Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A striking snake, or one that might become so

with 84 comments

At the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska on May 29th Eve heard a sound and then saw, menacingly close, a rattlesnake at the edge of the path we were walking on. After taking pictures of it, including this one that clearly shows the upraised rattle, I phoned the visitor center and had the staff warn people who were headed out along the same path.

From what I can tell after reading Venomous Snakes and Snakebite in Nebraska, this appears to have been a prairie rattlesnake, Crotalus viridis.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 14, 2017 at 5:02 AM

84 Responses

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  1. Excellent photo, Steve. but I would have turned tail and gone home.


    July 14, 2017 at 5:41 AM

    • As long as you see the snake and keep a respectable distance, you’re okay. The danger is in not seeing the snake and inadvertently coming too close. That has happened to Eve and to me on separate occasions; fortunately we’ve both come away unharmed. The good thing about rattlesnakes is that they rattle, so we have time to back away and keep from accidentally getting too close.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 5:57 AM

  2. You stood there and took pictures?!?! I like ya buddy, but have you lost your marbles?? LOL


    July 14, 2017 at 5:59 AM

  3. Cool. Good you warned the rangers.

    Sherry Felix

    July 14, 2017 at 6:04 AM

    • Signs at this place and others we visited on the trip warn people about rattlesnakes. Still, I thought it good to let people know not only that we’d just seen one but also where it was.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 6:14 AM

  4. Great capture. So poised, posed. I have only seen rattlesnakes from the air as I lunged over blackberry bushes where I had been picking. Great detail.


    July 14, 2017 at 6:37 AM

    • I like the way you described it as “from the air.” When I got to those words my immediate and literal thought was that it would be hard to see a rattlesnake from a plane. I hope the blackberry bushes didn’t scratch you too badly. It’s obvious—and fortunate—that you lived to tell the tale.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 6:42 AM

    • By the way, I appreciated your play on poised ~ posed. I paused when I read it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 7:04 AM

    • This made me laugh! Ha – seeing a rattlesnake from the air! Good reflexes!

  5. I don’t think I would have waited 1/125th of a sec. to get out of there!


    July 14, 2017 at 7:30 AM

    • Your mention of a familiar shutter speed got me to check the metadata and I found I worked at 1/500 of a second for this photo. Of course you weren’t referring to a shutter speed but to a fight-or-flight speed. Actually, as long as I kept a reasonable distance, I wasn’t in danger.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 7:57 AM

  6. That’s our intrepid photographer! Of course you took photos first, and then called the visitor center. I’d have expected no less. I must say, your “let’s stand up straight and really get its attention” trick is one I never would have thought of. Of course, I would have been content with the “let’s snap a couple quick ones and blow this joint” technique.

    Honestly, that photo couldn’t have turned out better if you’d promised the snake an extra mouse for posing. You captured it all: the head, the rattles, the beautiful curves, the belly, and even that one beady little eye. Canon could use this one for an advertising campaign: “Telephoto: It’s Not Just For Landscapes Any More!”


    July 14, 2017 at 7:46 AM

    • One reason I felt no urgency about calling the visitor center is that I was in sight of the rattlesnake and could still warn anyone who happened to come down the path. As it turned out, no one did. Once I finished taking my pictures and wanted to walk on, it was time to alert the rangers.

      It might have been fun if two people had been taking simultaneous videos, one of me and the other of the snake, to show how it rose up and settled back down in synchrony with my movements.

      Although the lens-plus-extender I used has a maximum focal length of 280mm, I see that for this picture I’d zoomed only to 118mm, not much more than I could’ve gotten with my macro lens.

      When it comes to telephotos, most people think of zooming in on things like birds. Using a telephoto for a landscape in lieu of the more-familiar wide-angle lens is a topic I’ve seen come up from time to time in photo magazines. The main problem in using a long lens for landscapes is the limited depth of field. That hasn’t stopped me from experimenting.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 8:11 AM

      • I learned that lesson about long lenses and depth of field up in the hill country a year ago, while trying to capture long swaths of roadside wildflowers. When I got home, I thought, “What’s wrong with these photos?” Nothing was wrong, of course. They just didn’t look like I’d thought they would. Another good lesson learned: you can’t make a lens do something it isn’t capable of doing.


        July 14, 2017 at 8:38 AM

        • Right you are. Extended depth of field is why wide-angle and super-wide-angle lenses remain the favorites of landscape photographers, who generally want everything to come out in sharp focus.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 14, 2017 at 2:16 PM

  7. Terrific shot – – a poster boy for tension. I appreciate rattlesnakes’ economy and avoidance of conflict – – giving an audible warning. This snake looks so pale, it could have been a leper’s rattle.

