‘Flying rattlesnakes?’ Idea they never climb trees is shattered by social media posts

Venomous rattlesnakes are prone to showing up in unexpected places, with one big exception: They’re not known for climbing trees, experts say.

Well, guess what: 2020 just got a little worse.

A growing number of Facebook posts this summer show rattlesnakes not only climb trees when the mood strikes them, but they’re good at it.

Among the earliest of the posts was on July 4, when Jerome Perez of New Mexico shared video of a nearly 6-foot rattlesnake in the top of a mesquite tree, east of San Antonio, New Mexico.

Perez told McClatchy News he was hiking with his 11-year-old son Joshua and girlfriend, Gabby, when she noticed something odd in a tree 100 feet away. His video of the sight had been viewed 177,000 times on Facebook as of Aug. 18.

First time I seen a rattler 7 feet off the ground!

Posted by Jerome Perez on Saturday, July 4, 2020

“Yes, it was crazy!” he said. “I was amazed we were seeing such an unheard of occurrence. The snake was up high, soaking up the early morning sun, but his rattler was going at high speed. A small sparrow was flapping frantically in front of the snake, trying to keep it from a nest likely hidden in the tree.”

Perez said they did to not intervene and left the rattlesnake “unharmed” after 5 minutes of watching to see what happened next.

On Aug. 12, the Bureau of Land Management Arizona shared a similar photo on Facebook, showing a diamondback rattlesnake in a tree at San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, near the Mexico border. The post, which has been shared 3,400 times as of Aug. 18, noted “rattlesnakes are rarely observed in trees.”

The photo was taken Aug. 6, at the height of “snake season,” according to the Friends of the San Pedro River, an environmental conservation group. It shared two photos of the same snake as a warning to hikers, including one photo that showed how difficult it was to see in the tree.

“Clearly this ‘flying snake’ was a rarity,” the group wrote. “Watch where you are going: look down, right, left, ahead.... and up!”

Reaction to the Facebook post has included questions of its authenticity, prompting the Friends of San Pedro River to add a note from photographer Tom Sykes, who is credited with the photos. He says they are not “Photoshopped” and he believes the snake took refuge in the tree from a predator.

“The snake was clearly resting, probably waiting for the sun to warm it,” he wrote. “Several people we’ve spoken to don’t normally see this species — western diamondback — in a tree. ... We would not have seen the snake were it not for a Botteri’s Sparrow singing at the top of the same tree.”

The Bureau of Land Management says rattlesnakes are definitely not known as tree climbers, but do it when necessary. This includes when they’re hunting (birds and eggs), when they’re fleeing a predator (other snakes), or when they’re trying “to escape from extreme heat.”

Many commenters on the photos found the idea of rattlesnakes in trees to be worrisome, with several noting the possibility of one falling on a hiker.

“Oh Great. Flying rattlesnakes. I am so tired of 2020,” Ben Eaddy wrote on Facebook.

“What is the deal this year?” Tiffany Kelly added.

Snake Season Rattlesnakes are especially active this time of year. Caution is definitely called for when hiking around...

Posted by Friends of The San Pedro River on Friday, August 7, 2020