Shake, rattle and roll

Contributed photo

One of four rattlesnakes killed by area resident Larry Kotzur around hius residence near Panna MAria. Kotzur said none of the four ever rattled.

By Bruce Harper, Karnes Countywide staff

KARNES CITY – No, this is not a story about Bill Haley and the Comets’ old rock and roll classic from 1955.

The photo of the snake might be a good clue. What seems to be a growing trend across the nation with rattlesnakes, is encounters are now silent. No rattling warnings are forthcoming from the snakes to warn people of their presence.

Area resident Larry Kotzur lives near Panna Maria.

“I’ve killed four rattlesnakes in the last couple of years and none of them rattled. I was moving some vines in my cantaloupe patch and actually touched it. I went and got my hoe and moved the snake out of the patch before killing it, but it never rattled,” Kotzur said.

Kotzur related that all his other encounters were  of the same nature. No rattling at all came from the vipers.

This seems to be a trend as reports of silent encounters have been surfacing from around the country. 

In South Dakota back in 2011, several reports came across the desks of wildlife groups and scientists of the new silent nature of rattlers. The same thing in Georgia a couple of years ago, an outbreak of encounters with the big eastern diamondbacks were reported as “silent” meetings between humans and reptiles. Same story in Arizona and New Mexico as the rattlers have fallen silent.

Experts and laymen alike have come up with a few reasons for the phenomenon, if you can call it that, and believe it is something new in the snakes’ behavior.

Steve Reaves, the owner of Tucson Rattlesnake Removal in Arizona, says it’s true. Some rattlesnakes have stopped rattling for one simple reason, he told Associated Press in July 2010: to avoid being killed by humans. Those born with a genetic predisposition to stay quiet have a better survival rate wherever they come into contact with people, Reaves explained.

That explanation tends along the line of genetic engineering as the old “survival of the fittest” theories.

Several herpetologists agree. Herpetologist Daryl Sprout of Dallas, told KLTV 7 News in Tyler, that “natural selection is already beginning to prefer snakes that do not bring attention to themselves and therefore draw incoming fire from humans.”

The theory in Texas has its believers, but ranchers, hunters and others feel that the natural selection of silent critters is being pushed along by the huge feral hog population within the state.

The legend goes that feral hogs love to eat rattlesnakes. When the free roaming pigs hear a rattle, they scurry over and devour the noisy snake, making it a tasty tidbit to  their diet. 

The silent ones live to breed and pass on the genetic disposition that being silent, not rattling, is a good thing.

Other scientists in the know dismiss the whole thing as a myth.

Stephane Poulin, curator of herpetology at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, says he’s noticed no major changes in rattlesnake behavior over the past quarter-century.

“Overall, rattlesnakes just don’t rattle very often,” Poulin said in an Associated Press interview. “Most of the time they use their camouflage and try not to be seen.”

The major defense mechanism for the rattler is not the rattle, but its camouflage and stealth, just laying low and basically invisible to the passing danger.

Whether it is natural selection, survival of the fittest or just being its naturally stealthy self, the rattlers of today seem to be keeping their rattle to themselves and  humans need to be aware of their surroundings when out in the snakes’ home turf. 

It also may be good to take heed of an old Texas saying:

“Never be the third in line walking down a trail. The first person wakes the rattler up, the second makes it mad, and the third person gets bit.”