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Islands hold particular allure for kayakers. In addition to offering the romance of remoteness, islands are home to a disproportionate share of the world’s rare and odd plants and animals, some of which live nowhere else on earth. We encountered 2 such endemics on Isla Santa Catalina during our Loreto Islands Challenge in October-November 2017: the rattleless rattlesnake and the giant barrel cactus.
The giant barrel cacti were hard to miss, even from our first landing. Some grow over 12 feet tall, more than twice as big as “normal” barrels. Giant barrel cacti make me smile. Young, shorter individuals, with their stoutness and their occasionally comical postures, ironically strike me as teddy-bear-like when the sun backlights their golden coat of spines.
Unlike nearby islands, Santa Catalina Island was never connected to the mainland, which means that the plants and animals that live there had to arrive by one means or another. Rafts of floating debris washed out by storms from mainland arroyos may have carried animals or seeds to the islands.
Thought to have lost its rattle due to a lack of predators, the rattleless rattlesnake often inspires the question, “How can you call it a rattlesnake if it has no rattle?”
It’s a bold move to let go of something that you’re identified with, even if you don’t need it any more. It is still a rattlesnake for genetic reasons and for structural reasons. Rattles of keratin–fingernail material–grow out of a “matrix” at the tip of the snake’s tail supported by fused vertebrae. The snake retains the fused vertebrae and the matrix, but each new rattle that is generated simply falls off.