    Robert Parker Teel

    July 14, 2017 at 7:53 AM

    • Oh, a poster boy for tension: I accept your nomination. You’re right that rattlesnakes want to avoid conflict and therefore issue a warning. That’s more considerate than all the other venomous snakes out there, three of which are also found in central Texas. I like your comparison to a leper’s rattle; what a good analogy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 8:14 AM

      • I was down on Galveston Island a week or so ago, at a small nature preserve on the west end. It’s tucked into a development, and as I was walking a path that’s near the houses, a man came out and and yelled across the ditch, “You be careful now. The cottonmouths are a little thick this year.” I’m not sure how he was defining “a little thick,” but I appreciated the reminder.


        July 14, 2017 at 8:33 AM

        • And cottonmouths don’t issue the warning that rattlesnakes do, so his reminder was well given. It’s hard to know what he meant by “a little thick” but any amount of them is worthy of caution.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 14, 2017 at 12:56 PM

          • Well, some of my family tend to use archaic expressions, coming from rural areas of NY or PA, and they say “thick with” to mean, “there’s lots of that”. “I stay away from that diner, it’s always thick with tourists.” (Like Yogi Berra, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”)

            Robert Parker Teel

            July 14, 2017 at 7:34 PM

  8. Looks like a big’n. It’s interesting that it rose and dropped in response to your movements, like the two of you were doing a dance.


    July 14, 2017 at 8:19 AM

  9. Great story and really nice image. Most of us have that natural fear of snakes, especially dangerous ones, and this one’s pose is one that states, “Don’t even think of messing with me.” It’s a beautiful network of ‘lines’ – from the detail of its skin to the switchbacks in form. From a safe distance, I would have stopped to photograph and admire it as well. Your image, however, is perfect for scientific clarity as well as aesthetic beauty. Buen trabajo!

  10. Great picture, Steve, but I would never have taken that one. I would have tried to simply retreat as quietly as possible. Oh my, would I have been scared.
    Have a wonderful weekend,


    July 14, 2017 at 8:29 AM

    • As long as I could see the rattlesnake I could keep a reasonable distance, so I never felt I was in any danger. The scary thing is coming close to one without seeing it, as I’ve done on several occasions over the last few decades. Fortunately nothing bad happened.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 1:13 PM

      • I agree on that, Steve. Hopefully, I’ll never come too close without noticing. But then, there are those other poisonous snakes that don’t warn you if you come too close. That’s the really scaring thought.


        July 14, 2017 at 1:22 PM

        • Agreed. Central Texas is home to three other snakes that don’t give the warning that rattlesnakes do. I don’t remember encountering any of them, but at least three times I’ve run into rattlesnakes right in Austin.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 14, 2017 at 1:29 PM

          • We used to have rattlers around when we still lived in Karnes City. Here I haven’t seen any (yet), even if the dry creek at the end of our property would be a very good spot for them to be – bright sunshine on the rocks, but also enough shade in crevices. A few days ago we thought we heard one rattling, though, somewhere at the end of our property. It might well have been one, because the deer were more than usual alert and agitated and looking into that direction.


            July 14, 2017 at 1:34 PM

            • From what you say about the reaction of the deer, it sounds as if that might indeed have been a rattlesnake. Too bad you couldn’t at least have seen it, though you have your Karnes City experience to fall back on.

              You raise an interesting question. A rattlesnake wouldn’t want to strike a deer because there’s no way the snake could eat it. I wonder how often a deer gets bitten by a venomous snake when the deer unintentionally treads too close.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 14, 2017 at 1:40 PM

              • We were thinking that the rattler might have been disturbed by one of our cats, because shortly after that we saw her coming from that direction. Luckily she couldn’t have been too nosy then!


                July 14, 2017 at 1:46 PM

                • I wasn’t thinking of cats, but I’d wondered how often a dog has a run-in with a rattlesnake. I found this article on the subject of dogs and cats encountering venomous snakes:


                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 14, 2017 at 2:05 PM

                • Thanks, Steve, for the link.
                  We had one of our dogs [I blogged about him here:: http://tinyurl.com/ybrqzjdd%5D killed by a rattler. And one other dog, long ago, was bitten by one, as were two of our kitties. But they all survived. I was told it was because they got bitten in the face, where there’s basically skin only over the bones and thus the fangs can’t get in deep and deliver much venom.


