"this really happened to me...really!"

Im starting up a new feature, kind of like "You know you are feral when..."  

This whole new feature is based on the fact that unfortunately I dont take my camera into the woods all the time - not  just so I dont bust it up into a million pieces by dropping it onto a pile of poopy rocks (yes, poopy.  I mean that literally), but this ancient behemoth camera of mine weighs a ton and its hard enough for me to scramble up steep slopes after a night of eating heavy calories, or day, or week, maybe month even of eating them. Girl's gotta keep her figure you know.

So this means occasionally I miss out photographically bigtime on some really exciting things in the woods...really...and it is surprising that Mr. Foresterman never seems to be around when these things happen (either I walk too slow hauling my calorish girl figure uphill or I just dont like when debris, branches, rocks etc. come my way by following toooo close behind him- 200 yards seems to be a good distance when working 24/7 with your husband in dangerous conditions. And thats just discussing what we are going to eat for supper...

So  TA DAAAAA!!!!  That means I am gonna draw you pictures like a 6 year old so you can relive it with me!!!  I know, cant you just feel the excitement?  Especially in Bold colors!!!    ooooOOOoooo!    oooo!     oo?

Uhmm, okay, so maybe the only people who will look at this would be my mom - and shes in heaven - but sometimes things happen to me that words just cant express...well, my grasp of words. and darn it, no one is usually around to be a witness!

Sooo -  the very first post of the  "this really happened to me...really! " Series!!!! Lets start, shall we?

I wouldnt advise anyone to stick around like I did; in hindsight I should have walked away a lot sooner.  And because they did not threaten me,  were far away from any residence, and far from any human contact of any kind such as trails or a road, it was not necessary to kill them. In fact killing them should only be done when absolutely necessary as more rattlesnake bites are caused from people trying to handle and kill them then any other situation.  

Snakes are excellent for the Environment's food chain - they eat mice, rodents and bugs that normally would overreproduce and spread diseases.  Snakes should only be removed or killed if human contact with them is life threatening, and for that purpose only.  I have kept many rat snakes, bull snakes and garter snakes around my garden for the sole purpose of them helping me keep the rodent and bug population down - a rattlesnake is no different, but SHOULD NOT be kept close to residences, pathways, trails or any area where human contact is inevitable.  Safe for humans, safe for them.  Most local Wildlife Depts. will  help you out in locating a "snake catcher" to remove and relocate them somewhere else - Mr. Foresterman has seen Timber Rattlers in garbage cans waiting for relocation at a local Dept. of Natural Resources Office in Wisconsin before, though he was not a happy relocationist!  

These pretty snakes that I saw are a common rattlesnake called a "Prairie Rattlesnake" and they come in all kinds of colors - mostly colors to blend in with their surroundings.  The ones I saw matched the rock below with its patterned lichen ~ so hence they were that pretty green color with soft brown-gray markings.  

They are not the biggest rattlesnake there is - they tend to be on the small side in the rattlesnake world compared to Timber Rattlers or Western Diamondbacks; however I have seen 3 foot ones that were big enough- like this one we took a few pictures of last year ~

Another prairie rattler .. this one is not happy though.

 I like happy ones...this one is scary.

See how they like their ledges? And how they blend in?

September is the time of year that Prairie Rattlesnakes have their young - they birth them live (eggs hatch within) and average number is anywhere from 5 to 12.  Unfortunately only 50% make it to the next year, as birds and animals love to eat the little guys.  After the female is done, she will hang around for a few weeks - they havent determined yet if this is a maternal behavior, or an "exhausted momma" one.  Also after this time is when their "Mr. Rattlesnake" finds them and they do the "repro tango" (feral womans official words). This is most likely the scenario above that happened to me (really!)  Poppa snake was passed out, and momma snake was ready to either shop or clean the ledge - yes, I seem to always be around when these things happen (see http://gowestferalwoman.blogspot.com/2010/06/i-forgot-all-about-this-passage-of.html ). 

As the temperatures lower in the Autumn, many snakes will gather to the opening to their winter den, which is called a hibernacula.   This might have been what I stumbled upon and I did beat a hasty but slow retreat to avoid stepping literally onto other snakes if they were there.  These dens are located underneath the frost line in the dirt (where the ground doesnt freeze) and then the snakes can sit out the winter.  All snakes have no way of controlling their body temperature; they rely on the season and the sun to be able to move, so its mandatory that they den in winter.  Prairie Rattlers like their temps to be around 77 f - if its too hot or cold they have difficulty moving, although hot weather makes them (and us!) more cranky and paranoid.  In the summer they are most active to hunt at night; in Autumn and Spring it is in the late afternoon after they have warmed up.  Usually the hibernacula is in a rocky area with protected ledges (so birds cant pick them off) in the upper middle of a dirt hillside facing the south, catching as much sun as possible during Autumn and Spring.  Some snakes though are inventive and will take over Prairie Dog holes or other rodent holes and make it their own too. Another interesting fact is that seasonally they will shed their fangs on average every 1.5 feedings - yes, their fangs! And this most typically happens when they bite their prey. And did you know that it takes up to a month for them to get full potent venom after they discharged their venom? and that when they shed their skin (twice a year on average) they also temporarily lose their sight?

