Buzz-babies appearing now

Posted 9/7/22

Some of us might have run into one or more timber rattlesnakes while hiking on trails over the course of the summer.

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Buzz-babies appearing now


Some of us might have run into one or more timber rattlesnakes while hiking on trails over the course of the summer. These snakes are likely to have wandered away from the den; they could be males and non-gravid females that are roaming forested areas looking for food and also to mate. There usually are not high numbers of snakes in areas where these sightings have been reported, and the sightings are widely scattered.

In late August to early September, baby timber rattlesnakes (neonates) make their first appearance in the region, but the reproductive process actually started a year ago, during midsummer when mating took place. Females that mated last year store sperm through the winter for use this past spring when they emerged from hibernation. 

Females began the formation of eggs last summer. These eggs were ovulated this past spring with the stored sperm. The whole process, from mating to birth, averages around 13 months.

Over the course of spring and summer, females basked at communal gestation sites to keep the young they carry warm. These are usually south-facing rocky or talus slopes with crevices so they can cool off when needed, and also so the females can escape and hide from potential predators. 

Now is when female rattlesnakes are giving birth to their young; a litter is usually six to nine young, with larger litters possible. 

Timber rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous; the eggs hatch within the female’s body and the females give birth to their young live.

Females eat little or nothing once they start basking at the gestation sites. Because of this, and given the year between mating and birth, female timber rattlesnakes only become gravid every two to three years. On their year—or more—off, they become one of the snakes seen on trails, miles from any den, as they actively hunt for small mammals and perhaps find a mate.  

Timber rattlesnakes are not aggressive, and will strike as a last resort. If you do encounter one on the trail, just give it some room and go around it. 

If you happen to encounter one of the newborn snakes (or neonates), leave it be. They are equipped with fangs and venom at birth, and are dangerous if handled. 

Note that proper handling techniques were used under a state research permit for all snakes shown in this column.

snakes, rattlesnakes, appearance, description


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