Reptiles are usually depicted as uncaring parents who lay their eggs or give live birth and then continue on with their lives leaving their offspring to fend for themselves. Research by Melissa Amarello is showing that rattlesnakes have a much more complex social structure than was once previously thought and that parental care is indeed provided. Here is a link to her website. I highly recommend checking out: http://socialsnakes.blogspot.com/
It was June 2008 and Devon, Christopher Columbus and I were searching for Berg Adders (Bitis atropos), a high elevation viper species found in isolated mountain ranges in South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwae and Mozambique. Interesting side note, the species name “atropos” refers to one of the goddesses of fate and destiny.
Atropos is the goddess who chose how one died and also ended each mortals life by cutting their thread of life. Her sister Clotho spun the thread while her other sister Lachesis (a genus of South American Pitviper!) determined the length.
So why were we going after these things? Well we had heard that a population had been documented as occurring in this one mountain range and we wanted to see if we could confirm their presence or if they still could be there.
Swaziland can be like Texas. The land may look open but you had better not just go walking out there or you may find yourself with some irate locals. Because of this we had to wait while Vusi (guy in charge of getting us access) negotiated the fee for us being allowed to herp on the land and stay in our tent located just outside his house.
Surprisingly this was actually way more complicated than I thought it would be. There was a whole ritual just to get to talk to the chief. What was eventually settled on I do not remember exactly other than that it was a little bit of money and some food. We only got out for a really quick look around that night because we had spent most of the day getting access and it was too cool at night for much to be moving.
Waking up the next morning we quickly realized we had very little chance at seeing anything. The area was grazed to hell and it did not seem to be quite high enough in elevation. After a long day of searching and not finding the hoped for target we arrived back at the chiefs house craving rice and chakalaka goodness after a day of mountain climbing with no food.
Elation of being back at camp soon dissipated as we realized that none of the tops we had been provided were forming a good seal with our tank of gas. This meant we could not boil water to make rice. And none of us was looking forward to a cookie only dinner. Time to improvise.
It came to me quickly, “Duct tape and TP” I said as I began ruffling through our supplies. As I began creating a seal by using the TP to make the threaded top piece catch with our fuel tank I could sense MacGyver smiling down on me providing me with encouragement that negated my companions ridicule of how this plan would never work.
As I continued my work Devon and Chris kept commenting on how “I was going to blow all of us up”. As I layered duct tape over my improvised seal the mood began to change and they started to believe. When I finished layer it was moment of truth time. We got out a match, opened the valve and…………………..success!!!!!
At the moment it was one of my proudest moments as I had successfully shut them up and they were impressed and
appreciative that we would be eating a actual food as opposed to cookies. Devon was sitting on the ground next to the burner and I was standing across from him, Columbus was a few feet away from us on the side of our add on tent vestibule. We were all eagerly awaiting the water starting to boil when a tiny piece of exposed TP caught on fire igniting my seal and laying our plans of a warm dinner to hell.
A quick flash in my peripheral vision and I was doing my best Impala at the rivers edge leaping back from an onrushing Nile crocodile impression as I bounded over Devon into our tent looking for the zippers to the door so we could get the hell out of there. While I frantically looked for the zippers to the door I looked back to see Devon futilely attempting to blow out the fireball that now came from the top of the tank. Columbus was standing a few feet away repeatedly looking from Devon to me and back.
Our tent was filled with colorful phrases that one would expect to hear in a Tarantino flick. I was making no headway finding the zippers and thought for sure I had killed us all when Columbus did the obvious thing and picked up the pot of water and dumped it on the flame. The flame was extinguished and the chaos that had seemed like forever in reality had probably only taken no longer than 10 seconds.
The threat now gone we all began laughing so hard we had tears rolling down our eyes. It did not matter that some of our gear was soaked, the entire floor of the vestibule was wet and that we realized we had not been in danger of blowing up. We were rolling at the thoughts of what the chiefs family were. They already thought we were a little off for wanting to look for snakes so bad and now we had succeeded in lighting up our whole tent with a ball of flame on the first night.
After a long bit of tearful laughter we got our gear out of the pools of water to dry off and had our dinner of cookies and chocolate bars before heading to bed. Tomorrow were to resume our search for our target. Unfortunately we learned later that there appeared to be a mix up in where the Berg Adders were reported found so we had spent a few days looking for bigfoot.
