The Timber Rattler is designated a threatened species in New York State. The fact that they are in our area helps to stave off wholesale development of our surrounding woodlands. Treat these animals with respect, and do not kill them.
The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is a Threatened Species in New York State. It is illegal to take, import, transport, possess, or sell an animal listed as Threatened. Measuring from 3-4.5 feet (91-137 cm) or more in length, the timber rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in New York. The record length is six feet 2½ inches (189 cm). Timber rattlers impress one as being very stocky due to their stout stature and heavy musculature. Despite their size, cryptic coloration allows them to be easily concealed. Two color patterns are commonly found: Yellow Phase, and Black Phase.
The yellow phase is characterized by black or dark brown cross-bands on a lighter background color of yellow, brown or gray. The black phase demonstrates dark cross-bands on a dark background. Black or dark brown stippling also occurs to varying degrees, to the extent that some individuals appear all black.
Scales are ridged (known as “keeled”), giving this rattlesnake a rough-skinned appearance. The timber rattler has a broadly triangular head with many small scales on the crown of the head bordered by a few large scales on the top of the head. The eyes of a timber rattlesnake are elliptical (“cat eyes”).
All timber rattlesnakes want to be left alone and may defend themselves when threatened, although they often try to escape before engaging in conflict when molested. Bites are extremely rare and typically occur when people harass individual snakes by picking them up or attacking them. To a lesser extent, people are occasionally bitten when accidentally stepping on a concealed snake. Some snakes will sit along the side of the trail, and people miss them. Timber Rattlesnakes will often cradle in blueberry bushes next to a rock ledge. These snakes blend in so well that you often cannot see them when you are looking directly at them.
You need to realize that Timber Rattlesnakes are protected in New York, as they are considered a “Threatened” species. It is against the law to annoy them, harm them, or kill them. Further, habitat they use for life functions considered critical for survival (e. g., denning, foraging, mating, birthing, etc.) is also protected from alteration. You may carefully move one out of your way with a long stick, if you are certain this is your only option to pass by one, but walking around the animal is a much better solution. It is rare for a person to find themselves in a scenario where they cannot simply walk around the animal.
As ambush predators, these animals lie in wait for their meals to come to them. They eat almost exclusively small mammals, such as chipmunks, voles, and mice. They have very special adaptations for feeding which include venom, retractable fangs, cryptic coloration, chemoreception (incredible sense of smell used to find the exact location where to sit and wait for a meal to scurry past), and the ability to sense very subtle vibrations (using their chins to detect when a meal is approaching). In fact, a timber rattlesnake may wait for weeks in the same location, waiting for a targeted mouse to pass a particular spot so it can ambush it.
Because they rely so heavily on their natural camouflage, timber rattlesnakes often do not move when a person passes near. Indeed, the person may have no idea they just passed a rattlesnake!
Timber rattlers invest a great deal of energy and time lingering in a given location, anticipating their next meal. This perhaps explains their reluctance to move away from perceived disturbances.
The timber rattler’s venom is not primarily a defensive weapon. These snakes do not want to use their venom for anything except catching and digesting food. As a cold-blooded animal that depends upon sunlight and external heat for metabolic energy, the venom aids in quickly and efficiently digesting the protein components of their food.
The Timber Rattlesnake is found around Yankee Lake. These snakes, although venomous, are rarely a threat to humans. All efforts should be taken to protect these animals. We have seen a few that were hit by vehicles on area roads. Although many drivers will swerve or stop short to prevent hitting a squirrel or chipmunk, we need to react the same way when a snake is in the road. You should never deliberately run over one of these snakes.
The existence of a threatened species near Yankee Lake helps our cause to stop the development of the woods around the lake.
Female timber rattlesnakes do not reproduce until they are at least 8 years old, and then only give birth to 4-10 offspring every 3-5 years. Yes, they give birth to live young. Timber rattlers are ovoviviparous, carrying fertilized eggs internally, where they hatch. The mother then subsequently gives birth to live young. Hatchlings become independent of their mothers after they shed their first skin, about a week or ten days after birth.
Because females do not begin reproducing until age eight, and only produce a brood every 3-5 years thereafter, deaths of these snakes on roads (accidental or otherwise) must be prevented. It is a species that doesn’t reproduce in quantities that allow it to recover quickly. Habitat loss, especially due to high density residential, agricultural, and commercial developments, will increase the risk of human/animal conflict, the probability of snakes getting hit on roads, and predation of young by hawks, coyotes, foxes, skunks, etc.
1. If you come upon a snake in the wild, leave it alone. Give it lots of room (at least 10 feet) and chances are, it will either remain still while you walk by, or it will move along to get out of your way. Timber rattlesnakes will not strike unless provoked.
2. If you find a live snake in the road, drive around it. Do not attempt to move it or run over it. If you are near a phone, call authorities so they can decide whether or not to pick it up to relocate it. If possible, stay near the animal (but more than 10 feet away) to prevent other drivers from running it over until authorities arrive or the animal moves off the road on its own. You can call animal control or 911. You may also contact the NYS DEC Division of Law Enforcement dispatch at (877) 457-5680.
3. If you find a dead snake in the road, do not touch it or pick it up. A recently killed venomous snake can still inject venom. Leave it alone and call the authorities.
4. Timber rattlesnake bites are very rare. However, if you are bitten by a rattlesnake, do not attempt to treat the bite site yourself. Remain calm (keep your heart rate low) and call 911 to get you to a hospital emergency room to assess the bite and administer antivenin if needed. There has not been a documented fatal timber rattlesnake bite in the wild in over 100 years!
(There have been deaths in religious sects that intentionally molest venomous snakes during church services and refuse medical treatment when bitten. But, these are not considered to be bites “in the wild.”)
The endangered and threatened species that live around Yankee Lake are our best defense against overdevelopment and destruction of our natural resources. Please help protect these animals. Timber Rattlesnakes may be one of our greatest allies in protecting the natural and undeveloped Whale’s Tail, along with maintaining the quality of life we all desire at Yankee Lake.