Learn powerful up to date methods from the experts that will stop Timber Rattlesnakes in their tracks and get rid of them for good.
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Just as the bald eagle became an American symbol, so has the timber rattlesnake. During colonial times, timber rattlesnakes were plentiful in the New World and an unknown adversary to the British Empire. Its best-known symbolic use is on the yellow Gadsden flag, which says, “Don’t Tread On Me.” Christopher Gadsden, a South Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress and brigadier general in Washington’s Continental Army, designed this flag, and it ultimately flew from the ships of Continental Navy.
The symbolism of the timber rattlesnake was the essence of the time. The timber rattlesnake represented a threat that would strike with a vengeance if its safety or security was threatened. In 1778 the Continental Congress approved a seal for the War Office which prominently displayed a timber rattlesnake and said, “This We’ll Defend.” Timber Rattlesnake imagery is still prominently featured on the US Army seal today.
Benjamin Franklin used the timber rattlesnake in his political cartoon Join or Die. This political cartoon shows a timber rattlesnake broken into 8 separate pieces, representing the American colonies with New England as the head and South Carolina as the tail. He argued that alone the colonies could not fight the British Empire; but if joined together they could survive. In 1775, under the pseudonym American Guesser, Franklin wrote,
“…there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, “Don’t tread on me.” […] she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders […] The Rattle-Snake is solitary, and associates with her kind only when it is necessary for their preservation […] ‘Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. […] The power of fascination attributed to her, by a generous construction, may be understood to mean, that those who consider the liberty and blessings which America affords, and once come over to her, never afterwards leave her, but spend their lives with her.”
Most colonists would have implicitly understood the imagery and symbolism of the timber rattlesnake as this threat was one of the many daily hardships they experienced. Timber rattlesnakes are native to North America and were once plentiful in the eastern United States as far north as Canada and Maine to north Florida. Their numbers are being depleted as their habitats are destroyed and people kill them due to the danger they present. Colonial treatments for snake bites were mostly ineffective and death after a timber rattlesnake bite was almost certain. Today, effective antivenom is readily available and death from a timber rattlesnake bite is rare.
How to Identify a Timber Rattlesnake
The scientific name for the timber rattlesnake is Crotalus horridus, the horrible rattlesnake! Particularly in the south, timber rattlesnakes are sometimes called canebreaks. Like other pit vipers, timber rattlesnakes are a hefty, large snake. They are wide-bodied snakes and adults are between 2.5 feet to about 5 feet in length. Timber rattlesnakes have a broad triangular shaped head and distinct neck. This wide head allows room for their venom and fangs. Timber rattlesnakes camouflage perfectly in the crunchy leaf litter. Although their exact coloring may vary by their geographic location, typically the background color of a timber rattlesnake is a grayish or tan color with perhaps a rose-colored tinge. They have a distinct stripe running straight down their back. This stripe is often orange, but it may be yellow, reddish-brown, or pink. Across their bodies, timber rattlesnakes have black or dark brown chevron stripes. The tail is usually solid black.
Juvenile timber rattlesnakes have similar coloring and markings. If they are very young, they may not have a fully established rattle, but their venom is already potent.
Characteristic of a rattlesnake is the rattle. A common myth about rattlesnakes is you can judge the age of a snake by the number of segments on the rattle. The rattle on a rattlesnake is composed of keratin, the same substance as human hair and nails. As the timber rattlesnake grows and sheds its skin, the dry shed skin remains at the base of the tail. As these shed skins begin to accumulate the rattle grows. However, the number of rattlers is a poor indicator of the snake’s age as in early years, they may shed many times then the shedding slows down as they age. A timber rattlesnake sheds its skin 8 times in the first 5 years of life, and adults average 1.2 sheds per year. Additionally, this rattle is fragile. It can be broken in a battle with a predator or damaged in their rocky terrain. Usually, an adult rattle snake maintains about 10-12 rattles at a time.
Along much of the eastern United States, the timber rattlesnake is the only snake with a rattle. Therefore, it is relatively easy to identify; it will be the only snake with a rattle within that geographic area. However, the timber rattle snake and the eastern diamondback rattle snake do share some overlapping territory. Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and north Florida are home to both timber rattle snakes and eastern diamondback rattle snakes. While there are discernible visual differences between the two species, it is safe to say any snake with a rattle should be avoided. Rather than spending your time comparing colors and patterns, just back away from the snake.
