Category Archives: Critters

Best Sleepover Ever: Video wrap up

Well here it is– the final installment of Best Sleepover Ever!

For those of you who’ve been coming here to see what these little-publicized sleepover events are all about, I hope these articles have been helpful.  The SeaWorld marketing team is in the process of republishing the series at the SeaWorld Parks Blog.

To wrap things up, here’s a montage of scenes from the Best Sleepover Ever that I shot with my Flip UltraHD camcorder.  You’ll have to forgive the over-simplistic editing.  Flip shoots a format that is only editable using their severely hamstrung application.  You can’t do much more than string clips together and add giant font titles.

But you’re not interested in the technical gripes of a frustrated video hobbyist.  Onto the montage!

Much thanks to the SeaWorld San Diego Education staff for a wonderful experience!


Tags: , , ,

Best Sleepover Ever: Orcas, rays, and a comatose moonlight excursion

Morning view

This post continues my report on the SeaWorld Adventure Camps’ Fathers Day Sleepover that my 8 year old son and I attended at the San Diego park back in June. If you missed previous installments,  check them out here, here, here, and here.

When it came to getting the best sleeping spot in Wild Arctic, skipping the teeth brushing turned out to have been an excellent idea.  But skipping the bathroom part of that last bathroom break?  Eh, not so much.

It hit me at about 2:00 am.  Or at least that was the point when ignoring nature’s call was no longer an option.  Answering it wouldn’t be simple.  We’d have to get up, tip-toe to the exit, take a flight of stairs, wake our chaperone, and trek over to a building by the Penguin Encounter.  First, though, I’d have to wake Boo.

“Hey pal, do you need to go to the bathroom?”  (It would be slightly less embarrassing for me if Boo was the reason we were going.)

“Nope,” came his comatose response.  Wonderful.

He slowly came to as we trudged up the stairway to check out with the doorman.  The balmy air outside contrasted starkly with our virtual igloo.  I walked slowly in order to take in the SeaWorld that very few humans ever see–  middle-of-the-night SeaWorld—when the path lights have been dimmed and that infamous elevator music quieted.

Boo resumed his slumber immediately upon our return.  As I arranged his blanket I noticed that his clenched fist still held a stingray tooth he had found earlier in the evening.  I carefully pulled it away and secured it in a zipper pouch in my backpack.  If he lost it during the night I’d never hear the end of it.  After all, this was no ordinary stingray tooth.

I continued to replay the evening’s events in my head– picking up after the Shamu Rocks show.  After the crowds filtered out of the park, the education staff had gathered us to the orca habitat’s underwater viewing area for a little Whales 101. While a staffer named Erin demonstrated the insulating qualities of whale blubber using clay and ice water, I walked over to the massive viewing window.  Hovering on the other side was 12 year old Sumar.  Sumar seemed to enjoy interacting with me and the other parents.  Like the belugas, his song was audible through the acrylic.

“I heard you can use some of the moves the trainers use to make the whales interact with you,” one father asked.

“Well, we can ask them to interact with us,” James censured.  “Then if they want to, they might.”

SeaWorld campers get a close-up of Shamu and friends in this extraordinarily cheesy photo from SeaWorld Public Relations (copyright All rights reserved.)

Despite his wiry figure and youthful gait, James carried a certain gravitas with the kids and amongst his fellow SeaWorld staffers.  He employed the same sarcastic finesse both to coax the bashful kids from their shells and repress Annoying Kid’s loud interjections.  And though his primary duty was to keep the larger flock together, he still found a way to make each kid feel important.  When Boo lost the polar bear claw keychain he had made, James ducked out of the Shamu show to make him a new one—with the same color beads arranged the same pattern.

The last activity of the night was a visit to the Forbidden Reef, where a few dozen stingrays and a sturgeon that thinks he’s a stingray solicit fish and rub-downs from visitors.  After feeding the rays, Boo spotted a stingray tooth at the bottom of the pool and James fished it out for him with a large net.

“I can’t lose this stingray tooth,” he said.  “It’s a special stingray tooth.”

