Yesterday, a snake decided to have one of our chicks for breakfast. Apparently, the chick had squeezed out of the cage in the coop and Mr. Snake was able to fit through the chicken wire to catch him. Unfortunately for the snake, you can’t get out of a chicken wire cage with a chicken in your belly.
When I first saw the snake, he was just laying there, not making any noise. Naturally, my brain screamed “Rattlesnake!” But, no, he was just a rat snake . . . with the emphasis on “was.” If you want to catch rats, we’ll get along just fine. If you want to eat my chickens . . . well, you’re going to experience a little un-natural selection, courtesy of my hoe.
I bring it up because the incident reminded me of a conversation with some local folks earlier the spring about it being the time of year that snakes become active and that rattlesnakes were on the move. What really piqued my interest was a rumor that feral hogs were killing rattlesnakes and that, as a result of natural selection, rattlesnakes were evolving, either to have fewer rattles or to using them less often so as to not draw unwanted attention. I suppose this would be a case of “use it and lose it.” (Instead of “use it or lose it.” Get it? Okay, I guess if you feel the need to explain it, it’s not that funny.) Anyway, as someone who has encountered rattlesnakes more than a few times, I was concerned. I like that they warn you to stay away. I’m happy to oblige, unless of course they are in my territory.
Hmm. There’s a thought for you. Is it the hogs or is it people? Or is it just an urban — or in this case, rural — legend?
I did a little research on this topic and on snake bites in Texas. As a public service and in the interest of getting to the truth of the matter, here are some links to some informative articles, accompanied by a brief summary of each one.
First, let’s look at the issue of feral hogs. This story (Feral Pigs Going Hog-Wild in US) has some basic information about wild pigs and why their population is growing. It specifically addresses Texas. The article is short and concise.
What about rattlesnakes becoming more secretive? This story (Are Rattlesnakes Rattling Less Because of Hogs?) is a good analysis of the claims that feral hogs are affecting how rattlesnakes behave. It is from a blog site called “Living Alongside Wildlife” and is a rational examination, complete with additional resources. It is of medium length and is a good read.
Next, this short story from KLTV in Tyler (Rattlesnakes changing their tune, strike with no warning) asserts that increasing encounters between rattlesnakes and people may be causing the serpents to evolve to be less trigger-happy with their rattles.
This short story (Rattlesnakes Not Rattling Anymore? – Urban Legends) is interesting because it appears in the “Urban Legends” section of About.com but seems to indicate that it may not be an urban legend. It includes the text of an email, supposedly from someone with direct knowledge of the issue. I included it because it closes with good advice, regardless of whether or not the stories are true.
Finally, what about the reality of snake bites in Texas? Here is some great information from the Texas Department of State Health Services: Venomous Texas Snakes. This information is essential for anyone who ever encounters venomous snakes. And if you live in a rural setting like Coupland, that is pretty much 100% of you. It includes some do’s and don’ts you need to know as well as links to additional information. If you don’t have time to look at it now, bookmark it and read it later or print it out and take it with you.
I could find nothing on Snopes.com or Hoax-Slayer.com addressing the issue of rattlesnakes using their rattles less often or evolving to have smaller rattles or no rattles at all. If it truly is a hoax or just an urban legend, no one has definitively refuted it yet. My review of the references I included in this story leads me to think that encounters with people would be more likely to be the driving force behind such a change, as opposed to feral hogs. Sounds like a great topic for a Master’s Thesis or perhaps even a Doctoral Dissertation for some enterprising student!
If anyone can find any pictures of adult rattlesnakes with very small rattles, or none at all (naturally occurring, not removed by external force), that would provide some hard evidence of physical changes in the rattlesnake population. Changes in behavior are more difficult to document. If any of the readers can shed any additional light on this topic, please use the comment form. First hand knowledge or references to reliable resources would be welcomed.
Stewart Dale Spencer