Check out this documentary starring Rom Whitaker. Refreshing to see one done right in today’s world of sensationalized venomous snake shows. Here is the description provided.
“From the giant King Cobra to the tiny sawscaled viper, India is home to many of the world’s deadliest snakes. Now a new report has revealed that India is in the middle of a snakebite epidemic of epic proportions, with a loss of human life far in excess of any official figures.
Armed with more than forty years of field experience, snake expert Romulus Whitaker and his team set out on a journey around India to investigate the natural history behind these chilling new statistics and to see what can be done to help India’s people and ultimately, its snakes.”
Very cool work by these guys. Shows how a using venom to better understand pathways can lead to possible drug leads.
This past summer I traveled to Mexico with my friend, Mike Rochford, to look for various rattlesnake species. My primary goal was to find the last two subspecies of a species that I am particularly fond of, Crotalus willardi. This small montane species ranges from Zacatecas, Mexico northward into southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Our trip began by traveling to the Sierra del Nido Mountains of Chihuahua in an attempt to find one of my missing subspecies, Crotalus willardi amabilis.
We pulled up to a rancher’s house and after talking with him were allowed to park on his property and walk into the mountains. After pairing down our supplies to save weight we set off excitedly assuming (I seem to remember assumption being the mother of something) we would return in a day or two having found plenty of our target species.
Upon cresting the first ridge we became very excited. We were at the proper elevation and all the proper plant species we had heard of this species being associated were present. After eating lunch and quickly setting up our camp we began our search. This did not last too long however as the clouds built and it started to rain. No worries we thought, some of the best times to herp are right after rain showers. The rain subsided after a bit and we resumed our search but darkness quickly fell and we made our way back to camp figuring we would start the next morning off well rested and ready to go. Our rude surprise was only hours away.
We made dinner and the usual herper BSing began. We reminisced about old trips together, talked about our hopes for this trip, and planned future trips. As we settled in to sleep we were pleased at how we had consolidated gear in order to maximize food and water space. Both of us opted to leave sleeping pads in the truck and I had brought only my sleeping bag liner while Mike brought his actual sleeping bag. The misery was about to begin.
As the rain started nothing seemed out of the ordinary. As the storm picked up strength I began to feel the water flow underneath our tent, as we were on the slightest of slopes. This sucked the body heat right out of me as I had only brought my thin sheet of a liner to sleep in. As the rain pounded off our rainfly I began to settle in for what I realized would be a long night, one that was soon to get worse.
The rain continued to increase in intensity I began to feel my shirt getting damp. “What the hell?” I thought. I figured my water bottle top had come off, as I sat up it quickly became evident that this was not the case. I could see the water pooling along the seam on the floor of my tent. This was awful news as it meant I would be in water all night since I had left my sleeping pad roughly 6 km away. I turned on my side in the hopes that minimizing contact with the floor would maximize my dryness and I would be able to sleep. The minutes turned into hours and the rain did not let up. Mike was having no better luck sleeping and due to my shivering he unzipped his sleeping bag and spread it over the top of both of us. This stopped my shivering but did not allow either of us to fall asleep.
The rain finally began to subside somewhere around 4 am. As the stream of water below our tent subsided warmth began to return to my body. Puddles were still to be found along the floor of the tent unfortunately and their chill kept me from falling asleep so I simply lay there staring at the walls. Not until the sun rose was I able to drift off for a quick hour or so before getting up to resume herping. I wish I could tell you that the clouds broke and we found tons of snakes that day but that was not the case. The weather decided to foil us again and thunder clouds soon materialized so after a brief search we made our way back to the farmer’s house defeated. We planned to run south to escape the rain, but the farmer informed us that flooding had made it impossible to leave. How we managed to get out is another story though and I need to get back to reading.
Please take a minute to read this op-ed piece by Chip Ward.
“If you drag heavy fishnets across the ocean floor and pulverise an entire ecosystem, ending thousands of years of dynamic evolution and depriving future generations of a healthy ocean, it’s called free enterprise. But if, like Tim DeChristopher, you disrupt an auction of public land to oil and gas companies, it’s called a crime and you get two years in jail.”
Apparently an Irish biotech company is going to start human clinical trials on a treatment for cancer that was derived from rattlesnake venom. Apparently the protein found in the venom causes malignant cancer cells to self destruct. Here is the article if you would like to read for yourself.