It’s hot – somewhere between 93°F and 97°F degrees on the last day before the Autumnal Equinox. I know this because I have an acute sensory organ known as my skin that is covered in sweat and getting browner by the second. The momma Rattlesnake that just poked her head out from her limestone den can top me. She has a two-chambered pit found between the eye and nostril and on both sides of the head. It can sense temperature differences of less than 1/2°F. In this sultry, sub-tropical Everglades environment I must appear as a bright light on a pitch black night.
She slides out and retreats just as quickly, making her intentions known. This is her territory and she doesn’t wish to be disturbed. I back off – my invisible heat signature reminding her that I haven’t gone far. She repositions herself as if to politely say “go away”.
Coiled – she displays a beautiful rattle with 9 segments. A new segment develops after each skin shed. Rattlesnakes can shed multiple times per year and often segments will fall off. Aging the snake by counting segments is as useful as hunting for rattlesnake eggs. Regardless, a rattling rattler shouldn’t be trifled with. A coiled snake can strike up to two-thirds of their body length. I left my tape measure home, but if she’s 6 feet she can strike 4 feet…I’ll give her 15 feet of space.
What’s most curious to me is what’s sliding about behind her in the cave. I count at least 4 newborn baby rattlers. After a 7 month gestation, up to 15 live-born young are “hatched” from a gelatinous egg and equipped with a respectable amount of venom. I counted four. I cautiously check the rocks around my feet.
If I return in a few weeks everyone will have departed. The mother stays only through the first shed, if at all and the young will head off to fend for themselves. I watch the mother retreat back into the shade of the cave. It’s hot out here. I think the temperature just went up ½ a degree.