A Rattlesnake in the Grass

The naturalist Charles Waterton, who wandered through British Guiana and Brazil in the early 1800s, tells of this close encounter:

Six or seven blackbirds, with a white spot betwixt the shoulders, were making a noise and passing to and fro on the lower branches of a tree in an abandoned, weed-grown orange-orchard. In the long grass underneath the tree apparently a pale green grasshopper was fluttering, as though it had got entangled in it. When you once fancy that the thing you are looking at is really what you take it for, the more you look at it the more you are convinced it is so. In the present case this was a grasshopper beyond all doubt, and nothing more remained to be done but to wait in patience till it had settled, in order that you might run no risk of breaking its legs in attempting to lay hold of it while it was fluttering--it still kept fluttering; and having quietly approached it, intending to make sure of it --behold, the head of a large rattlesnake appeared in the grass close by: an instantaneous spring backwards prevented fatal consequences. What had been taken for a grasshopper was, in fact, the elevated rattle of the snake in the act of announcing that he was quite prepared, though unwilling, to make a sure and deadly spring. He shortly after passed slowly from under the orange-tree to the neighbouring wood on the side of a hill: as he moved over a place bare of grass and weeds he appeared to be about eight feet long; it was he who had engaged the attention of the birds and made them heedless of danger from another quarter: they flew away on his retiring.

Above: A severed rattle in a human hand. Photo by Parker Grice.


  1. It was probably a Cascabel (Crotalus durissus), the most venomous rattlesnake that occurs in Central and South America. Since its venom primarily paralyzes the muscles of the neck - so its human victims fail to hold the neck raised - the locals think that the bite of Cascabel (in Spanish, Cascabel means "Rattle") breaks the neck bone.

  2. Agreed--Crotalus durissus is, I believe, the only rattlesnake with the right range. I didn't know that folklore about breaking the neck--interesting.

  3. Cascabel was also worshipped by ancient Maya.

  4. According to American herpetologist Bruce Means, Cascabel probably served as the model for the mythical Kukulcan or Quetzalcoatl, the famous Mayan "Plumed Serpent".

    1. I'm not familiar with this book. It sounds interesting. Do you recommend it, Max?

  5. Yes, I recommend it.
    In the book, Means also talks about other famous species of venomous snakes, as the Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), Eastern Diamondback (Crotalus adamanteus), Bushmaster (Lachesis muta), Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus).


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