Boo’s tooth now secure in my backpack and nature’s call finally answered, I finally bid good night to the belugas.

Here are a few clips I shot when I woke up in the morning.  Notice how quiet it is in there.  If you listen closely, you can hear whale song:


The next (and last) installment in this series will feature a video summary of the sleepover.

*Sadly, Sumar passed away earlier this month of unknown causes.  I’m glad we got a few minutes with him that night.


Tags: , , , ,

Best Sleepover Ever: Snoring to Whale Song

Claim staked.

This post continues my report on the SeaWorld Adventure Camps’ Fathers Day Sleepover that my 8 year old son and I attended at the San Diego park back in June. If you missed previous installments,  check them out here, here, and here.

I don’t consider myself the over competitive type, at least not usually.  But when it comes to something big (like getting the best sleeping spot in Wild Arctic), look out.

It seemed like there was plenty of room in the exhibit’s lower level to ensure a satisfactory spot for all parties, but Boo and I weren’t about to take chances.  We had scoped out the area during polar bear class earlier and had set our minds on a fine patch of concrete next to the beluga whale tank.

I saw other families eying that spot too, and I wondered what their plans were.  Is it going to get hairy?  Would anybody try to crowd us out?  Was there some secret to securing the holy grail of all Wild Arctic spots?

“I’ll tell you what,” one staff member offered.  “When it’s time to brush teeth and change in to pajamas, whoever gets done first picks their spot first.”

We’d have to brush teeth and change quickly, then.

Or, as Boo and I thought simultaneously, we could skip that step altogether.

“I won’t say anything to Mom if you won’t,” the spirited 8 year old assured me.  In high stakes games, you do what you gotta do.

I should pause here to describe the anatomy of Wild Arctic.  Wild Arctic is a flight simulator/walkthru combo attraction that showcases Arctic wildlife.  Typically, visitors enter the attraction via the simulator ride—a “Star Tours” style helicopter flight to a research station deep in the Arctic.

After disembarking, visitors find themselves inside Base Station Wild Arctic, a double-level structure built around the remains of an old shipwreck.  The station is heavily themed with randomly placed crates (a must for all adventure-centric theme park attractions), electronic research equipment, and other 80’s-era stuff that one might see lying around a real Arctic base.

Here’s a short promo video from SeaWorld:

Central to the experience are the multilevel polar bear and beluga whale exhibits, which provide both above and underwater viewing of the pools.  Naturally, our group would set up camp in the underwater viewing area.  I don’t care what age you are—this was beyond cool.

By the time our freshly brushed and jammied friends returned to Wild Arctic, Boo and I had staked our claim and were sitting comfortably on our fleece throws, watching beluga whales dance 2 feet from our pillows.

Soon, the entire underwater viewing space hummed with the sound of battery-powered mattress pumps.  Beach blankets were spread and heavy sleeping bags unrolled on top.  We quietly mocked the mattress campers as we studied Allua and Ferdinand, the two belugas on the quiet side of the acrylic.

When the clamor died down, James gave a parting briefing and answered a few questions.  There was no bathroom in the exhibit.  And no, there was no A/C they could turn off, nor heating system to make things warmer.  It’s called Wild Arctic for a reason.  The constant cold, James explained, comes from the frigid water outside.  I glanced at our Wal-Mart fleece throws, which would double as mattresses and sleeping bags.  Suddenly the mattress campers didn’t seem so dumb.

James and crew bid us good night and the row of dim ceiling lights was extinguished.  It was about 1:00 am.  A good 30 seconds passed before we heard the first snorer.  He (I’m assuming it was a he) was loud and steady, and as the minutes passed he led a burgeoning chorus of a half-dozen more nocturnal lumberjacks.

Boo was determined to stay up all night to talk and watch the whales, but his voice faded as he chatted.  I don’t blame him—it had been a long day packed with enough excitement to drain any kid.  Allua and Ferdinand were mostly still, their white forms reflecting the moonlight above.  They appeared as streaks of blue in the darkened pool, and their whale song was audible through the paneling.  I’m not sure what made me happier: the situation itself or Boo’s delightful immersion in it.

