Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Rattlesnake Roundups Revisited

©1999 Melissa Kaplan


Little seems to have changed in the way in which rattlers are collected for roundups and what roundups do. The precept of roundups seems to be a) all rattlers are too dangerous to be allowed to run around in the wild, and b) the more rattlers at the roundup, the more successful and entertaining it is, so rattlesnake hunters spend months before the roundup out collecting rattlesnakes.

The snakes are most easily gathered during the winter or early spring when they are still in their hibernaculum.  Since there may be several - even dozens - of rattlers denning together, this means that more can be collected with less effort, and just sort of stored, all jumbled together, for months in crates or barrels (after all, varmints don't need food and water, now, do they?) until the roundup.

Unfortunately, since hibernacula are generally underground or deep within rocky crevices, there is some work involved in digging them out - levers must be used to rip away the rocks, shovels used to remove the earth - and by the time they are done, the hunters are apparently too tired to put things back the way they found them.  This then reduces the inventory of suitable hibernacula for any remaining rattlesnakes in the area, as well as for all the non-venomous snake, innocuous lizards, chelonians, small mammals and insects that also make use of these hibernacula.  As the populations of all of these species starts to decline as individuals of reproductive age are unable to find suitable hibernacula in subsequent winters (we won't even discuss the ones who died when the hunters ripped open the hibernacula to get the rattlers out), things start getting skewed.  The slow-to-reproduce species, such as tortoises and turtles, enter a decline.  Rapidly reproducing species, such as mice, rapidly reproduce.  With fewer predators to keep the rodent population under control, they start to overrun the area.  This may attract nonnative predators, increase the incidence of flea- and tick-borne diseases, and may ultimately collapse as resources are consumed.  Any rodent predators whose populations increased as a result of the increased availability of food will also crash.  This type of abnormal population explosion and crash is well documented in other species, other situations.

Now, many hunters don't bother with all that hard physical labor.  For them, gassing the hibernacula is the way to go.  Slide a hose in, pour in the gasoline, and whatever wakes up and can scramble out before succumbing to the fumes or drowning will come out into the waiting hooks and bags of the hunters.  I am always amused at the roundup organizers and hunters swearing that they don't use gas to roust snakes, since they have been filmed by film and television news crews doing just that.  I mean, how stupid do they think we are?

And that probably sums it up.  The organizers play up the danger of rattlers to attract the public, and the public seems to willingly eat it up since they flock to them without realizing (or caring) just what damage was done to get the snakes there, nor the fact that if rattlers were as vicious and dangerous as claimed, the hospitals and undertakers would be doing a booming business during the following weeks due to all the people who were bitten and died from handling the snakes during the roundup festivities and "educational activities".  The fact that so many people handle (correction: mishandle) the snakes would seem to indicate that they are not as dangerous as they are made out to be, or that they have been so starved, dehydrated and kept in temperatures ranging from hypothermia to hyperthermia, that they are simply too weak to respond naturally.

I went to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website to search for some information on venomous bites (keyword: venom) to which the journalist could be referred. I think the first two articles sum the situation up and prove that, indeed, roundups are for entertainment and boosting the income of the communities in which they are held, and not for educating of event-goers.

From the Palm Beach (FL) Herpetological Society, in conjunction with the Florida Cooperative Extension Service (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida), Venomous Snake Bites says, in part:

  • 7000 venomous snake bites are reported annually in the United States.

  • 15 fatalities result, placing the chance of survival at roughly 499 out of 500.

  • Approximately 3000 are classed as "illegitimate," meaning these bites occurred while the victim was handling or molesting the snake.

  • 85% of the natural bites are below the knee.

  • 50% are dry. Squeezing the venom glands to inject is a voluntary reflex. In that strikes against humans are generally defensive actions, it is estimated that no venom is purposely injected about half the time. This holds true with the pit vipers. With the Coral Snake the amount of venom injected is directly related to the size of the snake and the length of time it holds on to the victim.

If people were truly concerned about protecting the public from animals posing a danger to humans and their pets, why aren't there any venomous spider roundups?  More people are bitten and made seriously ill, and suffer severe tissue destruction, by spider bites every year than suffer from venomous snake bites (keep in mind that the 7000 figure above represents both wild snake bites as well as bites sustained by people who keep venomous snakes in captivity, and includes bites in which no venom was delivered).  For facts and figures and more information on spider bites, check out the second article I read at the CDC cite, Necrotic Arachnidism which says, in part:

Spider Bites Reported to Poison-Control Centers During 1994
Some persons who suspect they have been bitten by spiders and some physicians who treat spider bites contact poison-control centers for advice or information; most of these centers use a standard coding scheme for classifying calls. In 1994, poison-control center log reports compiled by the American Association of Poison Control Centers listed 9418 spider bites (Table_1) (1). Of these, a disproportionate number (1027 {10.9%}) was reported to poison-control centers in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, which comprise approximately 4% of the U.S. population. A specific kind of spider was noted for 246 of these bites, including 66 (27%) that were classified as brown recluse bites (there is no coding category for hobo spiders). Adapted from: CD Summary 1995;14(no. 22), Center for Disease Prevention and Epidemiology, Oregon Health Div, Oregon Dept. of Human Resources.

Note: For all the arachnophiles out there, I'm really not advocating that people start to wipe out all spiders for fun and profit.

Related Articles

ABC Bites On Rattlesnake Roundups

Venomous Snake Relocators

Venomous Snakebite Treatment Information

The Truth Behind Rattlesnake Roundups (HSUS Report)

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