Cochise County: Mojave Green Rattlesnake, Crotalus Scutulatus, offers Spiritual Unfoldment Opportunity

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Spiritual opportunity? Offered by an ultra-venomous Crotalus scutulatus, the feared Mojave green (or Mohave) rattlesnake? Cochise County must be affecting your brain, Ghost; what are you talking about?

You had to ask. Let’s start with a bit of my personal backstory. I was raised on a western Montana ranch at the foot of Rattler Hill, just over the ridge from Rattler Gulch. We called them diamondbacks, though technically I suppose they were mostly prairie rattlers that populated the place, but in any event, I traumatized myself a good bit over the wee beasties. Killed my first coiled and buzzing pit viper when I was ten years old, firing my Dad’s .45 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver, the 1917 model with the half-penny brazed in place as a front sight. It didn’t get less dramatic from there, either, at least internally. During the summers during my childhood years, I used to close my eyes at night and see a sea of snakes, all of them coming to get me. Later, in my early adult years, I often imagined rolling out of bed to step on a rattlesnake’s head, the proverbial monster under the bed.

Add to that the extreme lethality of the Mojave green, and–living among them–I have good reason for, if not paranoia, at least a ration of caution. A CBS.com article by Ryan Jaslow in July of 2012 sums it up this way:

Snake venom expert Dr. Sean Bush, professor of emergency medicine at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, told HealthPop that the Mojave Green snake is known for having the most lethal venom of all North American pit vipers, a class of snakes that includes rattlers.

Bush said when a poisonous Mojave bites, the venom can stay in a person’s system for weeks or months. About 15 percent of people bitten by a poisonous snake may lose a body part like a finger, or experience loss of sensation or function. Others may experience more severe complications like bleeding to death from one bite from the deadly snake.

But I’ve come a long way, baby. Nearing my 71st birthday, I’ve had to terminate quite a few Mojave greens when they showed up too close to the Border Fort for comfort or safety, but I’ve had no joy in the doing of it. I no longer hold to the superstition–which gripped me for decades–that any rattler I encountered and didn’t kill would someday sneak up and bite either me or a loved one.

And yet I’d never succeeded in encountering a rattler that (a) I felt no need to destroy and (b) seemed more than willing to pose for the camera.

That finally happened yesterday.

Pam and I were headed out in the truck, figuring to pick up a few things in town and grab supper at a restaurant before returning. It was around 4:00 p.m., shadows just beginning to lengthen. As we approached the wash on Paloma Trail, I saw the snake, identifying it as a rattlesnake from a good hundred yards out. My wife, whose eyes have not yet ripened their cataracts sufficiently to have them surgically removed, wasn’t at first even sure what I was observing.

I didn’t know what species of rattler it might be. Not yet; we weren’t close enough for that. A hawk or an eagle might have been able to do so, had it cared. But the general shape of any rattlesnake, heavy bodied through the middle rather than lean and straight from head to tapering tail, is unmistakable.

The snake paused, observing our approach. I parked the truck well short of the critter and got out to take pictures.

“Be careful,” Pam warned.

“Of course. But he’s not worried about me.” The reptile might have been a she, of course. I’m no rattlesnake gender expert.

Moving easily to a mutually non-threatening distance, perhaps 20 feet between us, I got ready to go–but a neighbor’s SUV dropped over the rise and down into the wash, somebody coming home for the day. I held up my hand, palm forward in the universal STOP position. The driver ignored it completely, perhaps taking my gesture as a mere greeting. Fortunately, his vehicle and the rattler were pointed the same way and perfectly aligned; the driver side wheels passed to the left, the passenger side wheels passed to the right, the chassis rumbled overhead, and the snake was untouched.

It seemed likely the driver’s maneuver had been deliberate, but no. He stopped to ask what had my interest. When I told him, he made it clear he’d not even seen the snake; I’d distracted him completely.

Aiyeeee! Actions and their unintended consequences, oh my!

The uninterested-in-snakes neighbor went on his way, and I began talking to the Mojave green, brother to brother. By now it was clear that this was the species. Crotalus scutulatus is always our “first suspect” when it comes to rattlesnake sightings around here–they seem to dominate our below-the-wash pit viper population rather completely–but the wider white bands (relative to the black bands) on the “coontail” confirmed it. The band widths are much more even in the Western Diamondback rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox, the only other rattler with a known coontail.

Remarkably, this snake wasn’t much worried even after being “overflown” by a rumbling machine monster. He simply back-squiggled a bit of forward progress and held his position, his erect but unshaken rattles remaining silent. I was impressed and spontaneously decided that he needed a name: Harvey Mojave.

A 30 inch (or so) Mojave green rattlesnake, Crotalus scutulatus, at the Paloma Trail wash in southern Cochise County, Arizona.

