A Sidewinder on the Patio

Dangerous Animals in the Backyard

While wildlife in older central cities is usually limited to birds and occasional squirrels with pigeons being the greatest nuisance, the situation is different in suburban areas. Especially in newer suburban areas surrounded by open land. Here humans and animals often co-exist in close proximity.

In some places it is not surprising to encounter strange visitors in one's backyard - a bear, a wolf, a mountain lion, a crocodile or a rattlesnake, to name a few.

So when I first moved to Arizona twenty some years ago co-workers warned me to watch out for scorpions and rattlesnakes as they were not uncommon especially in newly developed areas.

Twenty Plus Years in Arizona and No Real Encounters with Scorpions or Rattlesnakes

So far, with one and a half minor exceptions in the case of rattlesnakes, the only scorpions and rattlesnakes I seen has been during visits to Tucson's famous Arizona Sonora Desert Museum where I have viewed scorpions and rattlesnakes through the glass of their cages.

The one and a half exceptions in the case of rattlesnakes involved seeing, through the windshield of my car, a rattlesnake slither across the road as my car slowly climbed up the steep hill at Gate's Pass on our way to visit Old Tucson Studios.

My second, or half, encounter with a rattlesnake occurred a number of years ago during a dinner visit with my two, then young, sons to the Desert House of Prayer in the desert area by northwest Tucson.

While walking around outside with my boys and Father John after dinner we heard one of the kitchen staff call to us when she spied a rattlesnake curled up on the back stoop while taking the garbage out. Father John quickly strolled over to the stoop, picking up a nearby shovel on the way, and promptly killed the snake then tossed the body into a nearby patch of cactus. Keeping my sons with me, we watched from a safe distance. My boys were disappointed that Father John had not brought the dead snake over to us so they could see the rattles on its tail.

Gopher Snake resting on our patio.
Gopher Snake resting on our patio. | Source
Chika on patio after snake had made its exit.
Chika on patio after snake had made its exit. | Source

My Wife Meets Her First Rattlesnake

For me, looking out for scorpions and rattlesnakes has always been to remain aware when in areas where they might reside but not to be overly concerned about either of them.

However, that all changed this past week when I received a call at work from my wife telling me that she had just seen a sidewinder rattlesnake on our back patio.

She was about to let our new little dog, Chica, out for some air. However, when she went to open the sliding glass door to the patio, she noticed a large snake on the patio. Keeping Chica in the house, she got her camera and took pictures of the snake through the glass door from the safety of the house.

After taking the pictures, my wife went on the Internet and, after, comparing the pictures she took with pictures of snakes on the Internet, concluded that it was a Sidewinder.

Sidewinder Missile at  the Army's White Sands Missile Museum
Sidewinder Missile at the Army's White Sands Missile Museum | Source

A Snake and a Missile

I first learned about sidewinders, which get their names from the way that they slither across the desert sand in a sideways motion that allows them to keep all but two small sections of their underside off the hot sand, from a magazine article while in high school.

However, the sidewinder I first read about in Popular Mechanics Magazine was an air-to-air missile that employed a heat detection device to lock onto the hot exhaust of an enemy aircraft and follow it, twisting and turning as the aircraft tried to evade it, until it made contact and destroyed its prey. The article stated that the 9 foot, 155 pound missile was named after the reptile which, like the missile, moves in a sideways motion and detects its prey using its heat seeking abilities.

My wife and I saw our first sidewinder together last November at the Missile Museum on the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. That, of course, was the missile variety. Now my wife has also had the opportunity to see the reptile after which the missile was named.

We are Now a Little More Cautious

While I have yet to come as close to a rattlesnake in the wild as my wife has, both of us now keep a closer eye on our surroundings when in our yard.

Posing by a Rattlesnake Crossing Sign on trail to Fort Bowie, Arizona
Posing by a Rattlesnake Crossing Sign on trail to Fort Bowie, Arizona | Source
Rattlesnake Crossing sign on hiking trail to Ft. Bowie, Arizona
Rattlesnake Crossing sign on hiking trail to Ft. Bowie, Arizona | Source
A Gopher Snake on our patio
A Gopher Snake on our patio | Source
Gopher Snake's coloring blends in well with our yard's desert gravel landscaping
Gopher Snake's coloring blends in well with our yard's desert gravel landscaping | Source
This is one long gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer)
This is one long gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) | Source
As thesnake advances toward the oleander bush in the back of the yard, my wife courageously ventures out for a better shot.
As thesnake advances toward the oleander bush in the back of the yard, my wife courageously ventures out for a better shot. | Source
Deploying the camera's telephoto capabilities, my wife is able to hone in on the suspected sidewinder snake while still keeping her distance.
Deploying the camera's telephoto capabilities, my wife is able to home in on the suspected sidewinder snake while still keeping her distance. | Source
The suspected sidewinder snake vanishes behind the bush.
The suspected sidewinder snake vanishes behind the bush. | Source

