Eastern Timber Rattlesnake

From Ohio History Central

The most dangerous snakes are the rattlesnakes. They are yellow in color, marked with black spots. The largest are about four feet long, sometimes more, and about as thick as an arm. The rattles are at the end of their tails, and often betray the snakes when they are not seen….When the rattling sound is heard, it is a sign that the serpent is angry, the trembling of the tail causing the rattling…. On wither side of the mouth they have two very sharp teeth, which lie concealed in a skin sack until they want to bite, when they are able to move these forward with great swiftness. Hence, it is that when anyone has been bitten four little openings close together may be seen in the skin. If a rattlesnake has been killed,…and one draws forward the teeth with a little stick, a clear liquid spurts out of the bag lying at the root of the teeth. This is the poisonous juice.

David Zeisberger, History of North American Indians, 1779-1780.

The coloring of the Eastern timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus horridus) ranges from yellow to brown or gray to black. It has a series of dark chevron-shaped crossbands. It has a noticeable, rattle on the end of its tail.

Pairs will breed in August and April, shortly afterward the female will give birth to 15 - 17 live young. At maturity, adults will reach a length of three to four feet, with a maximum of six feet. They can live up to thirty years.

The timber rattlesnake is the most dangerous venomous snake in northeastern America. However, bites are not common. It is normally calm, preferring to stay coiled and motionless or crawl away when bothered. If threatened though, the timber rattlesnake will rise up and shake its rattle, giving a warning before striking - only when necessary. Rattlesnakes can strike up to 1/3 to 1/2 of their body length.

Approximately 8,000 people are bitten every year in North America. Of this number, less than ten deaths occur.

They are diurnal during the spring and fall but become nocturnal in the hot summer months. During the winter, it will hibernate with a number of snakes including the black rat snake and copperhead.

Historically, the timber rattlesnake had a wider range. In the early 1800s it was found in 24 Ohio counties. In the 1930s it was found on some islands in Lake Erie. Scientists and wildlife officers do not believe they still inhabit the northern region because there have been no sightings in the area since the 1950s. With Ohio's development from rural to urban, the rattlesnake's range has shrunk considerably. Today the species is found in the southeastern portion of Ohio in remote areas such as Pike, Shawnee, Tar Hollow and Zaleski state forests, preferring a habitat of dry, wooded hill country where they will prey on squirrels, mice and other small rodents, and small birds.

The eastern timber rattlesnake is on Ohio's Endangered Species list.

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