A 30 inch (or so) Mojave green rattlesnake, Crotalus scutulatus, at the Paloma Trail wash in southern Cochise County, Arizona.

Now, I wasn’t thinking much about spiritual unfoldment at the time. Mostly, I was concerned about (a) getting a good set of photos and (b) protecting the road-crawling critter from truck tires. The photos were doing fine. The tire threat, however, was not yet complete. While we sat there, another neighbor nosed over the rise and down into the wash in another SUV. We knew this driver. She stopped readily in response to my outthrust palm and just as readily admired Harvey.

“Oh, he’s a beauty!” She exclaimed. We chatted briefly, both concerned about the snake’s likelihood of having a painful encounter with hard rubber. She felt she had the answer. “I’ll just throw a rock at it!”

She began casting around for a suitable chunk of stone as my wife and I yelled in unison, “Do NOT throw a rock at the snake! Do NOT throw a rock at the snake!”

“Oaky,” she agreed cheerfully, “I won’t throw a rock at the snake.”

Whew!

Mojave rattlesnakes, “green” or otherwise, have a reputation for aggression toward humans. We’ve never seen even one of them act that way, but getting a rock bounced off your spine might cloud up anyone’s fine, sunny day. We were having a peaceable consultation, no stoning necessary, thank you very much.

Except…we’re not 100% certain that Harvey Mojave didn’t divine the nature of the conversation. It wasn’t long after the to-rock-or-not-to-rock discussion that he decided to move on out of the way, hooking a partial U-turn and heading for the dirt bank that led off down the side of the road.

I kept taking pictures, of course. Duh.

Harvey Mojave, a Mojave green rattlesnake, visits with us briefly in the wash on Paloma Trail.

Harvey Mojave, a Mojave green rattlesnake, visits with us briefly in the wash on Paloma Trail. Note the heavy body.

Nearly every major photo op provides a surprise or two when the pictures are enlarged on the computer. This was no exception, starting with the next image. Note two things: The strikingly heavy body (no wonder I could ID it at a distance) and the sharp, rather triangular-in-cross-section “ridgetop” of the snake’s spine–presumably that’s what we’re seeing–as the “belly” sort of flops out below and to the sides. Interesting conformation right there. Also, Harvey carries his tail rattles constantly erect. I’m not sure all rattlers do that, but this one certainly did, possibly to keep dirt from dragging into the forward-opening rattle segments–of which there are just five plus a button, indicating a relatively young reptile.

The view from the shady side brings the "ridgetop" spine into visual prominence.  Also, in this individual at least, the tail rattles are held constantly erect.

The view from the shady side brings the “ridgetop” spine into visual prominence. Also, in this individual at least, the tail rattles are held constantly erect.

Deciding it's time to move on out, the Mojave green rattlesnake hooks a partial U-turn and heads for the side of the road.

Deciding it’s time to move on out, the Mojave green rattlesnake hooks a partial U-turn and heads for the side of the road.

Pit viper profile.

Pit viper profile.

Luck met preparation as Harvey Mojave picked his angle to exit the dirt road. He was going almost straight away from our truck–crossing in front of our neighbor’s SUV–and the angle down from the GMC’s cab turned out to be most excellent for catching a shot of the top of the rattler’s head. Cropping and enlarging produced a close-up diagram that finally showed me exactly what the experts were talking about. Some rather scientific sounding websites stress the study of a rattlesnake’s head in order to identify its species. They refer to “two large scales” between “the supraoculars”.

Turns out supraoculars are super-large scales that provide a shield above the snake’s unblinking eyes. Both Western Diamondbacks and Mojave greens have scales between the supraoculars, but the Mojaves sport just two large scales in that area while Western Diamondbacks have several smaller scales.

Now we see what they’re talking about.

The two large scales between the supraoculars  identify this individual, clearly a Mojave green rattlesnake.

The two large scales between the supraoculars identify this individual, clearly a Mojave green rattlesnake.

Identifying a particular rattlesnake may only be a life or death necessity if someone has been bitten, but it certainly is then. The Mojave green packs a neurotoxic venom similar to that of a cobra, several times more toxic than “ordinary” rattlesnake venom–which is nasty enough in and of itself. There is a Mojave with a “Type B” venom that’s “only” about a third as deadly as the more plentiful “Type A” Mojave venom, but unless you live in south central Arizona, you’re probably looking at Type A.

Dealing with a Type A personality in a fellow human being can be tricky enough, but Type A venom? No thanks.

To that end, since staring closely at the head of a live snake (as opposed to studying photos on a computer at one’s leisure) is not a healthful occupation, it’s a good idea to keep in mind the end of the snake you usually can see, i.e. the tail. Mojave greens tend to have wide white coontail bands relative to narrower black bands while the Western diamondback bands are fairly equal in width.

