July 6th, 2012


We live in an interesting area for wildlife. At the edge of both the vast cascadian forests, and up between the Mediterranean shores of the Columbia River and the alpine slopes of Mt Adams, Windward's property sees a variety of plant and animal life.

Justin with the dead snake for scale.

With all sorts of migratory birds, charismatic mammals and interesting insects, it can be easy to loose track of all the creatures.

A few weeks back we got a healthy reminder of what can be snaking its way through the dry grass of summer.

Recently Justin and I were finishing up work on a loading dock retaining wall, and as we passed by our hay barn, in a clump of oaks there was a western diamondback rattle snake.

Both Justin and I are from the deserts of the US, and are all too familiar with the chtckthckthck sound of the rattlers tail. We jumped back and looked around to find an adolescent serpent in full pose to pounce at us.

Luckily no one was injured. We made the decision that this poor fellow was too close to our main living area and the animals to get a pass, so a spade shovel was wielded and the serpent's head was taken off.

I respect and admire snakes both for their humble ways and their fierce bite. It is not too often that I get the chance to interact with one on this plateau. I decided to take care of the snake's body in the most respectful way I know how, I stowed it away in the freezer for later processing of the skin into leather.

The snakes head

Justin had this to say about it on his FB page:

“A headless rattler tried to bite me. Five minutes after I chopped its head with a shovel for being noticed, it was still moving and lunged for me while I held it by the end of its tail. Now it's in the freezer, awaiting Andrew's pleasure.”

Rattler: take 2

Perhaps a month and a half after this initial rattle snake was found, there was another encounter with a snake.

the snakes rattle.

Luna, one of our sheep‒one of our very curious sheep‒was found by Oana with a hugely swollen head/neck. After Lindsay and I penned her up and had a look, there appeared to be a snake bite mark in the center of the swelling. It looked like two small missing tufts of skin about 1 inch apart from one another.

I was not concerned that Luna was in serious danger. The snake bite was obviously from something with a big head. That means an adult rattler. Adult rattlers are very smart and know that the odds that they will be able to kill and eat something as large as a sheep is very unlikely.

Snakes generally live on such a tight margin of resources that they cannot afford to waste their prescious venom. So in a defensive situation (like a sheep sticking its nose where it doesn't belong) it will give a mostly venomless bite to scare the intruder away.

Luna seemed completely unphased by the bite and the swelling, so I was not super worried.

I did some research and come across some interesting information that is worth sharing.

“In the U.S. the only approved antivenom for pit viper (rattlesnake, copperhead and water moccasin) snakebite is based on a purified product made in sheep known as CroFab. It was approved by the FDA in October, 2000.”
‒ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antivenom

What does that mean?

  1. Sheep have a natural immunity to pit viper venom!
  2. The anti-venom you would take if you got bit by a rattler was made inside of a sheep!
  3. Luna was perfectly fine from the bite after three days!

Amazing stuff.

The whole experience was a friendly reminder that the “snake in the grass” is there, regardless of whether you see it. So it can be quite beneficial to have your head in the grass. (this, coming from someone who thinks about grass often) And also that sheep are naturally immune to rattlesnake bites.