Although the autumn temperatures are falling, rattlesnake activity at White Sands Missile Range has not entirely frozen over.
On Nov. 11 Martin Kufus, a U.S. Army Research Laboratory employee, saw a WSMR Police patrol truck pull over to apprehend their subject – a four-foot-long western diamondback rattlesnake. Kufus pulled over to photograph the snake.
“The snake appeared to be healthy, well fed, and not especially frightened of people,” Kufus wrote in an email to the Missile Ranger.
“In fact, it did not become agitated – coiling and buzzing – until a WSMR police sergeant arrived with a live-catch pole,” he added.
According to Kufus, he saw a WSMR Police patrol truck pull over after the snake crossed the road in front of it near the intersection of Rock Island Avenue and Benet Street. The snake crossed onto the landscape near the UPH Barracks. Officer Allen Goad captured the snake and released it in the desert east from the main post.
According to Doug Burkett, WSMR contract wildlife biologist with Eco-Inc, snakes typically begin hibernating in November when temperatures begin to fall, but may occasionally come up for warmth.
“On warmer days, they will come out any time. It doesn’t matter if it’s January, February, or December. If it’s a warm day they may be close to their hole wherever that place may be; not cruising for food, but just coming out to warm up a little,” Burkett said.
Burkett, who has been researching amphibians and reptiles on WSMR for 25 years, said it is rare to see snakes during this time of the year during regular day-to-day activities.
“Those who are out looking for them actively find numbers of them at this time of year,” Burkett said. “But around the workplace, no, it is not common unless there’s a hole nearby.”
The western diamondback is one of the most common species on the installation. It is one of 27 species found on WSMR and one of five rattlesnakes on the installation whose bites are considered potentially life-threatening to humans. The species can grow up to six feet long, but those found on WSMR rarely measure over five feet in length.