The Timber Rattlesnake
Timber Rattlesnake Description
Average length--35 to 60 inches with some specimens recorded at over 74 inches.
Average weight--25 ounces with specimens recorded weighing almost 10 lbs.
Physical appearance--a gray or yellow brown background crossed with bands of black or brown edges in the shape of an M or V. This resembles a certain zig-zag pattern caused by the crossbands on the background.
Geographic Range--Predominately eastern US. North to Minnesota, New Hampshire and south to North Florida and east Texas.
Hibernation--In colder climates these snakes may seek shelter in animal burrows, rock crevices, hollow logs, or beneath old construction material or other dry shelter. They may also co-habit with other species of snake.
The Timber Rattler As An American Symbol
Rattlesnakes--including the timber rattlesnake--are truly American reptiles. No other country can claim--nor likely would want to--their species as being indigenous to the landscape. Crotalus horridus is the Latin designation for the timber rattlesnake species and for a good reason.
Among the 32 other species, and around 70 sub-species of rattlesnakes, the timber rattler is alone in once being used as a symbol on a flag during the American Revolution. “Don’t tread on me” became a slogan for the colonies and meant to be a warning to those who would tamper with their liberties and rights.
Since medical science was almost non-existent in dealing with the venomous bite of any rattlesnake, the warning was more than merely a threat. Besides this, the timber rattlesnake was the only species of rattler indigenous to the northeastern United States and therefore, well known to the political headquarters and patriotic adherents of our young nation.
Small does not mean less dangerous.
Are Timber Rattlers Aggressive Towards Humans?
It's true thetimber rattlesnake--and other rattlesnake species in general--often get a bad rep for being aggressive towards humans and other animals.
On the contrary, they simply wish to be left alone to hunt for small animals, birds and frogs and to eventually make other little snakes to replace them when they've gone.
Since these interesting reptiles are pit-vipers--having pits behind their eyes which detect heat--they can tell if the creature confronting them is large or small in size and therefore a threat.
In this case, discretion is the better part of valor for a timber rattler as it will try to slither away if at all possible.
Remember this if you encounter one in the wild. Move away and leave the snake alone. It will not chase or follow you, despite what some may say to the contrary. In all of my many years I've never observed any snake chase a human.
Surprisingly, these snakes do have natural enemies in the wilderness. When very young they are easily killed by both birds and larger animals. Hawks and eagles prey on both small and large rattlesnakes in certain conditions.
As a farmer I have watched on more than one occasion as a red tailed hawk pounced down and flew off with a rattlesnake in its talons. With the snake still squirming the hawk headed for the trees to finish off the unlucky serpent.
Hunter and Hunted!
More Threats to the Timber Rattlesnake
Wild hogs love a fat snake and even deer have been known to paw them to death with their hooves. Coyotes and fox also may use them for a meal if the situation arises. King snakes are especially adept at trailing, catching, and swallowing timber rattlesnakes as well. But today man is the major threat to these once numerous creatures.
Many timber rattlers--along with the other species of reptiles--are killed when they cross highways and roads. They have a tendency to bask their cold-blooded bodies on warm surfaces, thus our roads fit this function perfectly. Even if only crossing the road the snake is exposed to both automobiles and predators for a short period of time.
The constant spread of cities and other types of urban sprawl is steadily decreasing the habitat of all snakes and animals with the timber rattler being no exception. It is already endangered or threatened over many parts of its former habitat.
Catching and relocating a timber rattlesnake
How dangerous--venomous- are they?
Although a timber rattler will try to frighten off attackers with its rattling sound and coiled up defensive position, if stepped upon or suddenly attacked it may strike very quickly.
If the snake injects a full dose of venom the bite can be fatal to the attacker or intruder. If the snake has fed lately the bite may be considered "dry" since the venom may have been recently used and not yet replaced. But there's no way to know how venomous the bite may be until it has happened.
At the very least a serious strike will cause severe discomfort and swelling with possible loss of limbs or tissue. But thanks to modern medical techniques there are now several types of rattlesnake anti-venom for both humans and some pets.
Depending on their particular geographic area, timber rattlesnake venom may consist of neurotoxins, and both hemorrhagic and proteolytic toxins. These substances may cause swelling, severe pain, and loss of life or limb if not treated promptly.
Do not try and cut the fang marks or try and suck out the poison as once recommended. Nerve damage or blood loss may be the result. Seek medical assistance as soon as possible for the best case scenario.
How to catch a timber rattlesnake
Help a species survive.
The timber rattler has its own niche in our world. Sure, it's getting smaller everyday. but it is still important in the scheme of things. Many rodents become food for these lonely creatures. Rodents which don't make it into our neighborhoods and homes.
So please just leave these creatures alone and they will do the same for you. After all, they have been in the Americas many thousands of years longer than us mere humans.
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A must for walking in dense undergrowth where rattlesnakes may be hidden.