Boo’s all-nighter lasted until about 1:45.  I pulled his hood over his head and straightened his covers, then tried to find a comfortable position on my concrete bed.  At some point I joined the snoring chorus myself, though it wouldn’t be for long.


Coming up: Sting rays, Moray eels, and a moonlight excursion.  In the mean time, here’s a short clip from the next day showing where we slept:


Tags: , , ,

Best Sleepover Ever: The Adventure Begins

A killer whale launches from Shamu Stadium's 7 million gallon tank in June, 2010

This post continues my report on the SeaWorld Adventure Camps’ Fathers Day Sleepover that my 8 year old son and I attended at the San Diego park back in June. If you missed previous installments,  check them out here and here.

When Meadow rolls her eyes at my obsession with the sea, I tell her she can thank my grandpa for it.  Poppy, as we called him, wasn’t a waterman—he was a heart patient.  When Salt Lake City’s high elevation would begin to take its toll on the ticker, Pop would look toward the western horizon and simply say, “Let’s go.”

It never took much to convince Gran and the kids.  They’d load my mother and her siblings in the van and chase the sunset—sea level or bust.  A few military relatives living in San Diego made these impromptu road trips convenient.  The beaches, zoo, and SeaWorld were secondary, but nice.  So nice that when she grew up and started her own family, Mom continued Pop’s therapeutic pilgrimages.


Memories of those early trips to SeaWorld appear in my head like old 16mm Kodachrome snapshots.  Our routine was always the same:  Be there when the gates open and head directly to the Sparkletts Water Fantasy Show, an acrobatic fountain presentation choreographed to Beach Boys tunes.  Then it was straight to the sea lion and otter show for a performance of “The Ooky Spooky Castle.”  The dolphin and Shamu shows would follow, along with hours of exhibit hopping.

I remember leaving the park at night, thinking how cool it would be to stay and hang out with the sea life overnight.  I smiled a few years ago when, after a night time Shamu show, Boo vocalized that same thought.  Now we were there with our official Adventure Camps t-shirts and name tags, watching killer whales launch themselves in tandem from the depths of Shamu Stadium.

The evening’s events began with dinner—an all-we-could-eat spread of Spaghetti, chicken strips, and watermelon at the Shiprwreck Reef Cafe.  James joined Boo and I at a table by the sea turtles.  We shot the breeze about SeaWorld history and a resident dolphin named Stein that Boo had befriended a few years ago, and who recently passed away after a long battle with liver cancer.

Stein, the toothless dolphin (photo by SWCali)

Stein was always easy to spot in the dolphin pools because he had lost all of his teeth from old age.  In fact, Stein was SeaWorld’s oldest dolphin, having lived to his mid-40s (about 25 years past normal life expectancy).  Many of the dolphins at Rocky Point Preserve today were sired by Stein—a  notion that Boo’s 8 year old brain can’t quite comprehend, but one that makes him very glad nonetheless.

After dinner we trekked back to Wild Arctic for a demonstration on Polar Bears.  Polar Bears 101 continued in a classroom behind Shamu Stadium as the sun began to set.  These sessions were led by an enthusiastic edu-staffer named Allen, and Boo eagerly absorbed every word.  After making a polar bear claw key ring, our group joined the other Adventure Camps groups at the crowded stadium to watch the Shamu Rocks nighttime show.

Polar Bears 101 at Wild Arctic

Shamu Rocks runs all summer, but tonight would be different—at least for Boo and I.  When the waves tapered away and the fireworks smoke dispersed, the rest of SeaWorld’s visitors would be ushered out of the park.  Soon the lights would dim and the lushly vegetated walkways would be silent.

Soon we would have the park to ourselves.


Tags: , , ,

Elusive crawdads provide good sport at Grantsville reservoir

“I say we get the hot dogs started,” Recommended Weston.

