The Outdoor Journal by Kyle Carroll
It's been probably fifty years since it happened, but I still remember the incident. I was walking on a narrow dirt path made by my friends sheep to cross a wooded ditch. We had taken the short cut from his old house to where his folks had built their new place on the hill. The brush had obscured the path a little and I wasn't watching where my feet were landing. As I stepped around a little bend in the path into some thicker brush, the electric buzzing sound of a mad timber rattlesnake went off. My first reaction was to get airborne, which I did instantly. The thing I remember was that I was not going to be in the air long, and I still hadn’t spotted the snake. Somehow I came back to earth, missed landing on the snake, pogo-sticked myself ahead of the spot I had just landed on and made it up the trail unscathed. They always say that the snake is as scarred of you as you are of him, but in this case I doubt it.
How does a rattlesnake make the distinctive rattle? In a June 7, Nature Note, Peg Craft says, that “ ….the rattle is made of special hollow scales, made of keratin, on the tip of the snake’s tail. These scales are loosely connected. When the rattlesnake vibrates its tail, the scales rapidly strike each other, causing a buzzing sound. A rattlesnake is born with a single button on its tail. Each time the snake sheds its skin, a new segment is added at the base of the rattle.”
MDC Herpetologist Jeff Briggler notes that, "The more a snake is growing, the faster it sheds. Younger snakes shed more than older snakes and can shed on average, three to four times a year in warmer months." As the rattle grows longer, the end segments can weaken and break off. This pattern of growth makes it impossible to determine the snake’s age by counting the number of segments in its rattle.
Some scientist believe the purpose of the buzz was designed to draw attention... “on the Great Plains where hooved animals, like bison and elk, roamed. The sharp buzz of the rattle protected rattlesnakes from being trampling by alerting these animals to the snakes. By scaring off predators and large, blundering intruders, rattlesnakes conserve their energy and venom for catching food.”
Having been a “blundering intruder” myself on the sheep path long ago, I can tell you it works.