Nathan Hawkins slithered into a shallow crawl space beneath a home in North Texas, armed only with a flashlight, a pair of long snake tongs and a cellphone camera.
Rattlesnakes — specifically, western diamondbacks — could be seen all over, coiled up in dark corners, tucked into crevices overhead and crawling across the ground. Hawkins reached out, clamped down gently one-by-one on their long, slender bodies, causing them to rattle their musical tails, and then dragged them away.
“There’s snakes everywhere under here,” Hawkins, who owns Big Country Snake Removal, said in a video posted Sunday on Facebook.
The footage showed a rattlesnake den hidden under a home outside Abilene, less than 200 miles west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Hawkins later explained that during the winter, these communal creatures will often congregate where they can find warmth, then emerge in the spring to forage for food and breed.
“All right, guys, we’re fixing to start removing these,” he said in the video. “There’s quite a few. I’m guessing right now there’s probably 30 or 40 that we’re looking at, and everywhere you look there’s another one.”
Hawkins, 35, said in the Facebook post that his company, which specializes in snake removal, inspections and education, received a call last week from a homeowner who said that he had crawled under his home to fix the cable TV and found a “few” snakes hiding there. When Hawkins and his partner arrived, he said, “I could immediately see that there was far more than a ‘few.’ ”
In fact, there were 45.
But Hawkins, who said he has been studying snakes for almost 20 years, said in a phone interview Wednesday with The Washington Post that the encounter “was nothing out of the ordinary for us.”
Hawkins said he showed up March 13 wearing a T-shirt, jeans and boots, and went to work, retrieving the rattlesnakes one at a time. After the removal, he showed three plastic containers filled with buzzing rattlers.
“It was just another day, honestly,” he told The Post, adding that the most he has ever removed from a person’s home was 88 snakes.
Hawkins said he “relocates” the rattlesnakes to ranches where he has permission to release them “far from people, far from livestock.”
Western diamondbacks, which can grow six feet long and live for more than 20 years, are one of the most common rattlesnakes found in the Southwest, according to a fact sheet from the National Park Service. Western diamondbacks “use venom to immobilize their prey that includes birds, reptiles and small mammals” but will also bite humans — more so than any other rattlesnake, NPS said.
Hawkins said that he has been bitten “thousands of times” by snakes but only seven times by venomous snakes and never on the job.
Hawkins said when rattlesnakes are bothered, they are indeed dangerous but “no more dangerous than humans,” he added, laughing.
“They’re really not these crazy, mean creatures that people portray them to be,” he said, adding that rattlers “just want to be left alone.”