Crotalus horridus, is one of Ohio's three venomous snake species. It is the second most common, with the Copperhead being the most common, and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake being the rarest. Although many people think we also have Water Moccasins (also known as Cottonmouths) in Ohio, they are found nowhere in Ohio.
|The current range of the Timber Rattlesnake in Ohio. Map courtesy of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.|
The photo above shows the "business end" of a Timber Rattlesnake. All three venomous snakes in Ohio are pit vipers (subfamily Crotalinae). The main characteristic of the pit vipers are loreal pits, a deep depression with an infrared detecting organ. You can see this pit in the photo above; look for the light-colored circle to the lower right of the eye. This organ helps detect small animals much like heat-sensing goggles. And of course like all rattlesnakes, this is a venomous species. Timber Rattlesnake bites are a very serious event, and can be fatal. Luckily bites are rare. Timber Rattlesnakes have a very mild disposition; they will often only attempt to bite as a last resort. It takes serious provoking to get one of these to try and bite, and a person should never put themselves in a situation where they are provoking a rattlesnake. Animals in general do not like to bite or attack. Most will only do so as a last resort if they fear for their lives. Think about it: by attacking, they are exposing themselves to possible injury or death. It's much safer to simply run away. Unless you're stepping on one, poking, or something similar, a Timber Rattlesnake will often just slither away from you. Regardless, you should stay at least 5 feet away from one if you do stumble across one.
Myth time: It is often said that you can tell the age of a rattlesnake by how many segments are on the rattle. This is a completely unreliable method for a few reasons. First, rattlesnakes do indeed add segments as they age; however, they add a segment every time they shed their skin. The kicker is that they may shed their skin multiple times a year, adding multiple segments in a year. On top of that, it is relatively easy for part of the rattle to break off. Rattlesnakes take great care in trying to preserve their rattle, but segments do break off in day-to-day life. As you can see, it would be impossible to tell the age of an individual from the number of segments.
|Crossing a road puts Timber Rattlesnakes, as well as many other reptile and amphibian species, at risk. A car going quickly down this road would not have seen the snake in time and would have accidentally ran it over.|
Forests have come back in southern Ohio, but the Timber Rattlesnake still faces many threats. For one, this is still a hated and feared species for many people, and killings still occur. Second, this species reproduces slowly. Sure, there's now more forest habitat than there was 100 years ago, but it is unsure whether the Timber Rattlesnake populations still in existence will ever recolonize these new areas. Sadly, Timbers are nearly impossible to reintroduce to new areas too. They use one den their entire life, and if moved to a new area they will try to get back to their old den, resulting in death when winter comes. As a result, captive breeding and reintroduction programs would be highly unsuccessful. Another threat the Timber Rattlesnake faces is alteration of their habitat. Roads and highways have fragmented the forest and this species, like many others, falls victim to cars. On top of that, there is threat from the state government. Most of the populations left in Ohio are restricted to State Forests. Unlike State Parks, parts of State Forests are essentially leased out to logging companies. These companies will selectively log parts of the forest, resulting in habitat destruction. A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch has highlighted another problem. The Division of Forestry does prescribed burns in the State Forests to promote oak and hickory tree growth. These trees make for good timber, and this makes the forests more attractive to potential logging companies, meaning the state can lease the land for more money. Due to the state laws surrounding endangered species, the Division of Forestry cannot burn or allow logging in areas where the Timber Rattlesnake is specifically known to live, leading to decreased profits which has angered many officials. Once again, we are faced with another "Spotted Owl vs. Timber Companies" scenario, where tensions are rising between those for wildlife conservation and those for jobs and money.
|I see you.|
This ended up being a much longer post than I anticipated, but this is a species that I'm so excited to write about. It's always a wonderful pleasure to see and write on an endangered species, especially a species as awesome as a rattlesnake! Thanks for reading!