Let’s talk about rattlesnakes.
Fall is here and the temperatures have dropped in New Mexico. It’s even froze and snowed in the northern part of the state. Evenings, nights and mornings are much cooler, but the daytime temperatures can still reach into the eighties and nineties. This is the time of year to find snakes in neighborhoods. Why? Because asphalt, blacktop and rock walls soak in the warmth of the sun all day long and are magnets for cold blooded reptiles as the air cools off at night.
We found a rattlesnake—the first one we’ve seen all year—on top of the rock wall outside our garage last Sunday, right next to our neighbor’s trashcans. It was coiled, head and body arched in the air, a few feet from the driver’s side door of our truck: a Western Diamondback (Crotalus atrox), brown and tan with its distinct diamond pattern along its back and black and white striped tail.
And, boy did it made its presence known.
It’s amazing how loud they are. You almost have to yell to be heard over the buzzing. The sound can be chilling, especially so close. Humans must be hard-wired in their fear of snakes if my accelerated heart-rate meant anything.
We haven’t seen a rattlesnake in a while. The newest city high school was built in the desert behind our home a few years ago and displaced a lot of snakes. We found four or five in and around our backyard that year. Luckily, one of the neighbor kids was with Reptile Rescue. He would come down, catch the rattlesnakes with a loop and pole, put them in a clear plastic storage box, and take them out to the mountains for release.
But we should have expected more this year. We don’t get much rain in Southern New Mexico–about nine inches annually. It’s been a great couple of years for rain with above averages (maybe eleven or twelve inches!) With rain come the native grasses (plenty of seeds for rodents) and little ponded areas that fill with tad-poles and tiny spadefoot toad babies. Snake food everywhere.
So no cracking the garage door to vent out the afternoon heat because snakes crawl inside and hide behind the chest freezer or in the tangle of boxes filled with christmas ornaments. Be careful walking by yard waste piled in the street for the Grappler, or shrubs that line the sidewalks. And remember, they don’t always give warning before they strike.
In the cool fall evenings of the New Mexico desert, it pays to be alert.
Check out how Nicky deals with rattlesnakes in my Tony Hillerman Prize Winning book, Hearts of the Missing, and see a few rattlesnake and toad pictures I’ve pinned on my Hearts of the Missing Pinterest page.
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