Not One Step Closer!
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When visitors to our desert talk about aggressive snakes they invariably mention rattlesnakes. In the popular imagination rattlers are super-aggressive hunters. That’s utterly wrong, of course. Rattlesnakes are ambush predators. They never capture prey while moving about. Their specialty is to lie in wait for some small rodent to come within striking range. A rattler can sometimes sit for days without moving.
The aggressive snake champion of the Sonoran Desert is the Common Coachwhip Snake. Coachwhips do hunt their prey and catch it on the move. They are the fastest of our snakes, being able to move along at almost four miles an hour, the pace of a human’s brisk walk. Coachwhips are also among the longest Sonoran snakes, attaining lengths of up to eight feet. They are quite slender and there are other species — Gopher Snakes, for example — that outweigh them. But, nothing tops a Coachwhip for sheer hunting prowess and aggressiveness. Their diet includes insects, smaller reptiles, amphibians, and even birds. In other words they will eat any animals that they can subdue. They are superb climbers. I once watched a Coachwhip scale the side of a Saguaro Cactus in order to investigate a Gila Woodpecker nest more than 20 feet above the ground.
Coachwhips are also perfectly prepared to defend themselves against any creatures that they consider to be potential predators. If it feels threatened, a Coachwhip will coil, shake its tail like a rattlesnake, and strike out at the interloper. Coachwhips are not venomous but they can deliver painful bites. A couple of years ago I saw an individual get bitten by a Coachwhip. She was an employee at the Sonoran Desert Museum and she was attempting to remove one of these snakes from an animal enclosure. She used all the correct techniques but still, the snake lashed out at her and bit her on the hand.
This morning, I encountered a very large Coachwhip over at Sabino Canyon. This snake — more than six feet long — is simply gorgeous. Coachwhips come in a huge array of colors but the ones that I see over at Sabino Canyon are typically all black. This one, however, had a black head and neck but a body that became increasingly pink as it extended towards the snake’s tail. Seeing me, the snake immediately assumed a defensive coil, vibrated its tail, raised its head in a striking position, and glared at me. Remembering what I had observed, I stayed safely out of range, took a few pictures, and then, let the snake be.
Photo taken with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, ISO 125, M setting, f9 @ 1/160.