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2018-04-11 / Agriculture and Outdoors

Snakes alive!

WOODS, WATERS & WILDLIFE
By John Jefferson


Blue rattlesnakes hiding in bluebonnet patches were an April Fool’s Day hoax, but naturally colored rattlers do hang out in bluebonnets. Beware! 
COURTESY/TEXASHILLCOUNTRY.COM Blue rattlesnakes hiding in bluebonnet patches were an April Fool’s Day hoax, but naturally colored rattlers do hang out in bluebonnets. Beware! COURTESY/TEXASHILLCOUNTRY.COM It’s springtime in Texas, and that means bluebonnet season. Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. says this should be a great year for seeing and photographing patches of the Texas State Flowers.

On April 1, our pastor, Tim Hawks, spoke of the irony of Easter Sunday falling on April Fools’ Day. He told of his favorite Fools’ Day hoaxes, as reported in Readers Digest.

His favorite – and mine, too – was about the “Texas Bonnet Rattlesnake.” In 2014, a Texas publication ran a warning on April 1 about the discovery of a new species of reptile which had evolved into a blue color, and was often found in patches of bluebonnets, where it was camouflaged. They called it the Texas Bonnet Rattlesnake.

In the 1970s, I began photographing families and kids in bluebonnets as part of my photography business. That continued for years. I’m glad I discontinued it before 2014. The whole blue rattlesnake thing was an April Fool hoax, but it’s true that rattlesnakes occur in bluebonnets, probably hunting rodents.

I asked a rancher’s permission one year to photograph a few people in the large bluebonnet patch on his place. He gladly gave permission but warned about rattlesnakes. They had killed two rattlers that week.

I spent considerable time in the bluebonnets and scouting for them for about 25 years, and I only saw one rattlesnake. It crossed a pasture road from a bluebonnet patch to a brushy area of mesquite and prickly pear and scurried out of sight before I got to it. I was always cautious after that, and probably lucky. The biggest threat in those days was fire ants, however. I learned painfully to always carry ant spray. Photographing one reluctant little kid, I worked futilely for 20 minutes before my antics finally evoked a smile. Knowing his limited attention span would soon end, I ignored a strange feeling on my shorts-clad legs. By the time the shoot was over, the itch had morphed into multiple fire ant bites. My legs looked like I had been hit with a 12-gauge load of number 8 bird shot!

Nature has countless obstacles, along with the awesome pleasure of being out in it. Snakes are part of it. Rattlesnakes inhabit almost all of Texas. Cottonmouth water moccasins — short, fat, dark-colored critters — are in and around practically every water body, large and small. Copperheads may be the most dangerous since they are easily camouflaged in dry leaves or pine needles, and have potent venom. Coral snakes with their body’s red and yellow bands touching each other are seldom seen and aren’t as aggressive as the other three venomous species but have powerful venom if they get hold of you.

If bitten by any snake, get to a doctor quickly (but calmly), taking either the dead snake or a picture of it for identification. I don’t harass non-poisonous snakes, but if bitten by one, I’d take identifying evidence for the medical staff.

And, especially beware of blue snakes in the bluebonnets!

John Jefferson is a lifelong outdoorsman, Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept. hunting and fishing regulations coordinator and director, 20-year editor of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual, author of two hunting books, and recipient of numerous awards for writing and photography.

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