Driving on a deserted dirt byway last night, I saw this up ahead in the road. The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake has such a hold on the human psyche, that it has been a symbol of the American Southwest from prehistoric into historic times. It figures in ancient mythology, ceramics and rock art and in modern story and media.
The Western Diamondback, which can exceed seven feet in length, is the king of our twenty odd species and sub-species of Southwestern desert rattlers, not only in terms of size, but also in terms of its fearsome reputation.
This reptile is equipped with a venom, elliptical pupils and heat-sensing facial pits. It has reserve fangs to replace any which break off. The pits, in effect, infrared detectors, guide the snake to warm blooded prey such as rodents, even in the total darkness. Its rattles – a distinguishing feature it shares only with other rattlesnakes – grow segment by segment, each rattle the remnant of a shed skin.
From the sheer standpoint of size, it ranks as one of the world’s largest and most dangerous snakes. They are largely defensive and tend to stand their ground if provoked.
Eventually, after taking a few photos, the snake went on its way and I went on mine. It’s always exciting to encounter one of these impressive snakes in the field.