Thursday, August 23, 2012

An 11' 4" Rattlesnake From Louisiana (or Arkansas)? No.

    In the last few days a couple readers (shout-outs to Jason R. and Cindy B.) have sent me the picture on the right, in which a large and dead rattlesnake is displayed. So far, the text that has accompanied this picture has claimed the rattlesnake was killed in either Poteau Mountain, Arkansas or Olla, Louisiana. Although the location may change, the size of the snake is apparently being consistently reported as 11 feet 4 inches and 59 pounds (with 28 rattles). 

    Let's start with what we know. The color and patterning of the snake give it away as a Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus. This species is found throughout the eastern and central United States. Both Poteau Mountain (located within Ouachita National Forest) and Olla, Louisiana are within the natural range of this species (although Olla is borderline). Therefore, we can't rule out either of these potentials as the true location of the snake. However, check out the license plate on the truck. It seems as though there is a blue line at the top, which reminded me of Pennsylvania (or perhaps South Carolina?). Although the license plate looks like it's from Pennsylvania, I don't think that this is where the picture was taken. The pine trees in the background as well as the look of the snake make me think the photograph was taken in the southeastern United States. Timber Rattlesnakes do occur in Pennsylvania, but most specimens that I've seen from the Northeast U.S. are darker or even yellow and not dominated by a tan color like the snake in this picture. Perhaps someone has a copy of this photograph with better resolution and can zoom in on the license plate.

    So, we are unsure where the picture was taken. Let's evaluate the stated size of the animal. Eleven-feet long is roughly twice the size of what would be considered a huge Timber Rattlesnake. No Timber Rattlesnake ever recorded has come close to this length (and I'm confident that none ever will). A seven-foot Timber Rattlesnake is nearly unfathomable. An eleven-foot rattlesnake is completely unfathomable. It's not that long. Don't believe it.

    Why does it look so big then? Because the snake is hoisted onto a large branch that is shoved towards the camera. Although the snake looks relatively large compared to the man, the man is actually much farther away from the camera than the snake. It's an old trick called forced perspective that I explain many times in my mega-post about similar giant dead rattlesnake pictures (to which I've already added information about this particular photograph).

    The last "fact" we have about this animal is that it has 28 rattles. A rattlesnakes add a new rattle every time it sheds its skin (not necessarily once every year), and it's likely an adult rattlesnake has shed more than 28 times over the course of its life. So, it's possible that a rattlesnake could have 28 rattles. However, this would be extremely unusual because they break easily and a rattle with 28 segments would be very precarious and fragile. It certainly doesn't have 28 rattles in the picture. The resolution is too poor though, for me to see if the rattle has been hacked off for a souvenir. It doesn't look like it.

    My guess as to the real size of the rattlesnake is about four-feet (1.2 m) long and roughly 4.5 pounds (2 kilograms).

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