A few months ago, my family did a small hike together. It was a super low- key walk up the little canyon behind the Natural History Museum of Utah. We had a small picnic, did a little bit of sketching, then decided to head back home.
On our way back down the trail, we ran across a snake (which is common on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail) I took a look at the black diamond pattern on the snake's back and quietly encouraged my kids to stay clear - remembering that I’ve seen rattlesnakes with the very same patterns in the same vicinity. Then my son said brightly:
Dad,it's a non-venomous gopher snake – it has a skinny head – I read the sign.
I asked him: “what sign?” As we approached the parking lot, he showed me the prominent warning sign outside the museum with information from Wild Aware Utah and verified that indeed we had seen a gopher snake, whose markings are similar to our local rattlesnakes. One key difference is the head shape. Rattlesnakes have wide heads; gopher snakes have narrow heads.
The sign got me thinking: is the Tectonic Snake a rattlesnake? Or is it actually a Gopher Snake? The Tectonic Snake is locally designed and made and it's also meant to be a local snake. It doesn’t actually have a rattle, but some rattlesnakes are rattle-less.
I've always been a fan of rattlesnakes; it is incredible that they have such a unique way of warning you before they strike! And the rattle itself is also an interesting design (photo, Jud McCranie):
However, our Tectonic Snake is not meant to be a literal snake replica, rather it's a product of inspiration, so the interpretation about it's snake species is still open. An early design iteration had a wide head but looked kind of creepy so we narrowed it to keep it in proportion with the chain links. Also, the Tectonic Snake’s eyes are on top rather than on the side of its head to give it a less aggressive appearance.
Unlike the streamlined flesh and smooth skin of gopher snakes and rattle snakes, the body of the Tectonic Snake is built from individual wooden links inspired by a bicycle chain. The links are fastened together with stainless steel bolts which allows the Tectonic Snake's body to articulate or drape.
The Tectonic Snake is a gentle creature who can be used for play, or as a sculptural figurine for your living room.
It is available on our website, or at the Natural History Museum of Utah Museum Store. You can either buy it as a rattle snake, or a gopher snake; and you are free to change your mind when you get home.
But on your way out, beware of rattlesnakes!