Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Passing the Torch

Every now and then an opportunity comes along and you decide  whether or not to partake in it. About a month ago, my dad had told me about a young boy who he had met at one of his astronomy club meetings. He mentioned that the kid was very bright, and seemed to have a pretty keen interest in herpetology and that he reads this blog and my website fairly frequently. I was intrigued, and decided to contact the young herper and gauge his interest. Justin is 12 years old, but is extremely knowledgable in the world of science and his interests include herpetology, astronomy, physics, rocketry, and paleontology. After coordinating with his family, he met me on a warm August morning in hopes of seeing his first Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake in the wild. His mom and sister tagged along as well, and after some brief introductions we were off. We headed to an area where I knew several gravid females have been hanging out throughout the course of the summer. Not being huge fans of snakes, his mom & sister elected to stay out of the tall grass, but Justin and I headed in to try our luck.

After a few minutes of traversing the field slowly, I noticed a large female laid out in the morning sun. Justin came over slowly and was pretty astounded at the snake, this is a big female that I've seen several times and she always is noisy. 

The look on Justin's face is worth a thousand words. His mom captured this photo as I lifted the snake to give Justin a better look, it reminds me of how I felt when I saw my first rattlesnake when I was right around his age. 

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake - Sistrurus catenatus catenatus
This large gravid female harbors right around the 30" range, a very healthy & large specimen for this species. Although she was a bit noisy, she was very relunctant to hold her ground and sit still for photos. Justin's mom and sister decided to come have a look, and were surprised by how docile these snakes are. We hung out with the snake for a little while before parting ways. Shortly after, we headed to another area where I've seen Massasaugas in the past as well. After only a few minutes, I heard a faint buzz and noticed a female coiled in the tall grass nearby. As I was getting my camera gear out, Justin pointed out a pile of 7 or 8 freshly dropped neonates less than a few feet from the female.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes - Sistrurus catenatus catenatus

This was something I had never seen before until a few days earlier when I saw a very similar scene at a different site, seeing something like this twice in the span of a few days was incredible. Justin was so excited, and I told him how lucky he was to see something that some people who have researched this species haven't even seen. After getting a good look at the mother, it turned out to be a female I saw a few days earlier nearby. Here she is, pre-birthing.

It was quite a morning, and something I won't soon forget. I can imagine that Justin felt the same way. He has way more knowledge than I ever did when I was his age and has an outstanding future ahead of him. These are the type of kids we need to encourage to continue to grow and follow their passions, as they will be our researchers in the future. If you know someone who is interest in wildlife, don't hesitate to expose them to it. People won't want to conserve something of they don't admire it. That's all for now. Until next time, happy herping.

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