Cue the soundtrack’s dramatic measures.  The hot dogs were supposed to be the last resort.  To break them out now was to essentially admit defeat.  I resisted, but Coulter and Dillon seconded Weston’s motion, and it wasn’t long before First Mate Bridger joined his mutinous brothers.  I caved and lit the stove.

Weston, 7, wades into the choppy waters of Grantsville Reservoir during a windstorm on Aug. 7 while fishing for crawdads.

The following originally appeared in the August 12, 2010 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.

“Anything, Dad?” asked 8 year old Bridger as I lifted my crayfish trap from the shallows of Grantsville Reservoir last Saturday.

“Empty again, pal,” I shook my head in disbelief. “Sheesh!”

A stiff wind swept northward across the lake’s geometric surface, sending white-capped waves tumbling erratically toward shore.  This was somewhat expected—Grantsville Reservoir’s location makes it a perpetually windy place.  But that evening’s winds came on the tail of a thunderstorm and were unusually harsh.

The normal weekend crowd had apparently taken note.  Our closest neighbors were a lone fisherman about 20 yards down shore and a black gull that hovered above us in passive flight.  I sunk the box-shaped trap again, too frustrated to notice the pleasant marriage of breeze and humidity, or to contemplate the way the both the lake and the distant Oquirrh Mountains reflected nearly the same deep blue hue.  The clock was ticking, after all.  There was no time for contemplation.

The sense of urgency reminded me of the Discovery Channel’s reality series, Deadliest Catch, which documents crab fishing in Alaska.  The show features scene after scene of cranes hoisting box-shaped traps called “pots” from the depths of the Bering Sea onto the decks of various crab boats.  Sometimes the pots emerge chock full of king crab.  Other times they’re nearly empty.  In the case of the latter, footage of the skipper’s disappointed grimace is accompanied with a somber narration from voice artist Mike Rowe.

“For Captain Clint and crew,” Rowe might have read from Saturday evening’s script, “Harvesting the elusive Orconectes virilis has proven especially difficult.”

Empty. Again.

Unlike Deadliest’s skippers, I wasn’t facing rogue waves, frigid subarctic overspray, or even foul-mouthed deckhands.  But what loomed for me was no less terrifying: the prospect of writing yet another column about getting skunked at Grantsville Reservoir.

Call it musings of a failed outdoorsman, I thought.

The boys and I had come to the lake hoping to net a bucketful of Northern Crayfish for some shore-side surf and turf.  That may seem odd, considering that ninety-eight percent of all crayfish harvested in the United States come from Louisiana bayous.  But the Cajun delicacy flourishes here too.

Crayfish—or crawdads, as I grew up calling them—can be found in many Utah lakes and rivers that don’t freeze to the bottom during winter.  The buggy crustacean prefers rocky, clear water bodies at elevations lower than 8,000 feet.  If I didn’t know better, I might say Grantsville Reservoir was created especially for its crawdad population.

But I do know better.  The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources considers crawdads an Aquatic Invasive Species because they eat fish eggs, displace native organisms, and otherwise wreak havoc the lake’s natural ecosystem.  As an eco-minded outdoorsman, subtracting a bucketful of the pesky crustacean from the habitat every now and then is the least I can do.

And I’m not alone.  Hordes of eager harvesters descend on the lake each summer to net the “poor man’s lobster.”  Most people catch them by combing the rocky shallows with fishing nets or angling for them with raw chicken parts tied to a string.  The box trap method is less prolific, but it’s catching on.  Most people boil them on the spot, since it’s illegal to remove live crawdads from the vicinity and dead crawdads only keep for about 10 minutes.

A wildly successful outing last summer left the boys and me with high expectations, so I was especially bewildered when we pulled into a nearly empty parking lot Saturday.  I stuffed the trap with plenty of chicken and a hot dog for good measure, then sank it in last year’s hot spot.  Bridger and Weston, 7, walked the shoreline.  4 year old Coulter pretended to be a pirate, as he normally does when he’s around water.  1 year old Dillon threw rocks.

