Sistrurus miliar_09062013_00_Tiger Bay RR

“I hope it was a bad one”

September 6, 2013

It’s not a good time to be a pigmy rattlesnake at Tiger Bay State Forest right now.  Actually, it’s never really a good time to be a pigmy rattlesnake in Florida.  Folks do love to kill snakes.  But pigmies in particular seem to have more than their fair share of haters.

I was driving north on Indian Lake Road this morning, looking for migrant birds or pretty much anything else that was out and about in the Rima Ridge section of Tiger Bay State Forest.  It was an interesting morning; not a ton of birds around, but migrants are picking up a bit.   A half-dozen or more prairie warblers, a couple of ovenbirds, a yellow-throated and red-eyed vireo – none killer birds, but it’s always nice to see some migratory movement.  It’s coming.

Prairie warbler

Prairie warbler

On one long straight stretch between Scoggin Lake and Danny Hole Road, I noticed a dark squiggle against the shellrock surface about 50 yards ahead of me.  Stuck out like a sore thumb.   As I approached it, I was delighted to see it was an adult pigmy rattlesnake crossing the road.  As is typical of pigmies on the move, they tend to stop locomoting and freeze when they detect a potential predator heading their way.  This guy had stopped on the left side of the road.   As I photographed him and changed position a couple of times, he never moved.  Also typical.  After a minute or two, I noticed a car heading southbound on Indian Lake Road, still several hundred yards north of me.  I repositioned my car to the far right and waited by the snake.  As the driver approached, I motioned to her with an open palm, as in slow down, and pointed repeatedly to the snake on the road.

Sistrurus miliar_09062013_05_Tiger Bay RR

She ran right over it.   She pulled up beside me, rolled down her window, and gave me a lovely smile.   She had no idea what I was motioning about.

“Ma’am, you just ran over a snake”

Her radiant smile didn’t dim a smidgen.  “I hope it was a bad one”,  she said cheerfully.

“There are no bad ones”, I started to say, but kind of trailed off in dismay and disgust.   To her credit, she apologized, but I think it was more because she sensed I was a bit upset than because she actually felt remorse about the snake.   She wasn’t cruel or evil, just clueless.

As she drove off, I watched the snake crawl laboriously off the road.  Not dead, obviously, but hurting.   Hard to imagine that a tire rolling right across that snake’s head and thorax didn’t do some serious injury to internal organs.  But at least it had a chance.

Pigmy rattlesnakes can show amazing recuperative powers.  When we were doing pigmy rattlesnake research back in the ‘90’s at Lake Woodruff NWR, we found a pigmy that had nearly been cut in two during mowing of the levees.  We left it where it was, sure it would die, but were amazed to find that snake several months later completely healed.  We saw that snake numerous times in the next couple of years, and admiringly spoke of it as the “lawnmower pig”.

I find it kind of depressing that so many people consider snakes unworthy of any kindness or empathy.  I can’t think of any other  group of organisms  that is uniformly held in such low regard by the masses.  I can’t imagine these exchanges ever taking place:

“Ma’am, you just ran over a bird”
“I hope it was a bad one”

“Ma’am, you just ran over a bunny rabbit”
“I hope it was a bad one”

“Ma’am, you just ran over that little girl’s kitten”
“I hope it was a bad one”

This recently killed pigmy rattlesnake was on a road where I almost never see vehicles.  Ant food.

This recently killed pigmy rattlesnake was on a road where I almost never see vehicles. Ant food.

Well, you get the idea.  Hard times weren’t limited to that one pigmy this morning.  A bit further north, on Danny Hole Road, an infrequently traveled two-track, I found another pigmy, this one dead in one of the wheel ruts, already partially consumed by fire ants.   As I was returning south on Indian Lake Road, I spotted yet another pigmy in the road, and when I got closer, I saw that it had just been run over in the last few minutes.  A Forestry truck had passed me going north just a few seconds before.    This one was still alive, but nearly unable to move.  It feebly gaped a bit at me, did a tongue flick or two, and tried to crawl away, but the loop of intestine protruding from the side of his body was was stuck to the shell rock, and the poor little dude was pretty much immobilized.  And destined to die.

The third pigmy of the morning, still alive, but not for long.

The third pigmy of the morning, still alive, but not for long.

 

Nearly dead, but he still had enough attitude to gape at me.  Notice the loop of gut sticking out his body just in front of the vent.

Nearly dead, but he still had enough attitude to gape at me. Notice the loop of gut sticking out his body just in front of the vent.

So it was a three pigmy morning, but not in a good way.  All three snakes were adults, and I strongly suspect all three were males.  This is the beginning of the mating season for pigmy rattlesnakes, and the males are out cruising for chicks.  All mating by pigmies takes place in the fall; the female stores the sperm over winter, and then releases it the following spring to fertilize her just ovulated eggs, which will develop into adorable little pigmy rattlesnakes to which she will give live birth in August.  Nearly a year after the initial mating took place.  Another amazing aspect of pigmy rattlesnake life history and natural history.

When I consider the attitude of so many of the snake haters and killers out there, I tend to agree with Bud (Harry Dean Stanton)from Alex Cox’s 80’s classic, Repo Man. 

2 thoughts on ““I hope it was a bad one”

  1. Marianne Korosy

    Peter,

    I enjoy each and every one of your posts – photos, text, sense of humor, and comments about “…ordinary people”, with which I completely agree. I feel so sad when I see snakes run over on any road because I’m so sure 99% of those kills were intentional.

    Reply
    1. petegmay@gmail.com Post author

      Thanks so much, Marianne. As I’m sure you know, there have been numerous studies where researchers put artificial snakes or turtles at the edge of a road and monitored driver behavior. Swerving to intentionally hit one (especially the snakes) is a common behavior.

      Reply

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