A cool night with temperatures in the 40s yields to the warm embraces of Helios. The prairie and its denizens prepare for another day of desiccating winds and more than fourteen hours of sunshine. A ground beetle scurries across my path of travel. I briefly focus my attention to make an identification. At the same time, a long, dark shadow on the ranch road pops into my peripheral vision. It's a bullsnake stretched out in a seven to eight foot blotched, yellowish-brown serpentine. Subterfuge of predators appears to be its secondary concern. An early morning sunbath has priority.
I approach cautiously to keep agitation of the reptile to a minimum. My stealth mode succeeds briefly. Its forked tongue whips through the air furiously...tasting my presence. I manage one image before the colubrid exhibits its distinctive defensive coils, rattlesnake-like cocked head, hisses and rattles. This subspecies of the gophersnake forcibly exhales through a bisected glottis, which flops back and forth to produce a fearsome hiss and convincing rattle sound. The exhalation of air is so forceful that skin across its lower jaw puffs out giving the snake drooping jowls. Images of Marlon Brando in the Godfather movie series come to mind.
There’s nothing more effective than a reptilian hiss and 50°F temperatures carried on brisk morning breezes to wipe the last remnants of sleep from your eyes and get the old ticker pumpin’. As I move off, the pituophis catenifer sayi relaxes, uncoils, and moves into the cover of the shortgrass prairie. The epithet “sayi” honors zoologist Thomas Say.