Crawdads scurried visibly from crag to crag but were too deep to reach with nets.  Closer to shore, aggressive wave action blurred our view of the bottom, making the chase maddening and near impossible.  Bridger dove at a large crawdad and grabbed it with his hand, only to lose it with an incoming wave.  It was becoming quickly apparent why the usual crowd had stayed away.  Our last hope was the trap, which was consistently coming up empty.

“I saw a bunch of people here last week catching those things like crazy,” the lone fisherman commented as he reeled in for the evening.  The gull, having danced on the wind for two straight hours, decided to call it a day, too.

“I say we get the hot dogs started,” Recommended Weston.

Cue the soundtrack’s dramatic measures.  The hot dogs were supposed to be the last resort.  To break them out now was to essentially admit defeat.  I resisted, but Coulter and Dillon seconded Weston’s motion, and it wasn’t long before First Mate Bridger joined his mutinous brothers.  I caved and lit the stove.

“As night falls,” I could almost hear Mike Rowe say, “Captain Clint raises the white flag.”

Ironically, that was the moment my spirits began to rise.  With the burden of the catch lifted, I was free to notice the water’s darkening blue, and that it actually felt warmer than a swimming pool.  My pace slowed.  I smiled.  Perhaps I wasn’t a failed outdoorsman after all.

Naturally I hadn’t thought to pack buns or condiments, so we devoured our hot dogs plain.  After dinner, Weston waded down the boat ramp until he was in waist-deep—sweats, shoes, and all—then he stood and let the waves wash around him.  Bridger fashioned a makeshift fishing pole from discarded parts he had scavenged from the banks.  Coulter continued his pirate ways.  Dillon threw more rocks.

As the sun dipped behind the Stansbury Mountains, I pulled my trap for the last time.  Nothing.

“Those were the best hot dogs I ever had, Dad,” said Coulter, breaking character just long enough to reassure the ol’ skipper.  “And it’s ok—we can catch plenty of crop-dads tomorrow.”

Best hot dogs ever.


Tags: , , ,

Best Sleepover Ever: Explanation and background

Beluga dreams (photo by Clint Thomsen)

Mother, mother ocean,
I have heard you call,
Wanted to sail upon your waters
since I was three feet tall. You’ve seen it all,
You’ve seen it all.

Watched the men who rode you,
Switch from sails to steam.
And in your belly you hold the treasure
That few have ever seen, Most of them dreams,
Most of them dreams.

-Jimmy Buffet, from “A Pirate Looks At Forty”

Back in June I published a teaser post that I fully intended to follow up on (“Best Sleepover Ever,” June 19, 2010). Unfortunately, poor reception from both my mobile carriers thwarted my efforts to liveblog that night, and I haven’t had much free time since. Well, it’s time to make good on that teaser, and the next few posts will do just that.

I’m not sure how apparent it is on this blog, but the sea occupies a very distinct and permanent spot in my mind– like a perpetual background process on a computer. Even though I’ve never lived anywhere close to the ocean, I think about it almost constantly. My tastes for culture, food, and music are based largely on my fascination with the sea– with the islands, waves, and sand, and the mindset I’ve associated with them.

I haven’t exactly pinned down the source of the ocean’s appeal to me. Some of it must be innate. Some of it might have something to do with what they say about the therapeutic effect of ocean waves on the A.D.D. brain. Some of it certainly stems from family vacations to San Diego when I was young.

Those short trips included at least one day on the beach and one at SeaWorld. Back then, like today, one child was chosen from the audience during each Shamu show to “meet” Shamu. Today, this “meet” is a glorified photo op with lucky kid and killer whale safely separated by 6 inches of acrylic. Don’t get me wrong– that’s cool. But it’s nothing compared to the early 80’s, when lucky kid was ushered right to tanks edge where he or she got to feed, pet, and even hug Shamu.

Yes, hug Shamu.

One 1980-something Shamu show was especially memorable to me– first because I lost my first tooth waiting for the show to start (thanks, Uncle Josh), and second because I was chosen to meet Shamu. That’s me in the photo below:

Yours truly with Shamu. How about that outfit? Somehow I don't think this type of "meet" would fly today.

