Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Readers Write In: I Ran Over A Large Rattlesnake (But It's the Last One)

   If you have checked out past Readers Write In snake identification challenges or follow me on Twitter, you know that I often tell people that if you are upset at someone who has just killed a snake, the worst thing you can do is berate or insult them. Otherwise, you're not helping change the outcome of future interactions to something more harmonious. In fact, I often see people get defensive or angry when they are attacked for killing a snake, even going so far as to promise to kill every snake they see for the rest of their life! If seeing a snake killed makes you angry, don't hate, educate. Otherwise, find some other way to vent. I have had to block folks from following me on Twitter because they interject with aggressive comments and sabotage my science communication efforts when I'm trying to engage with people. Why do I care about that? Because many people that I have interacted with after they killed a snake now follow me on Twitter or visit this blog and help identify snakes for other people. They would not do that if I was mean to them.

 I have recently been getting a lot of good feedback about my strategy, but wanted to share this specific e-mail exchange from yesterday in case you needed some convincing.

    I am a home inspector north of Birmingham, AL (40 miles north). There are 2 high ridges perpendicular to I65, that runs north and south through the middle of the state. Driving to the house to inspect today, this snake was crossing the road and he was every bit of 6 feet, possibly 7.  I ran over it, but didn't get to apply the hand brake and kill it - I probably shouldn't kill such a majestic snake, but I have friends that live within a mile of where this snake was and they have children and pets and I just always feel like I'm helping a human by killing a poisonous snake.

    Anyway, these 2 ridges have many rattlesnakes - my friend has seen many in their "backyard", which is about a mile of steep ridge filled with rocks where the snakes like to live.  I live 5 miles north of the ridges, along the Mulberry River, but we only see copperheads mostly, rarely a water moccasin and never have seen a rattler.

I zoomed the pic and counted 8 buds on the rattle - I know that doesn't determine the age of the snake but I think this snake has to be a mature one just from its size alone.  This picture has only the back half of the snake showing and there was at least the same length or more hidden as it crawled slowly into the ditch.  I hope it lives if I just wounded it, and I hope it doesn't suffer if I did.

I would like to know the type if you wouldn't mind indicating that.  Thank you in advance for your help and I really like your website and appreciate all who have dedicated their time to learn the knowledge of the outdoors and its inhabitants.


Russell P.


Hi Russell,

   That is a Timber Rattlesnake, you can tell by the color and chevron patterns and it's the only large rattlesnake in that region. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes also get that large (and bigger) but they are only in the coastal plain regions. I understand why there is an impulse to kill a large venomous snake, but it is not the only one there, there are hundreds if not thousands in the area, and they've lived next to people this whole time with little problem. The reason I think this really matters is because I think killing venomous snakes is more dangerous to people than leaving them alone. Whether you're getting too close to it and injuring it or perhaps swerving to hit one, I think that is often a greater risk than each of you going the other way. Anyway, that's just my 0.02 cents, like I said I understand the impulse.

  Thanks for your e-mail, I'm glad you found the blog. I'll include this in an upcoming snake ID blog post (all blog readers are instructed not to give people a hard time for killing snakes).



Great info, thanks.  And since you calmly gave me an excellent reason for not killing poisonous snakes and didn’t rant at me, I’m going to leave them alone from now on – thank you for helping me see it another way.  You can include in your blog that I have seen the light and will leave future snakes alone on the road.

I can’t promise to fully follow this if I find one in my yard or front porch, but I can tell you that I don’t kill any that I see when I am wading the Mulberry River to fish – I leave them alone in the hopes they we will “go our separate ways”.   I was wading once and a 3 or 4 foot long 2 inch thick copperhead swim underwater right past my leg – I had polarized glasses on and saw him/her clearly and it left me alone and I didn’t even flinch then.  But I am pretty afraid of them, but only those I don’t see in time. 

Thank again very much for your time and I will forward your info to several of my friends who are now asking what kind of snake it was.  Kudos to your knowledge.


Russell P.

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