Chika on Snake Patrol

Following her close encounter with the snake our little Chihuahua, Chika, arms herself with a plastic hand grenade
Following her close encounter with the snake our little Chihuahua, Chika, arms herself with a plastic hand grenade | Source
Our Little Chihuahua, Chica bravely patrols the backyard searching for dangerous snakes and armed only with a toy hand grenade
Our Little Chihuahua, Chica bravely patrols the backyard searching for dangerous snakes and armed only with a toy hand grenade | Source
Chica wisely avoids venturing into the oleander bush where the snake was last seen.
Chica wisely avoids venturing into the oleander bush where the snake was last seen. | Source

A YouTube Video of a Sidewinder in Action

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Comments 25 comments

Chuck profile image

Chuck 4 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Shaddie - thanks for sharing the scientific name (Pituophis catenifer) of the gopher snake. However, if you check the comments below, a commenter going by the name of Ro pointed out 2 years ago that this was a gopher snake and I acknowledged this in a reply. My wife encountered the snake and took the pictures, not me and when she searched the Internet concluded that it fit the description of a sidewinder.

Thanks again for you comments and as for killing it, my wife saw it through the patio door and kept the door shut the entire time and took the pictures of the snake through the window.

Thanks again and glad you enjoyed the photos.


Shaddie profile image

Shaddie 4 years ago from Washington state

PLEASE do a simple Google image search of Pituophis catenifer, the gopher snake (also known as the bull snake). I'm sorry to tell you that your dangerous "sidewinder" was simply a misidentified and completely harmless gopher snake. I do, however, breathlessly commend the fact that you did not kill this animal. Thank you for letting it continue on its way! Good photos as well.

I would also like to point out that real "sidewinders" Crotalus cerastes are not found naturally in Texas. They live in and around the Mojave desert.


K Partin profile image

K Partin 7 years ago from Garden City, Michigan

Enjoyed your hub Chuck. Love Arizona, but don't have to worry about rattlers in Michigan. Be Brave! Thanks.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Chuck, your wife is courageous photographer! Enjoyed the hub.


xquisit1985 profile image

xquisit1985 7 years ago from Denver CO

Nice hub, I live in South West Florida, so i know all about dangerous backyard animals. We have bobcats bigger than the dos in the photo, and armadillos bigger than basketballs. Yike's dont even get me started on the bugs, VERY creepy stuff here!


A Texan 7 years ago

I thought is was kind of funny that there were no rattles.


Ro 7 years ago

Cool. Thanks for the reply.

There's a lot of snakes that mimic dangerous ones for their own saftey which is not always a blessing as people get scared and kill them. I does take a while to learn the differences. He does eat rattlers and coral snakes, so he is good. But if your not sure be careful always.


A Texan 7 years ago

I have run across many a rattler hunting and have never left one alive! I know they're good for the ecosystem and I'm invading their territory but I kill them anyway! The largest one I have ever seen was a little over six feet in length and about 6 inches in diameter with 18 buttons, I killed it not more than 50 yards from my house and heading towards it. I just don't have any love for the things.


starcatchinfo profile image

starcatchinfo 7 years ago

great pictures!


Chuck profile image

Chuck 7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Ro- thanks for the comment. I am no expert on snakes so you are probably correct. I didn't see it myself as I was at work so the identification was done by my wife - she took the pictures and then compared them with what she found on the Internet - based upon what she saw on the Internet she concluded it was a sidewinder.

Regardless of what it was, my wife is still scared.

Thanks again for your comment.

Chuck


saranskoffline 7 years ago

Great hub, like it :D


Ro 7 years ago

Hate to burst your bubble, but that's a gopher snake. Had one for a pet. Don't hurt it, it eats rattlers.


WildEyes profile image

WildEyes 7 years ago

Great article. :) Very well written, and fantastic pics!

Don't forget, rattlesnakes multiply, and while it can be kinda neato to have two around, (you'll not have just one..they like to be close to mates), it's never cool to have a family of 50 in your yard.

*Just saying*


Chef Jeff profile image

Chef Jeff 7 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

When I was stationed at Edwards AFB in the Mojave we used to see them warming on the roadway. After sunset we wouldn't see them, but we'd often hear them under our tires. I don't mind rattlers because they warn you, but scorpions I didn't like because they'd sneak in under the blanket and give you a rude awakening! We also had spider-like things called vinegaroons.


skgrao profile image

skgrao 7 years ago from Bangalore City - INDIA.

