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“Adaptive Behavior of Crotalus Admanteus” - and Gold
(May 6, 2003) On the fringes of Arizona cities such as Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson, a growing number of people live in close contact with the Sonoran Desert wilderness. Here you can enjoy the beauty of the desert and encounter the many wonders of nature, including a poisonous reptile known as the diamondback rattlesnake.
A colleague of ours who has lived for a few years in a semi-developed area of north Scottsdale is no stranger to creatures of the desert. On his 2.5 acre property, he has encountered coyotes, roadrunners, desert tortoises, and a poison-bearing toad that once nearly killed his Labrador retriever. And, yes, more than once he’s seen rattlesnakes.

Out behind his house he had built a garage/workshop, and that building housed a project that he spent time on now and then - a vintage Jeep that he was in the process of restoring. Since he was usually busy with business and family, he didn’t very often get a chance to work on that old jalopy.

But one warm spring Saturday just this past April, he found time to take up wrench and sander once again. He spent about a half hour or so getting started on it, crossing the garage often to get a tool, until finally something caught his eye under a workbench: a 5-foot long rattler silently coiled and ready to strike.

My friend jumped, probably halfway out of his skin. He jumped again, stepped back and let the adrenaline flow through him. He took a good look at the snake that was silently eyeing him. It was ready to strike. If my friend hadn’t moved out of the way, that diamondback would have effectuated a swift strike and inflicted its nasty and painful bite. It was coiled and ready.

But the odd thing is, the rattlesnake never rattled.

For rattlesnakes over the ages, the rattling noise that it made protected the snake. The rattlesnake would instinctively shake the rattles in his tail whenever threatened, to warn off larger predators that this was a dangerous snake, and not just an easy snack. The distinctive rattle sound registered instantly with almost all the animals native to the snake’s habitat. The message was clear - this is a reptile to be avoided.

So why didn’t the rattlesnake in my friend’s garage rattle?

A week or so later, he got his answer while watching “The Jeff Corwin Experience” on the Discovery Channel.

According to Mr. Corwin, it seems that rattlesnakes living in proximity to people have adapted a behavior of not rattling when confronted with humans. The ones that do rattle, tend to get killed by people who don’t feel like sharing their desert backyards with poisonous serpents.

Those rattlesnakes that live close to humans, and happen not to rattle, will live longer. They will therefore get more chances to reproduce, perhaps with other rattlers who have survived because they are also shy about rattling. So, a natural selection occurs that favors the survival of discreetly silent rattlesnakes in desert areas inhabited by both humans and rattlers.

As Charles Darwin put it long ago, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

Survival, for snakes and for humans, is often a matter of adaptation. A proper response to your environment can make all the difference in your chances of survival. By responding to the changes going on around you, you can increase your chances of living longer (if you’re a rattlesnake in the suburbs) or living better (if you’re a human being in today’s economic environment).

Today, you can still hear people rattling on about the stock market. And because common stocks are the building blocks of most people’s retirement plans, you can hear an enormous chorus of hisses and rattles anytime the cult of equities is threatened or called into question. It’s a perfectly natural defensive behavior.

But an investment strategy that worked for nearly two decades (1982-2000) is by no means going to work forever. Stuff happens. Things change. And the beginning of an upturn in gold prices two years ago, and the weakness in the dollar today, tell us that we’re no longer in the boom years of the strong-dollar 1990s.

As James Sinclair stated in this month’s “Futures” magazine, “Those that believe that the resolution of the Iraq war itself is super bullish for general equities and bearish for gold are kidding themselves. The economic implications of guns, butter and rebuilding is an impossible equation that has enormous pro-gold implications long term.”

Many people are taking the quiet route into personal ownership of wealth itself, and that is gold. But you won’t hear much noise from this gold crowd. Gold ownership is a private affair, and participants feel more secure keeping their mouths shut about it. And you’re not likely to hear anything from gold’s supportive infrastructure, because it really doesn’t have one. You certainly won’t hear about gold from banks, brokerage houses, or most financial planners. You won’t hear anything about gold ownership on TV, or in the popular press. Therefore, for the average person, gold is a mystery that he or she will not find out about until it is too late.

Quietly, people are converting assets to gold, in response to changes in the economic and monetary environment. They are acting in the interests of their own financial survival.

As Charles Darwin put it long ago, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”


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