Meet “The Skipper” — Western Diamond-Backed Rattlesnake

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People who live in or visit southern Arizona seem to fall into well-defined categories when it comes to encountering rattlesnakes.  There are those who are of the “live and let live” persuasion who recognize rattlers as being part of the environment and who do them no harm. There are the fearful types who insist that every rattlesnake they encounter needs to be relocated and the sooner the better.  There are the sadistic characters who rationalize their cruelty by proclaiming all rattlesnakes to be their enemies.  And, finally, there are people like me who not only tolerate rattlers but who are fascinated by them.  All of my photographer friends fall into that latter category.  As individuals we are very different but we share a common love of nature and of all of the creatures that inhabit our community.

My friend Sam lives in a property that is heavily vegetated and that abuts a large wash.  That property is ideal rattlesnake terrain and Sam sees them regularly.  The other evening Sam invited me over pick up a camera and lens that he had graciously calibrated for me.  He also informed me that a large rattlesnake was visible near his home.  He’d named this one “The Skipper” after a character in the old “Gilligan’s Island” tv show.  Like his namesake, “The Skipper” is very robustly built.  As Sam pointed out, it has an extraordinarily large head in proportion to its body, which is about three feet long.

When I got to Sam’s “The Skipper” was loitering at the entrance to a packrat nest.  About one half of its body was in the nest with the snake’s head and the first eighteen inches or so of its body resting on the ground in front of the nest’s entrance.  I made this photo.

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Immediately after I took this picture the snake, almost certainly disconcerted by my camera’s flash, turned and retreated back into the depths of the packrat nest.

“The Skipper’s” behavior underscores an important point.  Rattlesnakes generally want nothing to do with people.  Some snakes, like “The Skipper,” are more timid than others but no rattlesnake is aggressive in that it deliberately seeks out people to bite.  Indeed, no human in history has ever been stalked and attacked by a rattlesnake.  Rattlesnakes only bite out of fear and usually bite only when molested.

So, if you’re outdoors in southern Arizona and you see a rattlesnake (I can assure you that you inevitably will see a rattlesnake if you spend much time outdoors in southern Arizona) my advice is this:  if you are of the fearful variety, give the snake a wide berth and continue on your way. The snake won’t bother you.  If you are fascinated by the snake’s beauty and unique lifestyle, stop — at least a full body length from the snake — and take a few minutes to observe it before walking on.  And, if you are of the sadistic variety, just, please, get the Hell out of our state.  I’ll happily wave good bye.

Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm IS II Canon zoom lens at 255mm, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, ISO 160, f9 @ 1/160.

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