A loud, coarse hissing sound was coming out of the thicket. The buzz of a rattlesnake’s rattle, I wondered? Peering into the bushes I could see the keeled scales of a writhing, defensive serpent and hear, not rattling, but ominous hissing.
Yanna, Todd, and I were exploring Walnut Creek Preserve with a couple of friends, Bob Strickland and Rich Baird, when that strange, eerie sound stopped me in my tracks. As soon as I parted the overhanging bushes we could see it was a hog-nosed snake – one of the great actors of the reptile kingdom.
Not only did we have a great actor in our midst, we also had a great cameraman on duty that day. Todd whipped out his camera, snapped a few stills then started the video rolling (see below). What a show we had! Its head and neck flattened out sort of like a cobra, its body swelled and thickened as the snake filled its lungs and let out long ghastly hisses. When I poked at it with my fingers, it struck fiercely! But I wasn’t concerned about getting bitten. This snake was striking with its mouth closed! After a few minutes and a few dozen false strikes, it realized the ferocity act wasn’t working, so it changed strategies. It started writhing about like I had just given it poison. It opened its cloaca (the multi-purpose anal opening at the base of the tail) so it looked like an oozing wound, and excreted strong-smelling musk. Slowly the writhing stopped, the snake turned belly up and went limp with its mouth gaped open and its tongue hanging out! We could pick it up and it was as limp as a piece of rope.
It was perfect act – except for one thing. Something instinctual tells the snake that the only way it can appear dead is to be belly up. Even though snake was dead limp, every time we rolled it over with its back up and belly down it would roll itself back over, belly up. No matter how many times we flipped it over it insisted on belly up! Sometimes actors have their own ideas about how a role should be played. Maybe that’s why he never earned an Oscar. We finally departed leaving our overworked reptilian thespian belly up in its thicket, and we hoped it would recover before the buzzards arrived.
For more snake stories and a lot more natural history and plant and animal lore, check out my 196 page hard cover book, WildwoodsWisdom: Encounters with the Natural World. For the month of August I’m offering it for $18.00. That’s $5 off the $23 retail price. www.dougelliott.com/products