Western Pygmy Rattlesnake Encounter

While hiking in the Ouachita National Forest last week, I came across a small snake coiled up next to the game trail I was following. It turned out to be a Western Pygmy Rattlesnake, a species native to Arkansas that is often misunderstood by humans.

Western Pygmy Rattlesnake
Western Pygmy Rattlesnake

Despite its reputation as being highly dangerous, the Western Pygmy Rattlesnake is actually one of the smallest and least aggressive venomous snakes in North America. They rarely exceed 18 inches in length and are quite shy, usually slithering away to hide when approached. While their venom can cause severe pain if bitten, fatalities are extremely rare.

In fact, this little rattlesnake is fascinating in its adaptations for survival. Its small size and camouflaged color patterns allow it to remain hidden from predators and prey. As an ambush hunter, it patiently waits next to animal trails for an opportunity to strike at small mammals and lizards. And while many Pygmy Rattlesnakes do not always rattle before striking, they got their name from the tiny rattle on the tip of their tails that serves as a warning signal.

The snake I encountered stayed still and made no sudden movements as I snapped a few photos. I knew not to try handling it and was sure to give it plenty of space. Although startling to come across on the trail, I felt privileged to see this misunderstood reptile up close in its natural habitat.

Western Pygmy Rattlesnake Side View
Western Pygmy Rattlesnake Side View

Despite being shy and non-aggressive, Western Pygmy Rattlesnakes face habitat loss and collection for the pet trade. We should resist vilifying this small snake and instead respect its important role as a predator in the Arkansas wilderness it calls home. With proper caution and respect, even potentially dangerous wildlife can be appreciated from a safe distance.

Gear Used:

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM

Technical:

I was on a photo walk (hike) when I spotted this snake. I was hand-holding my camera to get these shots.

  • Location: Near the Ouachita National Forest (Arkansas)
  • Date & Time Taken: August 18, 2016 (07:26:56 A.M.)
  • Aperture Priority
  • Aperture: f8.0
  • Shutter speed: 1/125 sec. (as determined by the camera)
  • ISO: 1250
  • Focal Length: 255 mm

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