Are There Rattlers Up There? Yep. Lots of em. Normal humans like you and I walk past them all the time, but we usually don’t see them.
We would if we had eyes like Kristin Albert and Matt Goode, scientists at the Matt Goode lab, located on Tumamoc Hill. They have trained their senses to notice a snake in the brush or rocks, even if it is not moving or rattling. And developing that skill is what this blog is about:
Then noticing more.
There are three species of rattlers on Tumamoc, Diamondback, Blacktailed, and Tiger rattlesnakes. Although Matt and Kristin like all snakes, rattlers are their main interest, especially Tiger rattlesnakes. They have collected all these and other non-venomous snakes on Tumamoc. I was privileged to be there when they did rattlesnake surgery.
The snake season is drawing to a close with the coming of cooler weather, but I recently got to feel the pulse of a diamondback rattler, anesthetized of course, getting ready for surgery at the snake lab. Kristin and Matt showed me where to feel for the heartbeat: on the belly, about a third of the way down from the head. It was slow, but I could feel the pulse with my fingers.? It’s now on my list of coolest things you can experience being born as a human.
I got to watch another relatively rare event: rattlesnake surgery. I did a little photo essay of some of the stages as master snake doctor Matt implants a small battery-operated radio transmitter into the body cavity of the snake. Each snake has it’s own unique frequency so after releasing them, the Goode Lab scientists can track them, locate them on a map using GPS coordinates, and even find them and catch them again. Its like catch and release fishing.
This is important because they do capture them again and give them a check up in the spring and fall, keeping records as detailed as our personal doctors do for our own medical records. But these snakes get even better treatment: how many humans have medical insurance that covers a check-up twice a year. And the doctor comes to them, wherever they are.
Except for the obvious facts most people know about rattlers from meeting them on the trail-side, they are relatively unknown animals.? There are many unanswered questions, conundrums, bones of contention, and debates concerning snakes.
One of the largest of these mysteries is, “What do snakes do?” What do they do when they are not frightening human walkers, or eating (which they may do only twice a year). Rattlesnakes bear live young, so are they social? Do they recognize a sibling or parent? How often do they have sex?
In other words, what is it like to be a snake?
Besides pure curiosity, ultimately the reason scientists study snakes is to help them. Yes, rattlers deserve our protection along with everything else on Tumamoc that was there before humans came along. And Tumamoc, a wild-land preserve surrounded by growing urban development is a perfect living laboratory to learn more about how humans and snakes can learn to co-exist. The other half of this equation is educating humans to respect snakes rather than fear them. With a little knowledge, anyone can become a snake aficionado.
If you see a rattler, or any other snake while walking up the Tumamoc road, call Matt or Kristin and they’ll come right over, any time of day or night. They love snakes that much. The phone numbers to call are on signs along the road:
(520) 245-3786 or 465-2717.
And if you ever have reason to be in the Matt Goode lab, don’t open any of the plastic coolers you’ll find lined up there on the floor: the Tecate is in the refrigerator, not in those coolers.