Timber rattlesnake

Crotalus horridus




Crotalus horridus Linnaeus, 1758, "America," later restricted to the vicinity of New York City, United States. Two subspecies have been recognized, but this taxonomy has been questioned.


English: Canebrake (for southern populations); French: Crotale des bois; German: Waldklapperschlange.


This large, heavy-bodied snake reaches almost 5 ft (1.5 m) in total length; examples exceeding 6 ft (1.8 m) are known. The ground color of the dorsum may be yellow, gray, tan, or brown to black with dark chevron-shaped blotches. An orange to rust-colored vertebral stripe is present in many individuals; the stripe is especially prominent in snakes from the southern and western parts of the range. The tail is black with a large rattle at the tip. A postocular stripe may be present or absent. Ten to 17 supralabial, 158-183 ventral,13-30 subcaudal, and 21-26 midbody scale rows have been recorded for this species.


The snake occurs in the eastern United States from New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York south to Florida and west to Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.


Forested hillsides with rock outcrops are preferred den sites for northern populations of timber rattlesnakes, but males and nongravid females move into more densely canopied forest during the active season. Southern populations occur in hardwood forests of bottomland floodplains, wet pine flat woods, upland woodlands, and canebrakes (thickets of cane).


Communal dens are used for hibernation in the north, but in the south, snakes hibernate individually or in very small groups. During the active season, some individuals travel great distances from the den site; a migration of more than 4.3 mi (7 km) was documented for one male in a New York population.


Timber rattlesnakes forage mainly by ambush and may consume only 6-20 meals per year. They feed mainly on mammals but also take birds, lizards, snakes, anurans, and insects.


This species gives live birth to three to 19 (usually six to 10) young. Females may give birth every other year, every third year, or every fourth year; even longer intervals have been reported. Females do not produce their first litters until they have reached an age of four to nine years. Male combat has been observed (usually in April or May), but reports from

Louisiana indicate that combat there occurs in the fall.


This species is not listed by the IUCN. However, as of August 2002 the species is listed as threatened or endangered by eight U.S. states, and it is believed to be extirpated from Maine and Rhode Island and from Ontario, Canada. With its low reproductive rate and typically long-lived adults, this species is extremely vulnerable to human disturbance.


The bites of this dangerously venomous snake are potentially life-threatening. In Landscape with Reptile, Thomas Palmer recounts the long history of interactions between humans and timber rattlesnakes. There are elements of hope in this story but also much to regret about the toll that humans have taken on this beautiful and unusual species. ♦

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