Saturday, June 9, 2012

Snake, Rattle, and Roll

These past couple of weeks have been fairly busy (and it wasn’t the Avengers movie this time, although Men in Black 3 was entertaining); instead, I have recently returned from an adventure to the northern Midwest. Shortly upon returning home, I packed everything and moved up to New Jersey. I will be in the Garden State for the summer, working at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge.

While on my adventure, I had the pleasure of exploring some great prairie bluffs with a variety of folks. Without them, my trip would have not been nearly as fascinating or rewarding.

We looked a few different places for the snakes, and it looking through brush and under shelf-rocks.
Venomous snakes should never  be handled with bare hands, so snake hooks were used hold them and
release them.

Perhaps my favorite one of my favorite experience was finding my first wild rattlesnake. In this case it was the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus “The horrid rattle tail”). Like many of the world’s critters, these snakes are declining across their range in the Midwest, South, and Northeast. Besides its loss of habitat, snakes receive a fair amount of persecution.

 The famous rattle of the rattlesnake. This individual had a surprisingly large rattle,
as they can often break.

The timber rattlesnake, which can grow up to almost 6 feet, has been exterminated by shotgun, by car (snakes are an easy target on the road), and by yearly roundups in some locales (killings of almost entire snake populations). Historically the snake was considered for our national animal (think “Don’t Tread On Me”), and Benjamin Franklin considered the timber rattlesnake to be of higher character than the bald eagle.

Timbers are relatively rare, are secretive, and are mild-mannered compared to other vipers (like many other venomous snakes, timbers have infrared sensing “pits” nears their eyes and nostrils”). They like south-facing woodlands, montane regions, rock shelf, pine savanna, and swamps.

A brief video of one of our encounters. This dude suprised us while he was basking,
and then he headed straight for his home under the boulder.

While timbers are often killed because of the fear they impose, they rarely bite humans unless greatly provoked. Sometimes they will strike defensively with a closed mouth. Mostly, timbers use their potent venom to hunt small mammals—namely mice (38%) and chipmunks/squirrels (25%). Interestingly, timbers only eat 6-20 meals annually, and over a year, they eat twice their body weight mass. I have to say, I would love my grocery bill if I could eat that little. Unfortunately, I will never have the metabolism of an ectotherm.

All facts were from publications found in Snakes of the United States and Canada authored by Ernst and Ernst.


  1. Interesting stuff, Dave. Glad for the snake hook.

  2. Awesome post David! Glad you had fun up north. Good luck this summer and keep us posted!

    1. Will do, looks like your internship is treating you well too

  3. That video clip and sound is awesome!

    1. Yea I was worried that the sound wouldn't turn out, but thankfully it did.

  4. the only reason you shouldn't handle venomous snakes with your bare hands that they could bite you?

    Also, that is a very large snake. I think you feel about reptiles like I feel about horses.