The snake was in the sun, loosely coiled, relaxed. Not all that obvious, blending with the pinyon needles, twigs and grass. It was in a small flat surrounded by rock, granite rock, weathered into smooth shapes but still rough, mica and quartz glinting in the sun. There was a second snake, smaller, also relaxed, in the shade a foot or two from the first. I would never have seen it had Mark, our neighbor and the one that told us about these two reptiles, not pointed it out for me.
These were Western Prairie Rattlesnakes, Crotalus viridis and we wanted to photograph them. When we happen to see one that is usually how we find them, as solitary individuals. We spent a little time quietly making images without disturbing the two unassuming serpents. As we finished up and were moving away the larger slowly, gently moved across the smaller. Their tails twined and we were suddenly afforded a glimpse into the mating habits of these rattlesnakes. And yes, we were briefly voyeurs, photographing this seemingly tender, docile moment.
Snakes in general have gotten a bad rap. Yes, some are dangerous, these rattlesnakes have toxins that at best, if bitten, would make life pretty miserable for a time. Some have neurotoxins (poisons that attack the nervous system), some have hemotoxins (poisons that destroy flesh and blood) and some have a cocktail of both. Best not to get bitten. As a general rule rattlesnakes can strike about half their length (actually the strike distance is about 1/3 body length, 1/2 is a good rule of thumb), a 3 foot snake could strike about 1 & 1/2 feet but can strike in any direction, step 3 feet away and you are safe. At that distance chances a very good that it would give you a buzzing warning and that would be it. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone.
One of the sad results of snake fear is the destruction of many beneficial snakes like the Bullsnake (or Gopher Snake) Pituophis catenifer. Here in Colorado bullsnakes mimic rattlesnakes in behavior and coloration…not good for these harmless reptiles. When threatened some will coil up and strike, hiss and vibrate their tail in dried leaves and grass, sounding much like a rattlesnake. I think this makes them even more interesting.
Considering the numbers of rodents that these guys eat, they all need to get some better press.