Hi all, I hope you’ll check out my latest on Earth Touch, about a giant Timber Rattlesnake spotted on the beach in Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.
I spoke with Sam Corlis, who spotted the snake, and Lindsay Keener-Eck, a graduate student and Timber Rattlesnake researcher, for the article but was not able to include everything; so here are the full exchanges.
What were you doing when you noticed the snake?
I have other pictures of “her” if you are interested. This was in mid-August at the North east tip of the island where there is an enclosure ( roped off area) for the birds to nest and hatch without human interference. I was walking along the beach, alone, looking for photo ops, shells, whatever, and picking up trash which is my habit.
How did you figure out what you were looking at and can you describe your reaction to realizing what you were sharing the beach with?
I believe it had rained the night before-the sand was hard packed. There were clumps of sea weed here and there but other than that, the beach was very clear and very smooth. I could see a good distance and I noticed about a hundred yards ahead of me , several sea gulls had congregated around another dark clump of what I thought , at first, was more sea weed-until it moved. I continued to walk towards it because I am always curious about what the ocean brings me, and ,after all, I was there for pictures.
I got within 30 yards or so and determined this was most likely a snake–interesting, but not that surprising, since there are plenty of snakes in the backwaters. But as the thing drew itself out, I realized that this was something quite a bit larger than anything I had seen before and it was quite beautifully illuminated by the evening sun.
My camera is a Canon XS 50 HS which has a wicked zoom, and I took advantage of that fact since ,being unfamiliar with the snakes of NC, I knew enough to stay out of range. I was enthralled. Then the creature must have seen me as it turned and began to approach me! I was not going to allow that and retreated just enough to keep about a 20 yd distance between us . I assume the snake determined that I was of no threat and it turned towards the water. All of this time I was taking pictures and videoing the best I could. The first video has some good parts but is very shaky. What I posted is the subsequent effort. I, in the flurry of photographing and zooming , noticed the tail and how it held the tip up at an angle. There was something familiar about that but I did not realize the significance of that posture until I zoomed in further and saw the rattles.
I mean, I THOUGHT this must be a rattle snake of some sort but, what was it doing, heading towards the ocean? Rattle snakes equate with arid desert scenes, not vast, open salt water!.
But as you see in the video, this beautiful but deadly creature took to the ocean like a pro- surfer with what seemed to me to be a specific goal in mind. I followed with my camera as far as I could. The rest, you can determine from the Facebook trail.
What is your general attitude and philosophy regarding snakes in the wild and in areas that are frequently used by people?
It has been very interesting to read the responses and reactions to the pictures. Some appreciate the beauty, and respect the right of that snake to exist. Others demand that it be killed. My feelings on the matter are that if the snake was indeed an actual threat at the time, then it should be captured and transported elsewhere or ,if that’s not possible, killed. I don’t wish to indiscriminately destroy God’s creatures. And since this snake was on ITS turf and doing what nature told it to do, I was the one encroaching upon its territory and also I was there to observe and record. .
Have you ever seen a rattlesnake in the wild before?
I feel that I had an awesome experience in that this is not only the first rattle snake I have ever encountered, but that it was such a large and beautiful one doing something completely unexpected by most people’s standards.
Is there anything about rattlesnakes or this encounter that you want people to know that nobody is talking about?
The snake, which I am told is a female, had come from within the confines of the roped off bird sanctuary which is a bone of contention for many visitors to the island and some locals, since it restricts us from accessing those areas for our own enjoyment. My thinking on that is that yes, it is frustrating to not be able to go to some of the best parts of the island, but that if we want to keep the very nature which draws us to the place to begin with, then we need to make a few , rather small, sacrifices. on behalf of that nature-and that, my friend, includes the parts we don’t necessarily feel warm and fuzzy about!
Are rattlesnakes good swimmers? Is it unusual to see a Timber Rattlesnake in the water?
To the best of my knowledge, rattlesnakes are good swimmers, but I have never seen one in the water. I would not say that it is common, but it does happen occasionally. My timber rattlesnake interactions have been only in Connecticut and Indiana, not near bodies of water, so someone else’s experiences may be different.
Have you ever heard of a Timber Rattlesnake using saltwater habitats before?
This species generally uses rocky, forested habitat. Personally, I have never heard of a timber rattlesnake using a saltwater habitat. It certainly doesn’t happen in the Northeastern US, I’m not as familiar with the populations down south.
What does it look like the Timber Rattlesnake is doing when it decides to enter the ocean? Is there anything about its behavior that you can interpret?
The snake’s head is up and it’s tongue is flickering, so my best guess is that it’s trying to identify it’s surroundings. The head is often raised like that when the snake is hunting, but timber rattlesnakes are ambush predators, meaning that they do not chase after food. They sit for hours, coiled and waiting for a meal to run by.
I can’t say anything with certainty about this video, but my first guess was that the snake was disoriented. I cannot think of a good reason why it would intentionally swim into the ocean. It is also possible that it is attempting to flee, perhaps from the individual who is filming. A timber rattlesnake’s first line of defense is to often stay still, in an attempt to go unnoticed. If that doesn’t work, they will often leave the area. A bite is the final line of defense, as it is a huge energy expenditure.
However, it does seem quite purposeful and intentional, so perhaps I’m way off base.
What would you have done if you saw a Timber Rattlesnake in the ocean?
I would definitely keep an eye on it and if looked like it was struggling, I would stage a rescue attempt. I was concerned for that snake in the video, it seems that it could easily get pulled out to sea and drown. (But as I previously stated, I really don’t know what’s going on in this video, so maybe it’s perfectly fine.)
What do you wish people knew about Timber Rattlesnakes?
They want as little to do with you as you probably do with them! This is a secretive species that spends summer days basking, hunting, and searching for mates (and generally avoiding people!). If you see one, just give it some space. It will most likely either stay coiled or head in the opposite direction. It certainly will not chase you!
Is there anything else you would like to say/share about this Timber Rattlesnakes or the species in general?
Many people are unaware that poaching of this species is a major concern for some timber rattlesnake populations. One of my thoughts while watching that video was that that snake could have also potentially been someone’s escaped illicit pet.
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