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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to kill a dead snake

The background to this video concerns my good neighbor, a hard-working businessman, dog-lover, Iron Man competitor, irrepressible optimist, and electronic wizard who loves all things natural, except rattlesnakes.

When California's foothills warm up in the spring, Pacific diamondback rattlesnakes show up to lounge in the morning sun.

And last spring my neighbor from Chicago, let's just call him Larry, started finding rattlesnakes lounging in his backyard.

When this happens most folks around here start to curse and do a little fandago with a shovel or hoe while beating the snake to a pulp.

And that pretty much describes how this rattler met its demise.

Larry was kind enough, however, to deliver the corpse in a bucket, and after removing its head, I stashed it in a hole dug by a local pair of gray foxes.

The camera showed how a cautious fox "kills" a dead snake.

Its reaction tells me this wasn't the first time it used the old "shake and break" method to dispatch a snake.

But it makes you wonder if gray foxes prey on rattlers very often, and if so, how risky is it?

I imagine that as long as a fox seizes a rattlesnake somewhere away from the head, and shakes it quickly and violently, it can inflict a fatal whiplash and prevent a venomous bite.

It's not something I expect to see, so someone else will have to prove it.


Woody Meristem said...

Super video. The fox sure was cautious, but must have been within the strike range before it grabbed the snake -- that might be OK with a non-venomous snake, but might well prove fatal with a rattlesnake. Here, dogs that are struck in the head by a timber rattlesnake don't usually survive unless the strike is what is called a dry strike with no venom injected.

john said...

My guess is that foxes and coyotes routinely kill and eat rattlesnakes. They may even have some degree of immunity to the venom. BTW, your local rattlesnakes are most likely Pacific Rattlesnakes, one of the forms of Western Rattlesnake. My field guide is old and I believe that the taxonomy has changed so who knows what the current name is?

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks guys, I found the foxes reaction quite interesting. The fox seemed to recognize the smell of the thing (and it was getting a little "high") and acted accordingly. Searched for information on rattlesnake predation, but couldn't find anything about foxes eating them.

Herb said...

My cat kills and eats rattlesnakes. She gets them to strike at her, and hits them on the head with her claws. Eventually she bites their heads off, and sets about to eat them. We live near San Andreas, CA

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks for that comment Herb. You have quite a cat.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to find out if gray foxes are refractory to rattlesnake venom, as are Virginia opossums.


Camera Trap Codger said...

Interesting comment, Herb. It could be that foxes do something similar. I would think the successful strategy would be to safely harass the snake until it starts to move away. Then grab it by the tail and shake. The initial shake would stun the snake, and subsequent shakes would kill it. Al's comment raises the question about physiological defense to rattlesnake venom. I couldn't find any publications about this on the internet, but it is certainly a possibility.