Krista Corner Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
What happens when a New Yorker meets a western diamondback rattlesnake from west Texas? The creation of The West Texas Rattlesnake Show, playing at the Great Northern Fair today at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. and again Saturday and Sunday at 2, 4, and 6 p.m. Dave Richardson of Syracuse, N.Y., said though he is not from west Texas, his rattlers are. During his first show at the Great Northern Fair on Wednesday, Richardson told audience members more than 100 kids, parents and carnival employees that he rounds up rattlers from west Texas before the fair season in March and he releases them back into their homeland upon completion of fair season, usually between September and October. Richardson revealed tidbits of rattler facts during his show, all the while seeming to put himself in great danger with rattlers crawling all around him. Once, while attempting to grab hold of a snake with a hook, Richardson stuck his head directly into the snake bucket. "Did you know that rattlesnakes can not actually strike straight up?" He asked the crowd, then bending into the burlap bucket generating a gasp from the onlookers. Richardson, smiling, then plucked a rattler out of one of three buckets containing at least three snakes each. The rattlers especially those he said were in the process of shedding or had just finished shedding exhibited seriously ornery behavior as they hissed and rattled crankily. As a 16-year-veteran to snake handling, Richardson teased his audience saying, "I don't really like snakes, but I needed money." In an interview with the Havre Daily prior to the show, Richardson apologized for looking like "a street person." "I don't particularly like looking like a street person, but I did this for 14 years without an agent," he said. "Two years ago, I got the same agent as Robbie Knievel Now I might actually make all that money the IRS seems to think I did," he added laughing. In 16 years as "the snake man," as he reminds his rattlers, Richardson has never been bitten, a surprising feat considering that all Richardson's snakes are fully venomous. "All my snakes have their fangs and all their venom," he told the crowd at the show. Several older children's jaws dropped when Richardson revealed that fact. Richardson added that though milking a rattler of its venom is a common practice, many rattlers still have at least 50 percent of their venom left after the process is complete which is still enough venom to kill someone. About halfway through the show, Richardson put on some gloves while explaining his motives. "Sweat irritates, aggravates and infuriates the snakes," he said. Moments later, one medium- sized rattler squirmed and rattled as Richardson attempted to hold its head properly so he could show the now-crowding children its fangs. "What's the matter with you?" He asked the snake as he handled it. "You're OK," he soothed. The grand finale of Richardson's first act was not as grand as he had hoped. While plucking rattlers out of the buckets, Richardson had a volunteer hold a balloon he planned to have a snake strike at and bite. Out of six different snakes four of which he allowed to crawl around on the floor of his glass cage while he was still in it not one popped the balloon, though several showed great promise. "After two months with me, they're almost tame," he told the skeptical crowd. "Remember me? I'm the snake man that saved you but you don't care," he teased with one rattler who appeared more intrigued with the crowd of children than with the balloon, even though Richard bopped it on the head softly trying to get its attention. Prior to the show, Richardson said more than 30 different species and subspecies of rattlers live in North America. Western and eastern diamondback rattlers make up the majority of the rattler population and high on the list when it comes down to bite fatalities. "Western and eastern diamondback rattlers make up 90 percent of bite-related deaths in America," Richardson said. By Thursday, Richardson's rattlers were striking and popping the balloon without fail, while a child volunteer held the balloon pole for him with eyes wide open. The West Texas Rattlesnake show treats fair-goers to 30 minutes of amazing, but creepy, entertainment and is definitely a mustsee at this year's Great Northern Fair.