Call it cheesy, but that moment was unforgettable. SeaWorld has been one of my favorite places on the planet ever since.

My love for the ocean and SeaWorld seems to have rubbed off onto young Boo, who told me at about age 4 that he’d like to become a beach bum when he grows up, “because they just hang out on the beach all day and surf, and eat snacks.”  Boo himself has a certain history with SeaWorld, which I may touch on in upcoming posts.

This obsession with the sea and SeaWorld seems to be exclusive to Boo and I.  My wife detests the ocean and the other kids could take it or leave it. So when Meadow saw an ad for SeaWorld Adventure Camps’ Father’s Day Sleepover, she knew just what she’d do.  It would be– as even she put it– the best sleepover ever.  For Boo and I, that is.  She’d be more than happy to spend the night back at the hotel.

To be clear, SeaWorld Adventure Camps are geared solely toward kids.  Attending parents are there more for chaperoning purposes.  But if you’ve got small children, you know how fulfilling it is to watch their dreams come true.  The evening would consist of several classes and activities, after which Boo, me and about 35 other SeaWorld “campers” would  settle in on the cold concrete floor of the park’s Wild Arctic exhibit, next to the beluga whale tank, to spend the night.

Snoring to whale song.  Heck yeah.

The next few posts will recount this adventure.  The last in the series will feature some video I shot that night.


Tags: , , ,

Fear, curiosity mingle when snakes and humans cross paths

Wildlife expert Jim Dix holds up a Great Basin rattlesnake (left) and a Great Basin gopher snake (right) for comparison (photo by Clint Thomsen).

The following originally appeared in the July 15, 2010 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.

First you hear the rattle—that hollow, paralyzing oscillation that your brain seems wired to dread. Your eyes dart frantically in every direction, sweeping the terrain around you for the coiled serpent. If you’re lucky, you’ve caught the rattler’s warning in time. If you’re not, you’ll feel the sting—like two tiny, red-hot pokers—as the snake sinks its fangs deep into your foot.

I’ve played this scenario out a thousand times in my head, and most recently during a hike with my young sons. We were bushwhacking through an overgrown field near our Stansbury Park home when 8 year old Bridger stopped to pick up a large, intact snake skin.

“It’s gotta be a rattlesnake,” exclaimed the young reptile lover. “Check out the head shape. I’m sure he’s still around here somewhere!”

“Well that’s just awesome,” I muttered to myself sarcastically. The translucent casing Bridger carried proudly with him made me wonder what I’d do if we ever encountered a rattlesnake still in its skin. Would I be able to identify it if its rattler wasn’t visible? What should we do? The Great Basin rattlesnake is the only species in our neck of the desert, and it was time to re-acquaint myself with the elusive pit viper.

Local wildlife experts referred me to Jim Dix of Reptile Rescue Service, a Salt Lake City based removal operation that serves the entire state. Jim and I agreed—the best way for me to learn about the rattlesnake was to meet one face to face.

“You can get right up here,” Dix reassured me after lifting the serpent from a bucket with a hook and pinching its mouth shut between his thumb and forefinger. “He’s not going anywhere.”

Bridger and his younger brothers Weston, 7, and Coulter, 4, stepped up without hesitation. Apparently the instinctual fear of snakes that anthropologists believe humans developed for survival purposes and retained through millennia doesn’t apply to them.

The boys eagerly accepted Dix’s offer to pet the creature, which curled slowly as he gripped it with ridiculous ease. I reluctantly followed suit. Dix had briefed us thoroughly on the snake before showing it to us, but no amount of factual knowledge about Crotalus oreganus lutosus can compare to the experience of actually running your fingers down its spine.

The Great Basin rattlesnake’s layered scales are hardy and reminiscent of sunflower seed shells. Its olive-brown base coloration is accentuated by a prominent line of dark, oval-like dorsal blotches. Its head is uniquely triangular, its tail tipped by series of nested buttons that form the legendary rattle.

