!’ he exclaimed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen ones like them before,” and proceeded to put several of them in the bottle for later examination under a microscope.

I use my snake grabbers just as they come from the supplier, Donald F modifies his snake grabbers in several ways. He affixes soft surgical tubing to the jaws of the grabbers with monofilament line so that he’s less likely to injure the snakes when he grabs them. He drills a hole for a cotter pin to hold the grabbers securely in the closed position so that he can better hold a thrashing snake to measure it and take its photo. Finally he sprays the rattlers tail with fluorescent orange spray paint to mark them before he releases them unharmed. Naturally all of the relevant information is recorded in one of Donald’s ubiquitous notebooks.

For several years now I have been presenting an educational program on rattlesnakes to libraries, schools and civic groups. Several times at my snake programs folks have asked whether I wasn’t upsetting the balance of nature by killing so many rattlers and not simply releasing them. Feeling a touch guilty I did some pretty extensive research on the status of the Western Rattlesnake (Croatalis Oreganis) population. I discovered that the U.S. Government has a classification system that rates the relative scarcity or abundance of our flora and fauna. We’ve all heard of the extinct species like the Dodo, and the Passenger Pigeon, and then there are the endangered species like Bald Eagles, Buffalo, and Ivory Billed Woodpeckers. The list has several more categories that are more and more plentiful until you get to those critters that are in no danger of extinction at all: the Species of Least Concern. That’s government lingo for critters that are as plentiful as rats at the garbage dump or ants at a picnic. Western Rattlers are officially listed as a Species of Least Concern by the U.S, Fish and Wildlife Service. Now I don’t feel so bad when I put a snake or two on the barbecue.

A year or so ago I was chatting with some members of the local herpetological society after one of my snake presentations. We were sharing various snake stories when some of the members advised me that they thought they may have discovered a new species of rattler that had begun to appear in the area. It seems that they have been finding a previously un-reported type of rattler that has a fluorescent orange rattle on its tail! Crotalis Donald F has a nice ring. Don’t you think?

Until Next week,

Tight Lines

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