Bruce and I have been exploring the bike trails and karst terrain of a property on the west side of Gainesville over the past two weekends, covering 7.7 miles on the 19th and another 4.9 miles yesterday Sunday. Most of that mileage was single-track biking, but yesterday’s route also included a mile or so of pushing our bikes through briary brush. We found five active sinkholes and a pretty cavern, but unfortunately no caves.
Bruce named this cavern Sombrero in honor of his straw hat:
Leading along a bike trail yesterday, Bruce spotted an eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) crossing the path and slammed on the brakes before hitting it, slowly slid off his bike and reached for his camera. After pulling it from the pouch, he took several steps forward to snap some photos of it while I stepped forward onto the spot where he had just been standing. Something on the ground about a foot away from my left leg caught my eye:
Gulp! This species has been called the most dangerous snake on earth due to its having very long fangs, large poison sacs, toxic venom, overall large size and great abundance in frequent proximity to humans. Yes, we are thankful that the eastern diamondback rattlesnake is not quick to bite! Here’s a shot of the first rattler:
The one at our feet was a lady and the coiled serpent was a gentleman, both of them being about 4 – 4.5 ft in length. Neither of them ever lunged or made any attempt to bite us. The female never made a sound, although the male shook his rattles continuously during our presence (note the blurred tail tip).
I really don’t know why the species is called the “diamondback.” You can clearly see that their back pattern more closely approximates a bat or butterfly shape, not at all diamond-shaped. I’d suggest the alternate name of bat rattlers, although they might be more marketable to the warm and fuzzy crowd by calling ‘em butterfly rattlers.
They weren’t the only snakes we saw yesterday. Sadly, after parking my truck in his yard after the biking, we found this colorful little red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata obscura) dying in the tire tread print. This species (subspecies) is pretty common, but hides and forages under rocks, logs and leaf litter and thus is seldom seen. Some of their behavioral quirks are fascinating:
“The red-bellied snake exhibits a curious behavior known as "lip-curling." While both ingesting prey and being threatened, they flick their tongue and curl their lips upward to show their small maxillary teeth. This is thought to have some benefit for prey seizure, but it may be just as important as a deterrent to predators. When handled roughly they will sometimes exhibit the lip-curling, then rub their head sideways on the captor scratching their teeth against the flesh. The teeth are too small for this to be harmful to humans and is barely even noticeable. As with many other snakes when captured, they often release musk and smear the captor with cloacal matter (Amaral 1999). Occasionally they may even play dead by going completely limp until they think the coast is clear (Watermolen 1991). A much more dramatic display of death-feigning has been recorded. The particular snake wiggled its tail, twitched the back of its body, rolled over exposing the red belly, held its mouth open, protruded its tongue, contorted its body, and then went completely stiff instead of the usual limp display (Jordan 1970). It is not known if this is actually a death-feigning display or a stress induced seizure (Harding 1997).” From http://tinyurl.com/33r9bhr