Bullsnake at Desert Harbor

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While I was sitting on a rock in the canyon at Desert Harbor Retreat looking at the landscape, watching the birds in the distance, and observing the various insects crawling around my feet, this large bull snake (about six feet long) crawled by just a few feet away. He got defensive when I got close with the camera, but then he settled down and let me get to within less than an inch of him with the camera’s lens.

If you don’t know your snakes, you might confuse this bullsnake with a rattlesnake. The markings are similar to a rattlesnake’s, and with his defensive postures, he mimics a rattlesnake by raising his body into a striking position; he flattens his head to make it more triangular, hisses, and vibrates his tail like a rattlesnake (if there are dried leaves to vibrate his tail against, he will sound somewhat like a rattlesnake). But that’s where the similarities end. A bullsnake is slender, and has a thin, round head compared to a rattlesnake. Bullsnakes are non-venomous constrictors, with round pupils. A Western Diamondback rattlesnake the same length as this bullsnake would have a girth at least four times larger, and its head would be three or four times larger than the bullsnake’s head. Rattlesnakes have raised plates over their cat-like eyes, triangular heads, and pits on the sides of their faces (you can see a Western Diamondback rattlesnake in my blog from July 2, 2013).

After a while, the bullsnake decided we were no longer a threat and continued his hunting. We followed him around, observing him for about 45 minutes as he seemed to be following a scent trail. We walked beside him, behind him, observed him closely, and he simply went about his business as if we were not even there. I was thinking that he might flush out a field mouse, grab it, constrict it, then eat it, and I could document the hunt, the kill and the meal, but he was still hunting when we parted ways.

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Defensive position acting like a rattlesnake
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Settling down
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OK! The paparazzi isn’t so bad after all
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I think I look rather dashing in the round mirror (taken with a 17mm lens almost touching the snake)
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He goes back to hunting
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His happy hunting ground. You can see the snake in the foreground just above the “2014” if you look carefully
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The snake is sniffing the grass while Laurie checks him out
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Smells something interesting on the grass
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Laurie walking with the snake

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Sniffing a patch of piñon needles
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Happy snake face