August 05, 2016

Rattlesnake, You Can't Go Home Again. Or Can You?

When I relocated the rattlesnake last Saturday after it alarmed the guests in the cabin, the wife of the couple staying there asked me, "It won't come back, will it?"

"No," I said, "It won't." But what did I know? Especially when a day or two later, when M. was walking our dog on the county road, and encountered one of the neighbors, who told her how she and her husband had encountered a rattlesnake earlier along that road — and it was buzzing angrily.  (He had gone home for his gun, but on his return, the snake was gone.)

We drove "our" snake about a mile up that road when we relocated it to its new home. Do they come back? It was time to ask Mr. Google.

Mr. Google brought me to a guest-blog post by Erika Nowak, a herpetologist from Northern Arizona University.  (Her master's thesis was on the "biological effects and management effectiveness of nuisance rattlesnake translocation.")

She is no fan of translocation — it breaks up snake social groups — unless the alternative is death or habitat destruction. (See also the Advocates for Snake Preservation website.)

She writes that it is "best to relocate within 1 square kilometer (0.6 mile): Short-distance translocation is considered to be within the rattlesnake’s normal home range; a general rule of thumb in the southwestern U.S. that I use for larger species like western diamond-backed rattlesnakes is an average of 1 square kilometer."

And this: 
The reality is that in the short term, most adult rattlesnakes will try to home back to where they were moved from. This phase often results in higher than normal mortality rates from disease, predation, and being hit by cars.
Or death from a neighbor who has the usual Western "all snakes must die" outlook.

A hummingbird can fly from southern Mexico or wherever, start hovering at the spot where the feeder hung last year, and we think that is normal for birds. But cold-blooded reptiles never seem as clever as birds to me.

So now we are wondering, was that "our" rattlesnake coming home again? Or was it another member of its extended family, in which case this is not only a big mouse year but a big rattlesnake year.

3 comments:

Galen Geer said...

One of the joys of living in this part of ND--NO RATTLESNAKES!

Woody Meristem said...

Research done with timber rattlesnake in Pennsylvania has demonstrated that a rattlesnake moved any distance will try to return "home" and typically does not survive. The succumb to traffic, predators and folks who can't stand snakes.

Chas Clifton said...

Interesting, so similar to the Arizona research.