Monday, September 13, 2010

7 Foot Diamondback Rattlers in Poulan, Georgia?

   This morning I noticed a news article describing the harrowing tale of a giant rattlesnake killed last week in Poulan, Georgia.  If you follow this blog, you'll know my interest in giant dead rattlesnake pictures and how many tend to exaggerate the size of these animals to gigantic proportions.  If you're curious why I didn't include this story as an update to my blog debunking these often outrageous claims, the associated pictures aren't being circulated as part of an e-mail hoax (yet) but there are still some red flags to discuss.

  The news story notes that the "normal" size of an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Crotalus adamanteus, is five and a half feet long.  Well, this isn't quite true, of the hundreds of these animals I've observed, captured, or found on the road (all as part of ongoing research), I don't know that more than a couple were this large, if any.  Now, don't take this to mean they're not out there, they are...but a snake this long would be a very large snake.  This is likely what they meant to say in the news article, that is to say, the normal size of an eastern diamondback rattlesnake isn't five and a half feet long, but if you asked most snake biologists what they would consider a big snake, five and a half feet is a good figure.

   So, how big do eastern diamondback rattlesnakes get?  Well, it's possible for a snake to reach seven feet long.  But it's hard to stress how unusual that would be.  As I note above, a five and a half foot diamondback is a monster snake.  There are probably less than five individuals measured in the last few decades that have broken the seven foot barrier.  So, to find a snake this big would be an extraordinary event and we should insist on proof when it is claimed.  Interestingly, the news anchor does note a seven foot long is incredible indeed, but they do occasionally show up.  As proof, he notes there was a seven foot three inch eastern diamondback killed last year in St. Augustine, Florida.  I discussed last year why that "measurement" is also suspect.

  In reading the news story and watching the embedded video, it's clear reliable measurements are not yet readily available.  The title of the news story notes the snake is seven feet long but the text notes it was "nearly" seven feet long.  Similarly, the video segments describes the snake as seven and a half feet, then "about" seven and a half feet.  Small differences?  Perhaps, but if there was a reliable figure associated with the snake I would expect them to stick with it.  It sounds as if the length of the snake was estimated, which we know is a questionable technique.  In looking at the pictures provided in the news story and video, it's clear we have a big snake on our hands.  But seven feet?  What do you think?


Kerry said...

Unless the guy holding it up in that photo is seven feet himself, no way...definitely a giant, though. I'd say between 5.5 and 6 is actually pretty close for this one.

Minnie said...

I think it's kind of annoying to see these. I just got an email myself, and it just perpetuates the fear and anxiety that people have toward snakes in general. It's good to have a healthy respect for them, but I hate when people kill a snake just because it's a snake.

99.9% of snakes in my area are non-venomous, but people kill them out of fear. Makes me sick.

David Steen said...

Hi Minnie,

I agree it gets kind of old. So often, when people find out what I do for a living they are compelled to share stories of snakes they killed. It's just what's done to snakes and it's hard for many to imagine I might not be interested in hearing the grisly details.


Anonymous said...

As a matter of a fact the person holding the snake is my best friends brother and he is 6.3. Absolutely this is the truth and in this case, seeing is believing. I was astonished when she called me and had to go out and take a look at it for myself. Yes indeed this snake should have died because she has a son that plays in the yard, has a swimming pool and additional kids that live out there and play around in the road. Snakes can be very defensive and her son could have been passing by and this creature could have bit him. So in this case the snake was 7ft and measured by her grandfather. So feel free to state your opions. The measurements that night gave us the facts.

Bernard Brown said...

If Anonymous has any shots not held out in front like that, I might believe that snake is any longer than 6.5 - it doesn't look like its head is touching the ground in the shot that we see. I also question the old 'should have died' sentiment. I believe they believed that, but given how rarely these guys actually ever bite anything, I'll point out that the bigger risk is taking actions to kill it.