Even more interesting than its appearance is its sensory system. The rattlesnake is extremely sensitive to ground vibrations created by other animals. It has no olfactory sense, but it “smells” by collecting molecules on its tongue and transferring them to an dedicated receptor on the roof of its mouth. Depressions below its nostrils detect radiant heat, allowing the rattler to accurately sense and target vulnerable parts of its prey.

Simply put, it’s one cool snake. So cool, in fact, that its innocuous relative, the Great Basin gopher snake, seems to have made rattlesnake impersonation the very purpose of its existence. The gopher snake is skinnier and has a smaller, bullet-shaped head, but it sports a dorsal blotch pattern that’s strikingly similar to that of the rattlesnake. And although lacks a rattle, it has learned to mimic the rattlesnake by vibrating its tail when it feels threatened.

Dix said that most of the rattlesnake calls he gets from Tooele County turn out to be gopher snakes. One of his goals is to educate the public on the differences between them. He also believes increased awareness of the rattlesnake’s nature will benefit both man and snake. Most bites, he said, can be avoided. In fact, avoidance is the rattlesnake’s primary goal.

So what should you do if you encounter one? Different sources offer similar advice, but Dix actually handles rattlers on a daily basis, so I put more stock in his. First, determine the snake’s location and distance from you. According to Dix, the average strike zone is 3 feet. Outside of that radius, it’s safe to slowly back away, keeping in mind that other rattlers may be close nearby.

Within a 3 foot radius of the snake, stay put. Wait for the snake to uncoil and back away on its own.
“They don’t want to have an encounter where they bite you,” Dix explained. The rattle is a generous warning. When bites do occur, Dix said one third of them are venomless “dry hits.” The rest inject some percentage of hemotoxin, which causes massive tissue damage.

“[There’s] hemorrhaging, your blood cells explode—stuff like that,” Dix explained.

Bites from baby rattlesnakes can be even more serious since they haven’t grown rattles yet and their venom isn’t regulated.

In the case of any bite, Dix warned against popularized treatment methods like tourniquets, snake bite kits, and sucking venom from the wound. Skip those and call 9-11, then get to a hospital quickly. Restrict movement, and if possible, keep the bite area below the chest. Rattlesnake anti-venom can take up to 45 minutes to prepare and administer.

Dix said most bite cases are the result of naiveté or intentional provocation, and are still a rare occurrence. Still, one would be wise to keep an eye out for them. They’ll spend evenings basking on the sides of roads. Dix said Skull Valley tends to be a rattlesnake hotspot. Having emerged from hibernation later in the spring than usual, our rattlers are now settling into feeding mode. As “sit and wait” hunters, they’re more likely to be spotted under rocks or wrapped around sagebrush. Mid-summer sightings are more common between 8:00 – 11:30 in the morning.

The boys and I bid farewell to our new scaly friend as Dix set it gently back in the bucket. My fear had evolved into more of a healthy respect. If we ever see him on the trail, I hope that respect is mutual.


Rattlesnakes, gators and turtles – oh my!

Jim Dix's bucket o fun

Recent news reports out of northern Utah have warned that this year’s belated spring may have delayed the rattlesnake’s annual mating and migration rituals, essentially setting them to coincide directly with summer human outdoor rituals.  This period has mostly passed, but I thought it might be a good idea to school myself on rattlesnake behavior.

Reptile Rescue Service’s Jim Dix invited me and the boys to his house in Salt Lake, which he shares with over 300 (yes, 300) snakes and dozens of other exotic and dangerous critters.  The story will appear in tonight’s Transcript Bulletin, but here are a few pictures of our visit:

Rattlesnake, meet ophidiophobe. Ophidiophobe, meet rattlesnake

Notice the wedge-shaped head

The infamous rattle

A collage of scales

Can you spot the venom gland?

Dix rescued this baby alligator from the Del Taco dumpster in Lake Point

One of 8 giant tortoises that roam Dix's backyard


Posted by on July 15, 2010 in Critters, Trip Reports