It has been noted in studies that some snakes will travel during the summer away from the den as far as 3 miles, although 1 mile seems to be the average.  This is where they can get in trouble with humans -  they do travel to water sources, and will hide in tall grass so that once again they wont get picked off by birds - so take care in by creeks, streams, rivers, lakes as they might be getting a drink or trying to eat a crittermouse taking a drink!  Try using a long walking stick ahead of you to poke along - that warns them and you.   They also will use sun warmed roads, sidewalks and paths in the early morning to try to get warmed again after the evening air temperatures drop - thats where most people will run into them. A very interesting fact I read once about Prairie Rattlers - they can "feel" your footsteps up to a 100 feet away!   Their best defense for them is to be still  though, so make it a habit to know where you put your hands and feet before you put them down - snakes dont like to be stepped on as much as you dont want to step on them.  They also can strike up to 1/2 of their body length, so give them a wide berth when walking around them. And they will strike at quick movements, so try to pace it slowly but carefully when moving away if you are within striking distance.  

If you see it from a prairie rattlesnake's side of things, no wonder they have a "persecution" complex - not only are they losing their only source of protection and hunting ability  ~ their teeth ~ they also may not have full venom to fight back a big creature like a Badger or Mountain cat at any given time, and they cant even see when they shed and change their clothes... they rely on the sun and warm winds to be able to move, birds love to eat them from above, people will kill them on sight, and the road is no place to warm up after a tough night of rounding up food; when you factor all of this in, you can then  see why we should rethink killing them ~  remember they do serve a purpose in rodent control. 

So carry a big stick if you can,  and wear appropriate clothing when in snake areas - I wear heavy soled leather boots, with loose thick denim or denim "brush" pants to be on the safer side of things.  No shorts while timber cruising!  Carry a suction kit - from what I heard they do work well when you are not close to a medical facility and if you use it within the first 5 minutes - THOUGH YOU MUST SEEK MEDICAL ASSISTANCE ASAP IF BITTEN - even if you think its just a "dry" bite (no venom).  Dont be in the habit of taking aspirin or any blood thinning PAIN medicine when working or playing in snake areas; their venom works on thinning the blood, and it would be a double whammy so to speak.  And watch where you put your feet and your hands, and where you sit too ~  Snakes dont have to be a pain in the wild, if we try to be observant as they are.

Anyone have anything to add :)?


  1. Woman, I love this! I cannot wait to see more and I've gotta tell you, this is better than film pictures! Can't wait for the next update, and I see a wilderness comic book coming up. I'd totally buy it! Ps...we are homeschoolers and thanks so very much for all that cool snake info!

  2. Love it! You are right you shouldn't hang around rattlers. We have bull snakes here( irrigated land, rattlers are east of us in the dryland) and we like them :O), they are excellent mousers. I personally saw a rattler( it had been killed on the road) approx. 5 ft long and good sized in diameter. The rattle was 2-3" long.

    We're in S.C. MT about half way from Billings and Cody, WY. I wouldn't live any place else, in fact I'n almost a native, was born in VA but moved here when I was 6 months old( my Dad is a native Montanan! as is my husband)
    Blessings for your weekend,

  3. Oh My--you are a feral woman for sure...I would just freeze if I saw a rattlesnake. UGH---you are awesome!
    Amy :)

  4. I liked the pictures-VERY cute :) Can't wait for the next installment! And thanks for all of the great info-I love people who care about animals that aren't considered "cuddly." And I'm falling in love with Montana too!

  5. I've observed they move slower when they are cold. That cat's can kill them and eat them. I have very rarely seen them crawling, usually by the time I hear them ( I never see them first, they are exactly the same colour as the dirt here) they are coiled trying to protect themselves. I always thought they bite and then immediately release their hold but no they stick there for a while (freaky). That they don't neccesarily kill you but you will wish you were dead because they make you so sick. Horses bitten on the nose will swell so they look like a moose and need to have their nostrils propped open so as not to cut off their breathing (big old syringe holders with the closed end cut off work.) Don't try to suck the venom out with your mouth, unknown cavities in your teeth can make you very, very sick. They are endangered in Alberta now and we have road signs asking motorists to avoid running over them if they are on the road.


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