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Timber rattlesnakes, are large, heavy-bodied venomous snakes characterized by dark cross-bands or chevrons on a lighter background and a rattle on the end of the tail. This species usually has a black tail, but there is considerable variation in the overall color of individual snakes. In the mountains, timber rattlers are usually yellow, dark gray, or sometimes almost solid black. In the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, timber rattlers, or “canebrakes” as they are known, have a pinkish background color and often a brown or orange stripe running down the middle of the back.
Adults can grow up to 30 to 60 inches long with the record being more than 6 feet long. Baby timber rattlesnakes are just miniature versions of the adults, but are usually a lighter gray color and have only a single button for a rattle on the tip of their tail at birth. Females timber rattle snakes are smaller than their male counterparts.
Timber rattlesnakes enjoy feasting on small birds and mammals, including rodents, moles, small rabbits, and even bats! When it comes to hunting, timber rattlesnakes have a secret weapon. Like all pit-vipers, they have special heat-sensitive pits located on each side of the head. These sensors help them hone in on birds and mammals. Timber rattlesnakes round out their menu with lizards, small snakes, frogs, and insects. Sometimes they even eat carrion (dead meat).
Distribution And Habitat
Timber rattlesnakes are a woodland species. They prefer moist lowland forests and hilly woodlands or thickets near permanent water sources such as rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and swamps where tree stumps, logs and branches provide refuge. In addition to using wooded areas, timbers also utilize sunlit gaps in the canopy for basking and deep rock crevices for overwintering (den sites).
Individuals may make larger movements between various sites in the summer. In the 1800s, the species was found in 24 counties from the Ohio River to Lake Erie. As a result of direct killing, unregulated collection, and habitat destruction, today the snake can be found in limited numbers in 8 southern counties. Viable populations of this species (>50 individuals) persist in Vinton and Scioto counties.
Timber rattlesnakes emerge from their dens in spring and disperse to the surrounding hillsides. Males and non-pregnant females may move more than a mile from the den, while gravid (pregnant) females usually remain much closer. Females mature in their sixth year, giving birth to around 10 offspring every four years. T
imber rattlesnakes are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young. Young rattlesnakes resemble adults, except that they have only one button on their tail and may have a stripe from their eyes to their jaws. As they grow, the young snakes molt their skin creating room to grow additional rattles. Larger timber rattlesnakes may have up to five or six rattles and may shed a button as new buttons grow.
The timber rattler is one of the species of snakes typically used by religions that practice snake handling. Most timber rattlers are reluctant to rattle or bite, and instead, rely on their excellent camouflage for protection. The venom of timber rattlers is very toxic, and deaths from their bites have been recorded.