By now, most people have seen at least one or more species of reptile or amphibian—maybe a painted turtle or green frog. This time of year, there are places where you have to watch your step to …
By now, most people have seen at least one or more species of reptile or amphibian—maybe a painted turtle or green frog. This time of year, there are places where you have to watch your step to avoid stepping on American toads or “red Efts,” the juvenile stage of a red-spotted newt. Northern water snakes and garter snakes are also becoming more visible; if you are lucky, you may see a milk snake with its colorful markings. One snake that a lot of folks have mixed feelings about, though, is the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).
The timber rattlesnake can be found in most of the region, but sightings are infrequent as the patterning of many snakes enables them to blend in with their surroundings. Rattlesnakes spend a lot of time in isolated areas in habitats not occupied by humans; it’s only when they are crossing a trail or road, or perhaps in someone’s backyard, that we tend to spot them.
The rattlesnakes that people usually see are males and non-gravid females that range out several miles from their den sites over the summer to feed on prey (small mammals) and to mate. If a female successfully mates, she will store the male’s sperm over fall and winter. These will be found in forested areas or fields. They tend to follow the same routes year after year and will not be in any one place for too long.
If you see a rattlesnake on the trail, feel free to look and take some photos, but stay a safe distance away (six feet or so). Rattlesnakes are not aggressive and will flee if given the chance. Keep an eye where you are stepping and do not try to handle them. If you hear a rattle, don’t move. First, discern where the rattle is coming from and then back away. Most rattlesnakes will give warning well beyond six feet, but there are some individuals with missing rattle segments that make little or no noise at all.
So, keep your eyes open (as you probably do in the woods, anyway) and enjoy the outdoors. If you see a timber rattlesnake, leave it be (they are protected in all nearby states). They come in two phases: black and yellow (the color of the head determines the phase). Rattlesnakes are secretive for the most part and the average person see this species once in a while, so if you spot one, enjoy the view and be respectful.