                  July 14, 2017 at 2:53 PM

                • Wow, I had no idea you’ve had so many pets that have gotten bitten by rattlesnakes. You seen to have had particularly bad luck, though with only one fatality.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 14, 2017 at 3:08 PM

                • Well, at some time we had 3 doggies plus 10 kitties. And then, if you live on a 40-acre property in the country in southern Texas, some of them are bound to meet rattlers – and coyotes, for that matter.


                  July 14, 2017 at 8:16 PM

  11. But you just had to take a picture before leaving. The animal is clearly feeling threatened and adopting a defensive posture. It’s encounters like this that go badly. They should not be rewarded no matter the resulting image.


    July 14, 2017 at 8:47 AM

    • I kept what I considered a reasonable distance at all times and never got any closer to the snake than where I was when I started taking pictures, so I don’t think there was much chance of things going badly

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 1:26 PM

  12. A fantastic image of the rattle rattlesnake in action.

    Ed Lehming Photography

    July 14, 2017 at 9:39 AM

    • I’m happy that the action was limited to the snake raising and lowering itself, rather than lunging. If it had done that, even if it hadn’t been able to reach me, I would have gotten frightened.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 1:14 PM

  13. Great photo, but yikes! You wouldn’t have seen me for dust!


    July 14, 2017 at 9:46 AM

  14. That’s a beauty!


    July 14, 2017 at 8:52 PM

  15. Having seen this snake were there any more in the same area? Did you hear the snake in the photograph rattle?


    July 14, 2017 at 10:24 PM

    • This is the only rattlesnake we saw there during our one-hour walk. My wife heard the snake rattling and pointed it out to me; I hadn’t heard the rattling.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2017 at 10:48 PM

  16. Nice find and coiling behavior capture. Regarding the comment above, a lot of rattlesnakes meet their maker due to misguided (IMO) rattlesnake roundups…similar to the coyote bounty hunter contests.

    Around here, there is a plan to introduce (maybe re-introduce) rattlers to an island in the Quabbin Reservoir. People are upset thinking they will get off the island somehow. One person said an eagle would catch one, lose its grip, and drop the snake in her backyard during a BBQ party. Anyway, rattlesnakes will warn you as you mention Eve hearing. I am not sure I’d hear it over the ringing in my ears.

    Steve Gingold

    July 15, 2017 at 11:41 AM

    • I wasn’t far from Eve at the time, and I didn’t hear the rattling, possibly because I was intent on looking to see what I could take pictures of or actually taking pictures. That’s similar to what happened in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle about 20 years ago: I was busy scoping out the geological formations around me as I walked and didn’t notice a rattlesnake near me on the path.

      As for Quabbin: some snakes are known to be good swimmers. I don’t know about rattlesnakes, but at least it’s plausible. A snake might also get on a log or some such thing and drift from the island to the shore. Various animals have been known to cover long distances over water that way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 15, 2017 at 2:05 PM

      • There are lots of scenarios. But rattlesnakes don’t do much traveling from what I understand and stay in a fairly limited area. Of course anything could happen, but the bears and moose within Quabbin and its surrounds are more worrisome than snakes and then there are ticks. The problem is the media reporting every small incident as a big news story so maybe 10,000 people will hike in the Quabbin this month but if one encounters a rattler the papers go nuts. Someone stands a better chance of being hit by a bus but they are still quite popular.

        Steve Gingold

        July 15, 2017 at 2:43 PM

        • Ah, look what I just found: “… rattlesnakes are adept at swimming and will take to water readily in order to pursue food, mates and refuge, and to escape harassment.” There’s more about rattlesnakes at


          Steve Schwartzman

          July 15, 2017 at 3:24 PM

          • Good information and advice, although I have read conflicting information regarding the likelihood of swimming as opposed to the ability to swim. But we are not in Nevada. The only snakes I have witnessed in water were Northern Water Snakes.

            Steve Gingold

            July 15, 2017 at 4:11 PM

  17. Gorgeous photo. What a pose!


    July 17, 2017 at 8:38 PM

    • I’d photographed a rattlesnake several times over the years, but never in as dynamic a pose as in this picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 17, 2017 at 9:18 PM

  18. Great shot Steve! I would have taken off .. probably would have dropped my camera in the process. 🙂


    July 20, 2017 at 1:34 AM

    • Based on the comments, I’d say you would have had lots of company in your running. Why, you could have set up a race.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 20, 2017 at 6:25 AM

  19. The rattlesnake is beautiful, Steve. Fantastic photo!

    Lavinia Ross

    July 26, 2017 at 8:19 PM

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