The timber rattlesnake is a venomous snake largely found in the eastern United States. This snake is a species pit viper. It is also known as banded rattlesnake, American viper, black rattlesnake, canebrake, cane rattler, mountain rattlesnake, North American rattlesnake, pit viper, etc. It is one of the most dangerous species of snakes found in North America.
The timber rattlesnake is a large reptile that can reach a length of 3 to 4 feet. But sometimes, it can reach a length of about 5 feet as well. The snake can be yellow, brown, gray, or black in color, with cross bands or chevrons on its back side. The yellow snakes usually have black, or dark brown cross bands, while the brown, gray, and the black snakes have dark cross bands.
The head of this rattlesnake is large and angular in shape with many small scales. Some dark brown stripes can also be found behind its eyes. Its head contains temperature-sensitive pits near the eyes and the nostrils. The neck is relatively narrower than the head.
Scales are present on the entire body of the snake, and those present on the dorsal surface are ridged. However, the most distinguishing feature of a rattlesnake is the characteristic rattle present at the tip of its large, but short tail. The rattle is actually made of horn-like segments, and it produces a buzzing sound whenever it is vibrated. When a rattlesnake sheds off its skin, an additional segment gets added to its rattle.
Food and Habitat
This snake mainly feeds on small mammals, including birds, frogs, mice, squirrels, and sometimes amphibians and other snakes. The temperature-sensitive pits present on the head assist the snake in detecting a prey. These pits also help detect predators.
The snake usually remains motionless on the ground among the fallen tree trunks, and waits for the prey to come closer. Despite the large size of its body, the snake can remain concealed in its surrounding due to its skin color.
This rattlesnake generally inhabits the deciduous forests. It can be found in furrowed terrains, as it uses crevices for hibernation. Hibernation is a common behavior among rattlesnakes during winter, i.e., from October to April or May. In the United States, this rattlesnake can be found in more than 30 states.
The female rattlesnake usually reproduces only once in 3 to 4 years. It attains sexual maturity at the age of 7 to 11 years, and reproduces 3 - 5 times in its entire life. It gives birth to 6 - 10 young snakes at a time. One interesting fact about this rattlesnake is that the female snake produces eggs, but its keeps them inside the body, and the young ones are born after reaching a particular stage. Rattlesnakes can live up to 20 years or more.
Present Status and Conservation
The destruction of habitats, as well as the indiscriminate hunting by humans are the major threats faced by this rattlesnake. Previously, there was a system, known as the 'bounty system', through which awards were given for killing rattlesnakes. In 1971, this was declared an unlawful activity in New York, as a part of the conservation efforts.
In 1998, this rattlesnake was declared as a 'Protected Wild Animal', making its killing illegal. This snake was also declared to be a threatened species in Illinois and Minnesota, and as an endangered species in Indiana and Ohio. In 2001, the timber rattlesnake was listed as a near threatened species by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Though highly venomous, rattlesnakes are of mild disposition, and they usually do not strike unless provoked to do so. They also have the capacity to control venom while biting, and so, they sometimes bite without injecting venom. Den sites are very crucial for the survival of this reptile. So, habitat destruction and indiscriminate hunting pose a serious threat to the survival of this reptile. Moreover, the snake reproduces at a low rate, which further highlights the necessity of taking more conservation efforts for its protection.