We do have Cobras but they wont enter those houses where the plant " Nagadali " is planted.Scorpions only in rural places.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

We had a LOT of snakes in Wickenburg, but haven't seen one yet in Surprise. In Wickenburg we never had a rattler on the front or back porch, but encountered them frequently in the neighborhood, mostly while driving past in a car. Kingsnakes are natural to the area, and we were so glad to have them, we viewed them as our protectors. they EAT rattlers. We had two or three of those on our property. Came across a really big gopher snake in the road during my daughter's 10th birthday and the girls cornered the poor creature, they were so excited. One of the girls tried to pick it up. A lot of the snakes out there are 4 to 5 feet long.

We had a houseful of scorpions in Wickenburg. They live in rocky terrain, and came into the house through the ac ducts. My daughter once looked up while she was reading on her bed to see an immense scorpion right next to her head on her pillow. Scorpion bites hurt really bad but they aren't lethal. I don't miss the scorpions, but enjoyed being part of the circle of life.

Oh...and did I mention the tarantulas? LOL!


Crazdwriter 7 years ago

Great pictures and great hub. I love that picture of the sign stating that snakes have the right away. That is too funny. I have encounter a baby rattlensake in my lifetime here in California as well as a snake I have no idea what kind that had found it's way in my godparents house. I was the one that found it. wasn't scared at all. :-) Glad your dog and your wife are safe :-)


Camping Dan profile image

Camping Dan 7 years ago

It is interesting when you live by the wildlife. I have been in bear country and yes had them on my patio quite often. And now I live in an area where cooperheads curl up on the porch at night. I always watch my step out the door.


bobmnu profile image

bobmnu 7 years ago from Cumberland

Interesting article. Nice photo but you dog looks like a good meal for some of the snakes in your area. Keep the grenade handy just in case.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

jkfrancis - even though this is the closest I have come to a rattlesnake or scorpion and don't concern myself worrying about them. However, my policy has always been to do what the snake will probably do upon seeing me and that is to run as fast as possible in the other direction away from each other.

Thanks for your comments.


jkfrancis profile image

jkfrancis 7 years ago

Chuck,

Like you, I've lived in AZ for over 20 years and never had any contact with a rattler or scorpion. The closest I've come is that a neighbor's dog got bit by a rattler. My wife, on the other hand, a Tucson native, recalls her beheading a number of rattlers with a shovel.

Be careful.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

BkCreative - thanks for the comments and information about snakes. My son had a couple of non-lethal snakes when he was a teenager and I remember watching him feed mice to them. It was fascinating to see the speed at which the snake struck.

As to our pup, we now check the yard before letting her out and I hope she has brains enough to keep her distance if she does discover a snake.

For her the hand grenade was just a good chew and she ultimately tore it apart. One of my students picked it up at a job fair where it was a give away from some security company's booth. It was supposed to be one of those stress balls that you squeeze when bored or tense from work. However, I decided to bring it home immediately before someone saw it and called the bomb squad. My wife gave it to Chica and I decided that I could get some good pictures and add humor to this hub so I took her outside with it.

Thanks again

Chuck


Chuck profile image

Chuck 7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

thor6 - thanks for your comments.

I visited Belize a couple of times years ago. Actually my "visit" consisted of looking out the window of the plane I was on, as Belize was a stop over on a flight from the U.S. to Tegucigalpa in Honduras. On the trip to Tegucigalpa most of the people disembarked for a fishing vacation in Belize and only a couple of us continued on to Tegucigalpa and the reverse was true on the return trip to the U.S.

This was shortly after the Falklands War and Britain feared that Guatemala would try to invade Belize as Argentina had invaded the Falklands. Despite having served time in the Air Force (although never in a combat area) the Belize airport is the only one in the world where I saw (and took some pictures as we taxied past) of anti-aircraft and other defensive weaponry lining the runway.

Thanks again.

Chuck


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Snakes just fascinate me. Saw lots of them as a child visiting family in NC. My elder cousin tells me the women there used to follow African customs and sweep the yards in such a way, I thought it was just for beauty, but it was to tell if a snake (or any unwanted animal) has gone inside the house. So wise the ancestors.

I have lots of articles on my hub about snakes as pets and I get to handle them. Watching them eat is amazing. Oh I can go on and on - but snakes do fascinate me.

Glad your pup is a tough one!

Thanks for the photos!


thor6 profile image

thor6 7 years ago from http://ragnasuns.blogspot.com

I always remember in the jungles of belize coming across the fer-de-lance or tommy goff as the locals called it. I have never kept so still in my life and my heart was pounding, cause i think it is one of the most poisonous snakes in the world.

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