The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 9, 2008

House honors timber rattlesnake as state’s official reptile

Mannix Porterfield

CHARLESTON — After depleting its stack of bills to act on Saturday night, there was nothing left for the Senate to do but pick up a snake.

Not literally, of course.

And the resolution honoring the timber rattlesnake as West Virginia’s official reptile took more twists and turns through this legislative session than a live one.

What complicated matters was the House’s inclusion of the legacy of a far more menacing creature — an actual fossil of a bear-like animal that roamed in prehistoric times.

Known as the Megalonyx Jeffersonnii, the fossil was discovered in Organ Cave by President Thomas Jefferson, and now lies on display in a Philadelphia museum.

Senators balked at the latter resolution, crafted by Delegate Mike Burdiss, D-Wyoming.

“He was 10 feet tall and weighed over 1,000 pounds,” Burdiss said of the now extinct animal. “Big, huge. Walked on two feet. Had three big claws. Huge animal.”

By designating it as West Virginia’s official fossil, Burdiss hopes to fetch Jefferson’s find and bring it back to the Mountain State.

Senators apparently didn’t know what the fossil was all about, figured Sen. Jon Blair Hunter, D-Monongalia.

Once the explanation was given, however, it was too late, or so the Senate thought. In the final hour of the session, the House worked feverishly to get it returned to the Senate, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, had begun the process with the timber rattler in deference to the wishes of a fifth-grade class at Romney Elementary School.

Students picked the rattler as something they could track in the session as a lesson on civics and government.

“I’d say they are very happy now,” Barnes reflected, now that their resolution made it into the historic pages of the Legislature.

While the resolution was in doubt, the students were clearly disappointed.

Sen. Shirley Love, D-Fayette, who signed on with Barnes, emphasized the “official reptile” status in no way means the rattler enjoys protected status.

“If I see one in the woods, I’ll blow its head off,” he said. “If I see one, he’s dead.”

Hunter and Love worked their final session, since both are heading into retirement and found it amusing their final duty was to deal with a snake.

Pointing to the floor to signify the crawl space of a reptile, Hunter quipped, “We’re leaving on a low note.”

— E-mail:

mannix@register-herald.com