My friend Dr. Doug Skinner sent me a photo of blackberries turning red in Brown County. He wants me to join him for the harvest in about a week. He also sent me a picture of a friend holding a five-foot rattlesnake caught and released in same county. Of course, this got me to thinking.
Timber rattlers are common from southern Minnesota to northern Florida and seem to be somewhat common in Brown, Morgan, Monroe and a few other southern Indiana counties. I have only seen one and that was on a shale creek bluff, near the Ohio River, in Jefferson County. Brown County State Park, Morgan/Monroe and Yellowwood State Forest have a few.
Rattlesnakes are now a protected specie in all states, even Texas where I’m sure many are killed when found roaming too close to houses and out-buildings.
Timber rattlers can weigh up to 10 lbs. and reach a length of six feet. They have a wide head and a small neck. Their body can be the diameter of a man’s arm.
It is a myth that the Indiana DNR stocked rattlesnakes to control the turkey population by eating their eggs. Rattlers are not known to eat eggs. A long-held rumor that our DNR dropped them from a helicopter is also unfounded.
They are not aggressive but will hold their ground. You can bet I won’t have ear buds in when I’m picking berries. If I can hear the rattlers, I’m sure me and the snake can part ways without a problem.
There is a small endangered massasauga rattlesnake native to the swamps and bogs of northern Indiana.
The most common poisonous snake in Indiana is the northern copperhead. It is native to the southern third of our state. One spring, near Madison, my cousin Jay and I waded a creek to fish a stone quarry. We kept our shoes off. As we were walking, in ankle-high grass, I felt a snake underfoot. My next step was a record broad jump. Jay responded in kind. “What is it he asked?” I told him: a snake.
Jay used our two fishing poles to part the grass expecting to see a small snake. When it moved, he jumped back. The two boys and the snake were at a standoff. The viper seemed agitated about being stepped on. As the snake moved, Jay dangled a worm on a gold hook. The copperhead struck and was hooked. Now we had a real problem-a poisonous snake on the line and nothing to kill it with. Finally, the wire hook straightened, and the old snake slithered away. It was a moment we will never forget.
A common water snake gets accused of a lot, including being a cottonmouth water moccasin. Water snakes will often swim towards a boat out of curiosity but have a very sensitive nervous system. The only two I have ever caught died when I put them back in the water. It was likely a massive heart attack.
In truth, cottonmouths are limited to a very small area near the Ohio River.
Snakes have a positive function in the ecosystem. They are a part of nature better left alone.