Lake Forest home to newborn rattlers
A clutch of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes recently was born at the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest. Curator Rob Carmichael looks at the parents of the baby snakes. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 28, 2012 4:02PM
LAKE FOREST — The scaly little guys shake their tails at you, but they don’t have any rattles to scare you with yet.
With newborn rattlesnakes, those come later. But their fangs are fine, and those are scary enough.
The Wildlife Discovery Center’s eight newest babies are eastern diamondbacks, and they have the most potent venom of any rattlesnakes, says foster dad Rob Carmichael. He’s the curator of the nature center at the city of Lake Forest’s Elawa Farm.
The snakes’ real mom and dad were separated from the kids shortly after the Aug. 31 blessed event.
“There’s always the risk a big adult will crawl on top of the babies and crush them,” Carmichael said.
Such Snake Instant Death Syndrome would be purely accidental. The snakes’ mother — normally a somewhat placid reptile — did a lot of hissing, rattling and fang-baring “when we first started showing the babies. She was definitely demonstrating some maternal instinct.”
Dad must feel protective all of the time, because he hisses and tries to bite whether there are little snakes around or not. His total noise delivery is significantly diminished right now, because his rattle broke off a while back, probably from overuse near unforgiving surfaces, like the glass in his cage.
With every skin shedding, he’ll get another rattle segment, so within a month or so, he’ll be extra-scary again.
Six of the baby snakes — each about 18 inches long — are heading off to Kentucky, where their venom will be regularly collected for medical and research uses. Reptile venom seems to help, for instance, with stroke recovery, and is being tested on ailments including Type 2 diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Carmichael intends to continue to coax his remaining rattlesnakes to breed for venom collection and possible future reintroduction to the wild.
“The eastern diamondback is going to be an endangered species in the next few years,” he said.
“The main reason why numbers are plummeting is legalized hunts.
“They have rattlesnake roundups, two- or three-day-weekend events. The snakes are easy targets: they see them, they kill them.”
In addition, he said, encroachment of development on the Florida Everglades is robbing the snake of one of its best habitats.
He said that in the wild, “rattlesnakes, despite what you hear, are not that aggressive. Unless they’re cornered, they’ll leave you alone.”
If the diamondbacks are cornered, or decide not to leave you alone, “they have pretty toxic venom.
“A bite is definitely a medical emergency, but if you go immediately to an emergency room, and they have antivenom, you will survive.”
Carmichael doesn’t view the snakes as threats, but as long, skinny children. During the recent gestation, he ordered an ultrasound.
“Just beautiful,” he recalled. “Eight little beating hearts.”
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