Timber!

We caught Ted Levin talking about his book, America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake this week at the Linnaean Society. It’s a damn good book and deserves to be read far and wide.

Too many people fear and loath snakes, an irrationality that leads directly to massacre. There are still bloody snake-killing events held around the country as savage tribes (mostly white Americans) celebrate the slaughter. Meanwhile, cars do serious damage to male snakes, who must travel good distances between matriarchal snake dens. And collectors empty out dens for the (illegal) pet trade, destroying hibernacula that may have been used for centuries and will probably never be used again. And there’s a subset of a-holes who capture and pose with the snakes because, I guess, it makes them feel like men to be a=holes. Doesn’t it seem a pity, then, that only about 5 people a year die from snake bite…

As Levin noted in his talk, many more people die falling out of bed in this country than die from snake bite. And it would be pointless to compare fatal snake bites to the number killed by people driving automobiles (37,000+) or using guns (14,000+). Indeed, there is no comparison. By the way, should you actually be bit by a timber rattlesnake, keep calm and get medical attention ASAP; the venom is slow-acting. The Boy Scout stuff we learned about sucking out the poison is nonsense.

Rattlesnakes are strictly New World animals. You’ll recognize the rattler from early American iconography: Franklin’s “Join, or Die” cartoon and the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag used by the early Navy. But we’ve been chopping their heads off in terror since then, too. As a result Crotalus horridus is doing quite poorly today. Levin fictionalizes locations to keep them secret. So son’t publicize the locations of your sightings, should you be so lucky. I never have been. (iNaturalist should have built-in warnings about giving locations for this species, as well as other rare animals, and, of course, rare plants.)

One place Levin doesn’t hide is Glastonbury, CT. The town has learned to live with rattlers in their midst. And guess what, the payoff, besides beauty, wonder, and marvels, is that the town has less Lyme disease. Rattlers eat mice and chipmunks, the vectors for Lyme. Just saying.

Diamondback rattle handed around by Levin.

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