Tail identification of the Mojave green rattlesnake.

Tail identification of the Mojave green rattlesnake.

Harvey Mojave plus Kanga 020

Harvey Mojave plus Kanga 025

Harvey Mojave plus Kanga 027

Harvey Mojave plus Kanga 028 (2)

Harvey Mojave plus Kanga 029 (2)

This was the only photo that showed the light stripe behind the eye running to behind the mouth in the Mojave green rattlesnake.  In the Western Diamondback, that stripe exists but intersects the mouth.

This was the only photo that showed the light stripe behind the eye running to behind the mouth in the Mojave green rattlesnake. In the Western Diamondback, that stripe exists but intersects the mouth.

One photo in particular gave up a lot of field ID details. The angle of the light was nothing to brag about, nor could you see those big head scales (not that you’d want to get close enough to do so in any event), but a whole bunch of the keys that tell the practiced eye in a small fraction of a second what’s out there on the trail…those were present and well worth tagging with a bit of text.

Not the best light angle, but plenty of field ID points visible in this photo.

Not the best light angle, but plenty of field ID points visible in this photo. The greenish tint is NOT evident in all individuals.

Up close, business end.

Up close, business end.

When all was said and done, I realized I’d had a number of firsts during the encounter. At nearly 71 years of age, this was the first time I’d ever had a really cool brother to brother conversation with a rattler of any sort. It was certainly the first time I’d named one, though I’m betting “Harvey Mojave” has now become a permanent addition to my vocabulary. It was also the first time I’d ever had the opportunity to photograph a living Mojave green rattlesnake at length with no need or inclination to terminate the creature. And it was definitely the first time I’d ever stopped traffic to help a pit viper cross the road safely.

I’m beginning to think there really is something to this whole spiritual unfoldment thing.

The back end of Harvey Mojave slips over the bank at the side of the road.

The back end of Harvey Mojave slips over the bank at the side of the road.

Up and out , over a piece of partially buried concrete.

Up and out , over a piece of partially buried concrete.

Draping the snake.

Draping the snake.

Over and out.

Over and out.

8 thoughts on “Cochise County: Mojave Green Rattlesnake, Crotalus Scutulatus, offers Spiritual Unfoldment Opportunity

  1. Wonderful photos and identifying helps. I had Katy look at them and pay attention to the stripe difference. It helped her definitely identify one that she saw on the side of the road when she was riding with Rodger. We still have not seen a snake on our property. Leila has been trained to stand back and raise heck to let someone know a snake is there. Gives us a lot of peace of mind to know that. She will let us know so we can go out with a shotgun and get rid of it.

  2. I remember Rodger telling me about Leila’s training. Can’t imagine a handier dog to have in this neck of the woods. It’s REALLY good to know that Katy has already benefited from the ID tips, too.

  3. Although I hate snakes, these photos are awesome! What they can do to a human is quite scary. The only snakes I’ve seen in my yard are black garden snakes. I’ve gotten used to them but still don’t like them.

  4. I understand completely about hating snakes, Sha. Believe it or not, the turning point for me (several decades ago) involved my firm belief in reincarnation and an admittedly reluctant (but inescapable) recognition of the fact (I consider it a fact) that I’d been a snake in a number of past lives. That didn’t produce a magical new outlook overnight or anything, but over time, I found myself changing. During the changing process, I discovered that some of my most natural (and therefore effective) fighting style could be fairly described as the snake approach, whether rattlesnake (warn ’em first, but if they don’t listen, hit ’em hard) or some other species (stay out of sight, sneak away and hide or sneak up and nail ’em, never let ’em see you coming).

    Nowadays, I actually find myself empathizing with them to some degree. How would YOU like to be living in a body that (other than reproduction) had no legs, feet, fingers, feet, toes, claws, or wings? Ew-w-w-w!

    That said, I love your kudos for the photos. I’m more than a bit pleased with them, myself!

  5. Hi Ghost – just came across your page while doing an image search of “green Mojave rattlesnakes.” Thought I was looking at a western diamond back in the yard today. After closer study (and looking at your excellent pictures) I now realize that it was indeed the infamous green “deadly” Mojave. Couldn’t get myself to dispatch it, though I wanted to. I’m one of those tree-hugging, vegetarian types. Can’t seem to muster up the resolve to pull the trigger on anything. That said, this creature is living near the house and so it’s a real concern. Had an A/C repairman over today when Mr. Green paid us a visit. Good thing we spotted him. I’d seen him before on several occasions. Was just hoping the darn thing would get tired of us and just slither away to parts unknown. Now that I know it’s a Mojave –yikes!!!

    Like you, I’m on 20 acres – near the edge of Cochise county (actually in Pima). We’ve got many of the same critters you’ve got. Happy to discover your blog.

