What is a Timber Rattlesnake?

Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

Formally known as Crotalus horridus, the timber rattlesnake is a member of the pit viper family. Reptiles in this family have heat sensitive organs that help to accommodate carnivorous diets. Timber rattlesnakes are native to the United States (US). They can be found in places such as New York, Michigan, and Tennessee.

With regards to the timber rattlesnake’s physical details, the New York Department of Conservation says two color patterns are commonly found: a yellow phase, which has black or dark brown crossbands on a lighter background color of yellow, brown or gray, and a black phase, which has dark crossbands on a dark background. Some of these rattlesnakes may appear to be all black, but it is unlikely for that to actually be the case if they are closely examined.

Being pit vipers, timber rattlesnakes are equipped with organs known as pits. These are openings on each side of the snake’s nostrils that are heat sensitive. Pits are useful because they can allow these snakes to sense warm blooded animals that they prey upon, such as chipmunks and mice.

Another notable feature of these snakes is their fangs, which are long and hollow. The fangs rest against the top of the snake’s mouth when they are not needed. When the snake considers using his fangs, he can bring them forward. The fangs have openings that allow these reptiles to inject large amounts of venom into their enemies. Timber rattlesnake venom is poisonous and it can be fatal to human beings.

This American rattlesnake is a bit unique when compared with others in his family. Whereas most rattlesnakes generally like to live in deserts or prairies, the timber rattlesnake likes forests. It can swim and may be found around water during the spring or summer. It can also be found basking on rocks in open areas in the forest, though it is believed these reptiles like isolation.

These snakes only tend to be active for approximately four to seven months per year. They usually emerge at some time during the spring to begin the period of year when they mate and feed. During the fall, before extreme drops in temperature, they return to dens, which they often share with other types of snakes.

Timber rattlesnakes are known to use their sense of smell for two purposes. First, the males follow the scent of females when they are ready to mate. Second, the babies follow the scent of adults to find their way to the den after birth.

When a timber rattlesnake is born, it is generally about 1 foot (30 cm). It is likely to live 16-22 years. There are some instances in which these snakes have been known to reach 30, although such a lifespan greatly exceeds what is considered average.

Many states have regulations regarding human interaction with these snakes. In Connecticut, for example, these reptiles have been deemed endangered, making it an offense to kill them. In New York, although they are not considered endangered, bounty killings, which were once popular, have been outlawed. These measures have been taken because a drastic decline in this snake’s overall population has been noted.

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