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Tangentially Speaking

318 – John Porter (Rattlesnake Expert)

By April 25, 2018October 9th, 201914 Comments


  • Zoë says:

    Chris (Steve?), I don’t know if you see these comments, but a possible answer to you question about the vilification of snakes in the Bible is what I read in Merlin Stone’s book When God was a Woman. Lots of goddesses were associated with serpents including the ones competing with yahweh in Old Testament times. You can read in the Bible about yahweh commanding the Hebrews to destroy the holy places of other gods/goddesses. It’s a theory that the devil is supposedly embodied as a serpent to deter Hebrews from getting caught up in the other goddess religions. Anyway, it’s a fascinating book, one of my favorites.

  • matthew lee says:

    Chris, you questioned the reason for the rattle sound and if I heard correctly, John said its not known. Shortly after, he discussed the rattlesnake’s ability to see heat. Is it possible the rattle frequency triggers a fight/flight response, rushing blood to the prey’s skin thereby creating vivid heat signatures for easy targeting. Or maybe the prey’s response to the sound causes involuntary chemical release into the bloodstream that’s somehow ultimately beneficial for the snake’s digestion process (maybe conditioning the prey/initiating the steps for consumption)? Their cold-blooded energy management makes me wonder if their efficiency extends to the management of their prey. Thanks!

    • Christopher Ryan says:

      Interesting theory. I’ll ask John, and let you know what he has to say.

    • Christopher Ryan says:

      From John: "An interesting theory, but! I have never had a rattlesnake use its rattle in a feeding situation. It seems to be used more when the snake is threatened or pissed off, which may be the same thing to them. Stalking snakes appear very much like a stalking lion, slow, silent approach, then the strike! I’ve kept rattlesnakes in captivity for a long time, and the only time I’ve ever heard a rattle going off, except when I’ve startled them, is during mating season when there are several males and females together in the cage. Then it is a quick half-second burst, That is done by a male who is combating another male. This combat is done by probably all male snakes, but in the venomous snakes, usually does not involve biting, as it does in the non-venomous snakes. But because it can get the non-venomous snakes pissed off enough to bite, it may get the venomous ones pissed off enough to rattle. In my own cages, this rattling is a very rare occurrence. How often it occurs in Nature, I couldn’t say. I think most rattlesnake researchers agree that the usual hunting technique for them is to coil up on a scent trail and wait for something tasty to pass by,then strike it. I think most researchers believe that the rattle is used as a defense. Whether the snake knows that or not, is another question. They have no outer ear opening. Their stapes bone connects to one of their lower jaw bones. It is assumed that they do not hear air born sounds all that well. but instead hear the ground vibrations picked up by their body. How much they can hear their own rattle vibrations passing through their bodies is unknown, but they probably do not hear the rattling of their fellows very well. What seems to occur in humans and horses (known because a person is riding them at the time of the incident) is the sudden, loud, harsh noise creates a startle reflex in the animal, causing them to jump away from the sound, and thus the snake. For a larger, non-snake-predator, this prevents an accidental physical encounter, which could be injurious to the smaller snake. To a predator, it probably means Dinner. How many different animals, or their sizes are affected this way is unknown. I don’t think it has ever been tested, to find out how much larger an animal has to be to set a snake to rattling, or whether the rattle is used less often on a predator, (to whom it may actually act as an attractant). Sooooo much is unknown and may be unknowable!"

      • matthew lee says:

        Much thanks to John and really appreciate discovering your show, Chris! You’re offering tons of color through honest modes of thought. Since you appreciate music, consider a listen to my niece’s band, Big Thief. Just having played Coachella, she writes on matters that seriously overlap your orbit. Song "Real Love" could be a good access point.

        • Christopher Ryan says:

          Watching her and her band on Tiny Desktop Concerts now. They’re great! If you can get permission, I’d love to play a song or two on the podcast. Please have her get in touch with me at if she’s cool with it. If she’s coming through LA, I’d also love to have her on the podcast. She’s obviously a very thoughtful woman.

  • Mike Miller says:

    An ember from the Tangentially Speaking bonfire has blown my way. Passing this fire onto everyone I can. Thanks for everything you do brother.

  • Did John ever send a link to that scientific study you guys mentioned, which allegedly show a fertilized egg could pick up the attributes of more than one mate?

  • Gunner Peterson says:

    I felt that John Porter lacks serious scientific knowledge on a host of issues. For example, his comment on galaxies was completely wrong and science has proven this conclusively. It was clear, numerous times, throughout your interview that he lacks an in depth understanding of science and research. There is a big chasm between what "he believes" and what is.

    • Matthew says:

      Map makers may or may not need to adjust, but its cool to hear observations from people in the territory – especially from those outside the consensus. Creating space for these conversations is a premise of this podcast, rather than verification of conventional understanding. Run the edges:)

  • Chip says:

    Hey Chris. Please drop the unnecessary profanity. Your credibility will soar. All the profanity makes you sound unintelligent and you don’t have better words. You have a strong vocabulary, and a great laid back voice. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the intelligent use profanity. It’s is not cool. … Or tell me why it is.

  • Dale says:

    Hi Chris. Thank you for this. John is an interesting person with many intelligence’s. I got to know him and hangout with him a bit in the early 80’s in San Diego. I’ll never forget the day he pulled a rattle snake out of a 5 gal bucket and put it on the lunch table at work (we made furniture together). We went to the hills and I got to see him in action searching for and finding snakes. He sounds good here. What a great conversation! If you see him again, please tell him I said hello!

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