Sunday, May 31, 2009

Snakes on the Bike

I've been riding mountain bikes in the Boise foothills for 20 years. Each year I see a couple of snakes out on the trail. This year it seems as if I have seen more than all other years combined. I'm not sure if my timing is different, or what the possible explanation might be.
Three Snake Day. Last Tuesday on one 17 mile ride, we found three snakes - one Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer), one Racer (Coluber constrictor), and one Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans). Generally the Gopher Snake, which many locally refer to incorrectly as a Bull Snake, is the most commonly seen in the foothills. Yesterday I found another Gopher Snake and saw two other snake trails across the path. Once last year we found that these snakes will hiss loudly when cornered as I stopped just short of running one over.
Rattler! Today we would also find a young Gopher Snake, but the most exciting was the Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus)! The snake was lying across the trail. I braked so as not to run it over. I originally thought it was a Gopher Snake. The snake was not in a hurry to get out of the way. I ended up stopping right next to it. That's when I noticed the long set of rattles on its tail. He/she was using them and coiling up. It was about 18 inches away! Yikes. I informed the stoker to power away. The snake started making striking motions toward the bike, inches from Karyn's leg. We pulled out of the way and let the people behind know to give the snake a wide berth. Hopefully, he/she made it away from the bustle of the busy trail.
BTW, the Digital Atlas of Idaho provides great reference information for the species of Idaho.

Update 6/3: A reader informed me that the scientific name of the rattlesnake has changed from Crotalus viridis to Crotalus oreganus (see comments).

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