Georgia Researchers Stunned by Rattlesnake Inside Gopher Tortoise Burrow

by Taylor Cunningham
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Some Georgia researchers uncovered a diamondback rattlesnake living in a gopher tortoise burrow last week. While they were shocked to find that the reptile had taken residence in the hole, they said it isn’t an uncommon situation.

In a #TortoiseTuesday post, the UGA Ecology Lab explained the odd living arrangement. Apparently, gopher tortoises will willingly share their dwellings with the predators. In this situation, that wasn’t the case. But we’re still surprised it happens at all.

“Check out this magnificent eastern diamondback rattlesnake that we found earlier this month while surveying gopher tortoises,” the lab wrote alongside a snapshot of the slithering squatter. “We first encountered this individual basking on the apron of a tortoise burrow. But as we approached, she entered.”

Both tortoises and rattlesnakes are commensal creatures, meaning they will forge a union with another animal if there is a benefit to be gained. In this situation, one would gain protection from the rattlesnake. In return, the tortoise gives the predator shelter. And somehow, instincts tell the snake not to attack, which is a blessing because diamondbacks are the “largest venomous snake in North America.”

To make sure a gopher tortoise wasn’t cohabiting with the snake, the team sent a scope inside.

“In this instance, a tortoise was not present in the burrow, and we only observed the rattlesnake at the back, which was quite curious about our scope. Diamondback rattlesnakes are one of the over 350 commensal species that call gopher tortoise burrows home.”

Diamondback Rattlesnakes Can’t Dig Their Own Burrows

Being cold-blooded animals, rattlesnakes need dens to keep warm during chilly nights and cold winters. However, they’re not burrowing snakes. So, they have to find pre-made shelter. So they often live in Gopher holes, small caves, rock crevices, or other animal burrows.

For extra help, the serpents will huddle with other rattlesnakes for warmth. Or while living with a tortoise, they could also gain warmth from their unlikely roommate.

Rattlesnakes live in most of the southwestern United States spanning from the Florida Keys into western Mississippi and Louisiana. They can range in size from 4 to 8 feet. And because they find homes in random holes, it’s hard to know when you’re coming across one.

However, while they have a bad reputation, it’s uncommon for one to bite. In most cases, rattlesnakes are scared of humans and will do their best to keep away. They usually attack only when severely threatened.

However, during mating season, which takes place in late summer, males tend to become irrationally aggressive. So, it’s even more important to walk where you walk. But even during that time, it’s easy to avoid incidents.

“If you just keep away from them, step back, and give them space, they move on,” Arizona’s Herpetological Society’s venom manager Cale Morris told Phoenix outlet 12 News. “A lot of the encounters when it goes bad is when people try and throw rocks at them or take sticks and literally try to kill them. That’s when it gets dangerous and people get bit because the snake feels threatened.”