Yesterday was the annual "Great Amorpha Borer Expedition". This has become an annual quest to find what is inarguably the world's most handsome beetle, and a beetle that seems to be quite rare in these parts. And it proved to be rare indeed yesterday - we, for the first time in the history of these expeditions, could not find any of the animals. But our failure may have been operator error - based on the condition of the beetles' favorite nectar plants, we may have been about a week too early.
But as I tell all GABE participants, they'll not despair if we choke on the beetle. These expeditions turn into natural history free-for-alls on a Grand Scale, and yesterday was no exception. There were scads of interesting finds, and I made 1,736 images during my 19-hour day. Of course, I only ended up keeping about 1/20th of that number but some of the keepers are doozies and of things one doesn't often get to see. I'll be tossing some of that stuff out here over the coming week, but thought I'd start with the King of Doozies.
We had quite a crew yesterday. In addition to your narrator, there was John Howard and his brother Vince, Tricia West and her cousin Jamie, Derek Hennen, Rachel Shoop, Mary Ann Barnett, Cheryl Harner, and Dave and Laura Hughes. And of course and oh yes - the inimitable Jenny Richards.
That's Jenny, above, with the object of our attentions. WARNING: if you are one of those weird ophidiophobes - snake-haters - it's best you turn back now.
It's hard to get a thorough appreciation of the charisma of one of these beasts without seeing it up close and personal. And the big rattlesnakes, such as this one, are impressive by any standard. This animal rivaled the largest one that I've ever seen, which was nearly identical in proportions. We found that one several years ago out in the forest, crossing a road. It was probably one of 12-15 timber rattlesnakes that I've had the pleasure of seeing in the wild, and like the others, it was thoroughly docile and didn't even rattle its tail. That's not to say that one should take liberties with these snakes - a fool could quickly find himself bitten.
Timber rattlesnakes are generally non-aggessive, and hard to find. The average person will never run across one, and I'm sure that's just fine to the average person. Even if you did, chances are the snake would either freeze or just slip away - they don't want to waste perfectly good venom on a nonfood item such as a person.
Your narrator provides a size scale to the timber rattlesnake as he VERY CAREFULLY ( and gently, I might add) works the animal back into its holding cage with a snake stick.
The typical hunting modus operandi of a timber rattlesnake is to lie quietly in wait, curled in the camouflaging leaf litter of the forest floor. When a chipmunk (major prey item), squirrel, or possibly a bird or other reptile wanders into range, the snake explodes with an astonishingly rapid and accurate strike.
Our snake was a bit peeved by the attention, and let us know by rattling its tail, as seen in this video. However, true to general form, it never once struck. Of course, no one got anywhere near striking distance.
It's probably easy to dislike a reptile such as a timber rattlesnake. They aren't particularly pretty, at least in most people's estimation, and they're poisonous. There's no denying that a mishandled timber rattlesnake could put a serious hurt on a person. But lots of things, both floral and faunal, are poisonous and many creatures aren't going to win any beauty pageants. Such factors shouldn't have any bearing on whether we decide to let them live. Timber rattlesnakes are an especially dramatic example of Ohio's wilderness heritage, and each and every remaining animal should be protected. The snake, like so many other of Ohio's mega-fauna, has declined TREMENDOUSLY from pre-settlement days. I for one am glad to know that we've managed to protect some wild areas large enough in scale to still support populations of big forest animals like this timber rattlesnake.