Something about the way the sunlight did not reach all the way to the rocky ground but rather reflected off a shape — a shape that, however still, was obviously alive — gave my step pause in the bright spring day. I was hiking a trail that runs alongside the spring-fed Pedernales River after some bounding over the sluices and rocky outcroppings of the falls at Pedernales Falls State Park.
“Look at that,” I exclaimed to the friend that followed behind me, myself only just processing what I was seeing.
Two large western diamondback rattlesnakes, stretched each to full length next to a ledge of rock. Silent, unmoving and yet connected, intent … suddenly I realized they were mating. The two rattlesnakes were mating. I stood there breathless for several moments, astounded by the beauty in nature’s inert ferocity. It was as if I was watching an ancient ritual, a union so primeval that a prehistoric mind would instantly have created a myth around the event.
So of course I had to make a joke.
“Crikey!” I said, channeling the accent of that famous vexer of wildlife. “That one’s a jumbo!”
Yet I remained transfixed, with a clear view of the eyes of the nearer of the pair. She looked at me, her triangular head coldly appraising my slightest quiver. My friend moved around them in a wide circle, unsuccessfully seeking a good angle for a photograph. I could see her mate watching the motion.
Nothing but the tip of a black and white striped tail moved, and when it stopped, there was no evidence that the snakes had altered their position in the slightest. Both of us were well away from the snakes and what I felt was not fear, but a thrilling exuberance. While, for some of you Texans, the sound of a venomous pit viper bestowing its eponymous warning may be commonplace, even routine — to a gal from a state lacking poisonous anything (no venomous snakes, no fire ants, no brown recluses or deadly jellies), it was a rite of passage. For the snakes, it marked a countdown to six or so months from now, when a dozen or more rattlesnake young, equipped with venom from birth, will spill into the Pedernales River habitat.
Of course, snakes can be found on trails and many other locations in Texas, and spring being prime time for snake activity, I decided to ask an expert about how to be safe with snakes. Tom Regner, owner of Town Lake Construction LLC, has specialized in the humane removal of bats, birds, snakes, and many other animals from Austin property since 1993. He was kind enough to speak with me about what home and business owners (and yes, hikers and bikers) can do to prevent encounters with snakes, and what one should do upon encountering a snake.
“Snakes nest in large colonies,” Tom informed me, “and they will get displaced by construction and move to where they weren’t last year. The first thing you’ll want to do is check woodpiles, under decks, and garbage cans to get those areas cleared.”
And if you do find snakes?
“Well, most pest companies don’t do snakes. But you can call the police, and they will help, at least to watch the snake or call a wildlife control company like ourselves. You can’t assume a snake is venomous — there are only four types of venomous snake in Texas.”
That’s plenty for me. What are some good rules for keeping a place snake-free?
“One, prevent a snake problem by removing shelter areas. Two, seal up gaps and cracks in your home or deck. Three, eliminate feeding areas. And four, we’re on call 24/7 to handle any problems.”
What does someone do until you get there?
“Most everyone who gets bit — close to 90 percent — was messing with the snake.”
I take his answer to mean, don’t mess with the snake. What do you do with the snakes you catch?
Tom deadpanned, “We put them in your neighbor’s yard.”
I laugh nervously.
He continues, “We do keep them pretty close. Rattlesnakes, for example, are a territorial species, so we don’t want to put one in another snake’s territory. So we don’t go a long distance and I do have a couple of local drop-offs. The problem is, a lot of the snakes people find get killed. They’re all good snakes, we don’t get into: this one is good, that one is bad. They’re all good, and if you kill them, you’ll have problems with other pests.”
What was the strangest removal you’ve performed?
“A python in a movie theater, a megaplex. The theater had just opened, and the owner had a disgruntled employee leave a 10-foot reticulated python in the theater. We found it within about 10 minutes of getting there. We just got lucky. Although when I was told it was a python, I thought it would be, you know, a smaller one, not like something you would find in the jungle!”
What happened with that snake?
“That one we sold to a pet store. Sometimes with snakes and raccoons and other animals, we’ll contact Austin Wildlife Rescue. It’s a volunteer-based organization, and they’re really great — more people should know about them.”
Town Lake Construction can safely and humanely remove bats, birds, snakes and other animals as well as advise new builders and architects on how to minimize or remove habitats. Tom Regner and his staff can be reached at 444-5955.
Austin Wildlife Rescue can help if you find an injured or orphaned wild animal and maintains a 24-hour hotline for help with wild animals at 472-WILD.
By Alexandria Dobkowski