To kill or not to kill? Sibley Nature scientist talks rattlesnakes, ecosystem, & danger

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ODESSA, Texas (Nexstar) – A local scientist and naturalist says more rattlesnakes are above ground this time of year. Even though they may be more visible, he says that does not mean those rattlesnakes need to be killed.

“The biggest thing is fear,” said Michael Nickell, Museum Scientist and Naturalist at Sibley Nature Center in Midland. “People seem to be innately fearful of things like snakes. Snakes are not evil, they’re animals.”

Michael says snakes are a vital part of nature and of the ecosystem. They can serve as a form of checks-and-balances against rodents and rabbit populations, some of which may carry diseases. He says rattlesnakes have been asleep for most of Winter and early Spring. Now, they’re looking for food this time of year.

“The temperature warms up, food becomes more available, water as well, so this brings them to the surface of the ground,” Nickell said.

I found a rattlesnake that had been killed behind a property on Boise Drive in North Odessa. After showing Michael a photo of the snake, he identified it as a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, the most common snake in and around West Texas.

One of the key hallmarks of the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake are the alternating black and white bands at the end of the tail, as well as diamonds on its back.

The snake I had found was a young adult that was killed recently on the back door step of one house.

That begs the question: should rattlesnakes be killed?

“No, you don’t want a rattlesnake living under your house or getting in your house, then something needs to be done about that. But, if it’s out in nature, far, far away from houses, then absolutely not,” Nickell said. “Rattlesnakes are part of the environment.”

There are a number of houses under construction in the area where the Diamondback was found. One reason why rattlesnakes are being found in the area is – that’s their habitat.

“We are building our homes in prime rattlesnake country,” Nickell said. “They can’t hear. They’re sensitive to vibrations of construction, so they are curious, and it is their habitat.”

So, what will prompt a rattlesnake to bite you?

Michael says self-defense. Rattlesnakes use their venom to catch food. They’re less likely to want to use it on a person in self-defense because that means one less meal for them.

“Be aware of your surroundings. Unplug from your devices,” Nickell said. “You’re more likely to see, hear, or even smell a rattlesnake.”

That’s right. Michael said you could smell a rattlesnake. He says it has a very musty, oily type scent.

I asked, “If you do smell that, is that any indication you’re too close to a rattlesnake?”

Michael responded, “It could very well be.”

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