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Plush prairie rattlesnake educates public about common snake on the Great Plains

December 5, 2018

BAYARD - The Prairie rattlesnake has existed on the Great Plains for millennia. One unique specimen can be found at Chimney Rock National Historic Site.

Ricky the rattlesnake, a plush “hug-toy” has been at the Chimney Rock visitors center since November telling the story of his kin. Ricky highlights facts about his species through an educational card attached to him.

Prairie rattlesnakes have witnessed a time when their only fear was being trampled by bison roaming the plains. As time went on, prairie rattlesnakes had to find ways to avoid wagons, carts and eventually motor vehicles, which would easily kill them. Though they only travel about seven miles from their dens in the summer, they spent their lives in the past avoiding humans that would kill them for fear, food and/or their skin. Today there is still a risk of death, but they spend a lot of time in shaded areas keeping cool and wandering out into the sun when they needed warmth. They eat up to three times their body weight, consuming mainly rodents, but also bird, rabbits, frogs and toads.

Ricky is a little over three feet in length, typical of the size of most prairie rattlesnakes. Though the prairie rattlesnake is common from Texas to Canada, most depictions of the snake have been made of wood or plastic.

Reddish said Bill and Jan Hill did a good job in creating Ricky, by making Ricky exactly what you would typically find in the wild.

“They got the stripes on the head and the belly right,” said Sandra Reddish, historic sites coordinator for History Nebraska. “And they got the lids above the eyes.”

Prairie rattlesnakes are identified by their white- or cream-colored stripes on its head. The head is triangular in shape and its neck is thinner than the rest of its body.

About a year ago, Bill and Jan Hill, of Hill House W, were visiting Chimney Rock National Historical Site when Reddish suggested a prairie rattlesnake.

“Everything I found was wood-jointed, plastic, in a strike position or remote control,” Reddish said. “Ricky is unique.”

Not all the ideas suggested to the Hills are created, but after doing research they found they may be the first to create a plush prairie rattlesnake. With improvements in technology, techniques, methods and materials, making Ricky come to live became more than just an idea.

“We‘ve always wanted our animals to be both appealing and realistic,” Bill Hill said. “The balance between the two has varied depending on our animals.”

These advances have allowed for more realism, but the task to get all of them true to nature is still difficult due to complexity of design and required details.

“We usually start by doing some research to see what is available and the cost/quality range of similar items,” Hill said. “If we think it might be feasible, we make sketches and drawings of the animal we will to have made.”

Photographs of real animals are also used. A prototype is developed, reviewed and modifications requested as needed. In the case of Ricky, four prototypes were made before sending in a final order.

“Prairie Rattlesnake coloring varies widely,” Hill said. “We knew we could not make them all so we settled on one after consulting with other people – including Sandra.”

Ricky’s length, skin pattern and coloring are realistic. His head and much of his body are thicker and larger to make him more appealing. Ricky’s rattle is another realistic touch that is not overpowering.

When Charlotte Hogg and her son visited Chimney Rock, Reddish and Hogg struck up a conversation about Hogg’s book, “From the Garden Club” about Paxton, Nebraska. Hogg’s eight-year-old son loved rattlesnakes and Reddish said Ricky would be arriving soon. Hogg, who now lives in Texas, was on vacation after her all-school high school reunion in Paxton. Visiting Chimney Rock, the museum and gift shop was a must-do event.

“It is an important historical landmark for the area, and I wanted my son to learn more about it,” Hogg said. “He enjoyed the interactivity at the museum (the film, filling the weight of the wagon, etc.) and was intrigued by the signs outside the museum about rattlesnakes in the area.”

After Ricky arrived, Hogg received an email from Reddish, who subsequently helped put Hogg in touch with History Nebraska to get Ricky via mail order. Hogg is eagerly awaiting his arrival. Ricky will be a Christmas present for her son.

Ricky will be available at other museums, visitor centers and local, state and national parks along his native habitat. Locally, you can purchase him at Chimney Rock, 9822 County Rd 75, Bayard.

You can visit Hill House W at http://www.hillhousew.net.

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