  6. Hey, Rick. Thanks for commenting, and good luck with your Mojave. I understand your reluctance to visit violence on the viper. (Yeah, sucker for cheap alliteration, here.) And heck, I may even get pretty close to becoming vegetarian someday–at least if my suspicion of lately developed food allergies is correct. Which would be ironic for an old ranch-raised cowboy who grew up on beef and venison, but I digress.

    That said, I do feel the need to pass on some bad news: It is highly unlikely that your Mr. Green will get tired of you and move on to parts unknown without a firm boost from an outside force. One of my Mojave posts details the tale of a rattler who moved into our close-to-house area one fine spring day (escaping down a ground squirrel hole before I could terminate). We believe that snake stayed there all summer, wiping out our spotted ground squirrel colony entirely and probably decimating the kangaroo rats for dessert. Then a few months into the story, I was circling the house one night with a small flashlight and came within one step of his resting coil. Didn’t let him off that time, but the point is, he likely hadn’t been more than a few dozen yards from the house at any point during the entire season.

    Our Cochise County acreage, including the Border Fort, is up for sale now. We moved back to Montana (where I’m from) in May. Mostly prairie rattlers here, but not in all areas, and none that I know of as highly populated as Cochise County desert wildlife. Plus, we’re living in town for now, working to pay off a piece of rural land for later on. Did see a blacktail doe deer grazing right in town early this evening; that was cool.

  7. Hi Ghost. Thanks for the reply. Living in the rural southwest desert has taught me many of lessons. For one, I’m much more aware of my surroundings- maybe some of that Apache energy has found its way in me. I’m a So. Cal native and had lived in one of those so-called “McMansions” in an oh-so-perfect neighborhood with oh-so-perfect rules and regulations. One day my wife and I shared an epiphany- we realized we were stuck in some kind rut, a sort of hypnosis of what “normal” was. We started meditation, explored our spirituality and eventually move out into parts unknown. Our goal was to be eventually off-grid. Not quite there yet. Well went dry too. Now we’re saving to go deeper. Back in the McMansion days, water mysteriously and reliably poured from the taps. (talk about digressing)

    Anyway, I do appreciate the info regarding our Green issue. Seems there has been a noticeable reduction of kangaroo rats (now that you mentioned it). Did spot a huge coach whip snake by the house though. Have been thinking maybe he’d make quick work of Green if given a chance. If not, sounds like I’ll have to step up the effort. You’re right, I’m sure this is the same snake I’ve been seeing for the past three years. He’s pretty darn assertive when you’re near him- doesn’t shy away. Much wider white than black on that tail. Greenish? Oh hell yes.

    Now I understand you’re back in your old stomping grounds. Best of luck to you. We’ve had a pretty wet monsoon season thus far- Cochise especially. Good thing too -we had a wicked fire season in May/June. One thing you can say for sure, Montana certainly has more water than those old cowboy towns south of you. That’s enviable.

    I love Big Sky country- but they just don’t make a jacket heavy enough for me on those low mercury days. That said, when my wife and I get our next travel trailer, you can bet we’ll find a way to make it up there again.

    Best to you!

  8. Rick, I certainly understand about nobody making a jacket heavy enough for you in the middle of a Montana winter. They don’t for me, either, which is why we wear layers. As a kid growing up, I can remember not being impressed with most Christmas gifts that turned out to be clothing instead of something “cool”–with one exception. Sheepskin lined horse hide mittens were ALWAYS welcome. Nothing else cut the mustard when I were out pitching hay to cattle at forty below zero from a flatbed trailer behind the tractor my Dad was driving. And in more recent times, when I was driving water truck in the oil patch in Colorado (and years before that in eastern Montana and western North Dakota), my ears would be covered by not one but two thick stocking caps, then a parka hood, and only THEN the standard issue fire retardant coveralls.

    But talk about digressing….

    Assertive the most common stance (or even aggressive) for the Mojave green, at least according to the majority of online sources writing on the subject–though how many of them are copying each other, who knows? Fortunately for us, our rattlers didn’t read those blogs; they were mostly shy, with a few totally calm and unconcerned. Never did have one assume a striking coil stance or even rattle at us.

    Your big coach whip is certainly capable of having the Mojave for lunch. I did notice that after we spotted a five-foot red racer (coach whip) out behind the house one day a few years ago, the Mojave sightings dropped off quite a bit.

    I also understand about discovering you ‘d been stuck in a rut. In my case, Life usually booted me down the road frequently enough (more than fifty changes of residence in my first fifty years out of high school). That even included So Cal for a four year stint in the San Diego area with, let me think…1, 2, 3, 4, yep, 5 different places to hang my hat during those 4 years. (Also a change of wives in there, but that’s another story.)

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