National Geographic: King Rattler

Synopsis:
Year:
1999
8 Views

The mere suggestion of this creature

strikes fear into the hearts of many.

Legendary serpent.

Stealthy predator.

This king of the rattlesnakes won

his reputation for good reason.

In truth, his world is one

full of danger,

one that we know little about.

Look at that!

One man has set out to change that

and nearly dies doing it.

Dr. Bruce Means ventures through

the inland waterways

that went from Georgia

through Florida's panhandle.

A freelance scientist, he is often

on his own and prefers it that way.

For 25 years now,

Means has pioneered

the study of North America's

largest and most feared viper.

Means journeys into this

personal heart of darkness on a mission.

He fears for the fate of

the venomous snake he is after,

the Eastern diamondback rattler,

a proud and complex recluse slithering

toward the black hole of extinction.

For over 50 years,

I've wondered in nature by myself,

sometimes barefooted,

but usually with just my sandals on.

Where I'm heading

takes some getting used to.

There's marsh and muck,

but on the other side

there's this paradise

where the longleaf pine forest grows

and this special creature

I love so much survives.

Diamondbacks are almost

impossible to find.

Sometimes in the summer, though,

you can use the gopher tortoise

for a guide.

Pregnant snakes

often make their temporary homes

in the long burrows

that the turtle digs.

So if you find a tortoise, he can

sometimes lead you to a diamondback.

There! There's the gopher tortoise

about two feet down.

The gopher tortoise shovels out

his own burrow,

creating a home for hundreds of

other creatures large and small.

There's another gopher of sorts,

the gopher frog.

The Florida mouse and its pups.

And something we've been

searching for, something menacing.

Incredibly, this is also the home of

the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

A serpent scaled in diamonds,

it is among the most highly evolved

of all snakes,

among the most dangerous,

and among the most unlikely roommate

any tortoise ever had.

The perfect odd couple.

Diamondbacks only prey on

warm-blooded animals,

so the coldblooded tortoise

is safe from the snake.

Still, the snake is not harmless and

the tortoise is not taking any chances.

The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

is as American as the bald eagle.

It is the largest rattlesnake

in the world.

This is a singular serpent.

Many snakes swim, but few take

to surfing like this rattler.

It seems as at home at sea

as it is on land.

It is the king of American snakes

more forbidding,

almost invisible and utterly silent,

but for its warning.

Its signature, the menacing rattle,

signaling the nearness of sudden death.

The snake's trademark

is made up of scales

left behind each time

the snake sheds its skin.

They scratch together when shaken.

Amazingly, the frequency is the same

as an ambulance siren.

The rattle evolved in

the ancient dance of survival.

Twelve thousand years ago,

a menagerie of strange animals

roamed the Atlantic Coast

mastodons, lamas and bison,

like this one,

were as plentiful as deer.

All are gone now from the region

but for this survivor,

the Eastern diamondback.

Having melted into his environment

through camouflage,

the viper may have evolved a signal

to spook off these big mammals.

Instead of being trampled, the snake

rattled out a warning don't tread on me.

Like the snake,

Means prefers to be left alone.

So often, it's just the doctor

and the diamondback,

man on snake,

and sometimes snake on man.

I had hoped to be one of the few

herpetologists

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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"National Geographic: King Rattler" Scripts.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 20 Oct. 2019. <https://www.scripts.com/script/national_geographic%3A_king_rattler_14545>.

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