Timber Rattlesnake Fact File
The timber rattlesnake is a large species of venomous snake found across eastern North American. They are considered to be extinct in Canada.
As a venomous species they will bite prey species including small mammals and birds. They then wait for the prey to die before they will swallow it whole.
Females give birth to live young. These animals mature at high ages making populations slow to recover if they are reduced.
They have been suffering declines in their population as a result of habitat loss and hunting for sport or due to bounties.
Read on to learn more about these remarkable reptiles.
What does the timber rattlesnake look like?
These reptiles have variable coloration across their range. Their body is patterned with alternating bands of light and dark color. In the north these may be brown, grey or black while in the south they are typically lighter shads such as tan and yellow. On their underside they are colored cream.
In all individuals the end of the body is colored black. Their scales are keeled which gives the body a rough appearance.
Their head is triangular in shape. This is colored yellow, tan or gray. A dark line runs back from the eye to the jaw.
The coloration of these snakes will provide them camouflage on the forest floor helping to make them ‘invisible’ when waiting for prey.
An average timber rattlesnake will measure between 89 and 190cm (35 and 75in) long. Males tend to be larger than females.
What does the timber rattlesnake eat?
Timber rattlesnakes are carnivores. Their diet includes small mammals such as squirrels, mice, chipmunks, birds, small reptiles such as lizards and snakes. They may also consume carrion.
When waiting for prey they will sit motionless while waiting for it to get close enough to strike at.
On either side of the head is a heat-sensitive pit which allows them to sense prey.
These snakes are equipped with a venom which is potent enough to kill a human. If bitten by a snake one should always seek medical treatment. Once prey is bitten they will wait for it to die and then consume it.
Credit: Public Domain
Where can you find the timber rattlesnake?
North America is the native home of the timber rattlesnake. Here they can be found in the east of the country. At present they are restricted to the United States.
The species has gone extinct in Canada where they formally lived in the south of the country.
What kind of environment does the timber rattlesnake live in?
These animals make their home in forests, wetlands and rocky areas.
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How does the timber rattlesnake produce its young?
Breeding takes place in spring soon after this species leaves its annual hibernation in spring or summer.
Before mating can commence the males will fight over breeding rights with the female. The two intertwine their bodies and attempt to push the front half of the opponents body to the ground.
Successful males will perform a courtship display for the female in which he rubs his head and body against her before curling his tail under hers.
Young are born live. It may include 5 to 14 young. They are lighter in color than adults.
At birth the juveniles have a single rattle segment. As they shed their skin they develop additional tail segments. Some will become weak and break off as the rattle grows.
Young may remain with their mother for 7 to 10 days after birth before they disperse and are independent.
A female will breed once every three to four years. Sexual maturity is reached at 4 years old but many individuals do not breed till later in life.
What does the timber rattlesnake do with its day?
These animals undergo a hibernation. This may occur in a group with other rattlesnakes or copperheads and rat snakes. It takes place in a mammal burrow, rock crevice or tree stump.
They need to regulate their own body temperature as they are an ectotherm. This is often undertaken on a rock ledge or bluff. During the hottest periods of the year they seek shelter during the day and emerge at night.
Timber rattlesnakes are able swimmers and have also been seen climbing.
Credit: Public Domain
Predators and Threats
What is impacting the survival of the timber rattlesnake?
Natural predators of the timber rattlesnake include birds of prey such as hawks, bobcats, coyotes, skunks and larger snakes. Predators mainly take young with few able to consume adults.
While the total adult population of the timber rattlesnake is estimated at over 100,000 they are believed to be in decline. The species has suffered dramatic declines across much of their range.
Their decline is being driven by a range of factors including habitat destruction mainly from housing developments in their range and for logging. Some habitat is also subject to shading over which can cause the habitat to become unsuitable.
Hunting takes place subject to bounties and for sport.
They may be the subject of vehicle strikes. Habitat fragmentation through the building of roads can impact this. Gravid females appear to be disproportionately affected by this.
Timber rattlesnakes were first described for western science in 1758.
This species may also be known as the American viper, black rattlesnake, timber rattler or canebrake.
Their scientific name Horridus comes from the Latin for ‘bristly’ and is thought to refer to the snake’s rough texture.
Credit: Peter Paplanus from St. Louis, Missouri, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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