Lesson #224: The Eastern Diamondback

Autobiographical note: My parents like to forward me emails they get from their coworkers containing preposterous claims. I think they do it because they know poor research annoys me more than anything and I will go find why these emails are ridiculous.

Today’s email came from my dad and was on the subject of a 15-foot eastern diamondback found in Jacksonville, Texas. Here’s the text of the email I got (it had pictures as well): 15 foot Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake. Largest ever caught on record. After seeing this, I did a little research*, and learned the following: One bite from a snake this large contains enough venom to kill over 40 full grown men. The head alone is larger than the hand of a normal sized man. A bite from those fangs would be equal to being penetrated by two 1/4 inch screwdrivers. A snake this size could easily swallow a 2-year-old child. A snake this size has a striking distance of approximately 5 1/2 feet.  Judging by the size of the snake, it is estimated to weigh over 170 pounds. (Note: I’ve fixed the many, many grammatical problems with the email.)

My first reaction was to call shenanigans based solely on the habitat of the eastern diamondback. Nevermind the ridiculous length, it’s fairly common knowledge that Texas’ rattlers are western diamondbacks.

Here are the problems:

1. While the eastern diamondback is the largest rattler in the Americans, the largest one ever seen was 8 feet. Pending some sort of nuclear waste induced mutation, there’s not much of a chance of there suddenly being a doubly long rattler just hanging around.

2. The westernmost part of the eastern diamondback’s territory is more or less at the Mississippi River. And it’s obvious from the pictures that the snake is, in fact, an eastern, not western diamondback.

3. Jacksonville, Texas is in Cherokee County, but the photographs clearly show the sheriff’s department car marked St. John’s County. There are 254 counties in Texas and none of them is St. John’s.

4. A quick Google search turns up the actual article about the snake…it was a 7’3″ snake found in St. Augustine, Florida (which is, in fact, in St. John’s County) in September 2009.  You can read the article (complete with pictures) about that here.

A few more facts about the eastern diamondback. It averages in length between 3-6 feet. It is the heaviest venomous snake in the Americas. It lives in “pine flatwoods, longleaf pine and turkey oak, sand pine scrub areas, and coastal barrier islands. These habitats contain palmetto thickets and Gopher Tortoise burrows in which the Diamondback Rattlesnake may seek refuge.” It can strike at a distance up to 2/3 of its length (so the 7’3″ one in Florida would have a strike range of 4’10” — which means that a 15 foot eastern diamondback would be able to strike at a distance of a little over 10′, not the 5’5″ stated in the email)**

*If said person had done research s/he would have discovered exactly what I did. It’s not like I have access to top secret herpetology websites. I cannot abide poor research and I hate people who say “I did research” to make something seem credible. Those people make me want to punch them in the nose.

**Quoted texts and other information about eastern diamondbacks is here. A list of Texas counties is here.

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