Friday, October 10, 2008

Another "giant" snake

This timber rattlesnake photo is making the rounds, with the following text:
Snake killed on Golf Course in Harlan , Ky.

This is a timber rattler killed last week-end. It is by far the biggest rattlesnake I have ever seen. Although diamond back rattlers get this big and maybe even bigger, I did not know timber rattlers reached that size. I have not talked to Ollie about how many rattles it had or it's actual size and length was, but since he is about 5'9' the snake appears to be at least 8 feet long if not longer, and is bigger around than his arms. He killed the snake with a 2 iron on number 8 at Oakview while looking for his golf ball. The man holding the snake is greens keeper.

Please. I've been over this before. Twice. The guy is holding the snake out several feet closer to the camera than he's standing. The snake is large, but not exceptional. It's at most 4.5 feet long, which is where mature timber rattlers typically top out.

Last week my friend John Jensen sent an excellent letter to the Monticello (Georgia) News, writing in response to an unfortunate and sensational "snake bites man" story first published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (in which John is quoted). He tells me the AJC erred in calling the snake an eastern diamondback; it was in fact a timber rattler. John's letter was printed in its entirety:
Dear Monticello News:

In last week’s paper it was reported that upon seeing a rattlesnake simply crossing a road, a local gentleman ran over the snake several times, then stopped the tractor on top of it, and because the snake was still alive (although facing certain eventual death from being crushed) used deer antlers to further dispatch it. While stabbing at the snake with the antlers, the snake struck the man, who then had to be medevaced to Macon and treated with antivenin. Let me preface everything further by saying that I am sincerely pleased to learn that this gentleman is back home recuperating and should make a full recovery. The reality, though, is that he is extremely lucky to be alive.

A reasonable person knows not to repair a firearm while it is loaded and the barrel pointing at him, or not to throw rocks at a hornet’s nest. But when it comes to venomous snakes, many otherwise reasonable persons often act in needless, careless, and hysterical ways. Statistics from the CDC indicate that over 80% of all snakebites are to the hands or arms – a clear indication that most of the victims were messing with or handling the snakes and the bites were not accidental. Truly accidental snakebites (snakes not seen prior to envenomation) would normally be to the feet and legs, and are relatively rare events. What is the best way to avoid being bitten (and possibly dying) by a clearly visible snake? Walk away from it! Sure, if a venomous snake takes up residence around a home, playground, or the like, it makes clear sense to safely remove or dispatch it. But when a snake is seen crossing a road or out in the woods well away from residences, there is no need to mess with it. Snakes just want to be left alone and definitely don’t want to waste the precious venom they need for subduing rodent prey.

Besides, why are so many folks so paranoid of venomous snakes that they would go out of their way to kill them? Relative to other dangers in this world that aren’t prevented by eliminating the producers of them, venomous snakes are not that significant of a threat to humans. Many more people die each year from dog attacks, trees falling on them, or even slipping in the shower, yet no reasonable person would promote culling out every dog they see or every tree in the forest “just in case.” Nor would any sane person avoid bathing for fear of busting their head open. In the entire United States, an average of six people annually die from snakebites, while an average of less than one person per year dies in Georgia, and these fatalities are primarily to those who do not seek medical treatment. As sad of a commentary as it is, far more people are killed by their fellow man than are by snakes. An average of 45 people each day are murdered in this country, almost two per day in Georgia alone. All things considered, venomous snakes are really not that much of a threat, and nonvenomous snakes, by the way, are no threat at all to humans.

One more comment to make. The caption in the newspaper was titled “Mean Rattlesnake.” What animal, human beings included, while harmlessly crossing a road, would not fight back after it has been run over by a tractor repeatedly, then parked upon, and then stabbed at with the tines of a deer antler? I hardly think that qualifies as being “mean.”

John Jensen

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