Timber Rattlesnake Range and Habitat
Historically, timber rattlesnakes were rampant in the eastern United States. They were found as far north as Canada south to Florida. They are now considered extinct in Canada and Maine, and endangered in much of their northern range including New Jersey, Ohio, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. Currently they are found as far west as Kansas south to Texas. They are still found in much of New England and south to the northern counties in Florida. They are found all throughout the state of Georgia, but only extend into the northernmost counties in Florida.
The decline in timber rattlesnake numbers is mostly attributed to urban sprawl. Timber rattlesnakes decline when their immediate habitat is altered. Additionally, pregnant timber rattlesnakes like to sun themselves on warm surfaces like roads and bridges. When pregnant females are killed, it is difficult for the species to recover. Furthermore, people hunt them and kill because of fear of their venomous bite. These hunting parties often seek a den of hibernating timber rattlesnakes, thus eliminating many snakes at once.
Timber rattlesnakes can live in a variety of habitats. They thrive in the mountains, hardwood and pinewood forests, thickets, even agricultural fields. Explaining the origins of the Gadsden flag, they thrive in the swamps and lowlands of South Carolina and Georgia. They have not adapted to live in the big city or suburbs. If you live in a recently developed neighborhood, you may find a timber rattler struggling to survive; but as humans move in, timber rattlers do not thrive.
Likely the name timber rattlesnake comes from this species ability to climb trees. Timber rattlesnakes are unusual in that they can climb high into trees; they have been found up to 80 feet high! It is not well understood why they climb trees, as they seem to prefer to hunt on the ground.
Timber Rattlesnake Behavior
Like other pit vipers, timber rattlesnakes often use their fangs and venom as a last resort. Despite the fear elicited when we hear that distinctive rattle in the forest, timber rattlesnakes do not roam about seeking humans to expend their venom upon. If they can flee from an encounter with a human, they will usually choose that avenue. They are not aggressive, but they will stand and defend their territory and right to life.
Often before a timber rattlesnake bites, it shakes its rattle. Evolutionary success depends on heeding this warning. All creatures high and low know this distinct sound and back away. The speed at which a rattlesnake shakes its tail is comparable to the wings of a hummingbird. The strong muscles in the rattlesnake’s body allow it to shake back and forth between 50-100 times per second! In addition to rattling its tail at this astounding speed, it raises its head proving that it is ready and willing to strike. If a timber rattlesnake takes this posture with you, you are playing fast and loose with your life if you do not back up.
Timber rattlesnakes would rather not use their venom on humans. Even the smallest among us are too large to be an appropriate meal. Venom is a resource that takes much energy to produce, and they would prefer not to waste it. Therefore, timber rattlesnakes would prefer to save their venom for a real meal or an actual threat upon their life. Contrary to popular belief, a rattlesnake does not HAVE to rattle its tail before striking out. Because they are so well camouflaged, many timber rattlesnake bites occur when they are stepped on. In these situations, the snake may not have raised its head and vibrated its tail. When you surprise a rattlesnake, you’ll likely get bit. People are most likely to get bit when they are trying to kill or handle a rattlesnake. Your safest bet is to leave a venomous timber rattlesnake alone.
Food Choices of Timber Rattlesnake
Timber rattlesnakes use their camouflage coloring to blend in with their surroundings. They strike out at their intended prey and inject a powerful venom with their hypodermic needle like fangs. Imperative to their ability to score a meal is they must learn to control their rattle. The rattle serves to protect them and fend off many predators, but if not carefully controlled, prey will never get close enough to kill and eat. As they slither on the ground, rattlesnakes hold their tail suspended over the ground so that it does not accidentally scare off animals.
Like other large pit vipers, timber rattlesnakes primarily eat small to mid-sized mammals, but birds and reptiles will be eaten if necessary. On the menu are mice, rats, voles, rabbits, squirrels, small raccoons, birds, lizards, and small amphibians. Timber rattlers will eat other snakes, typically garter snakes. Timber rattlesnakes can and do climb trees, but most of their hunting happens on the ground. They are not known to strike out at a squirrel chattering away on a tree branch; rather they conceal themselves vertically against the trunk of the tree and wait for the meal to descend. Despite their powerful venom, timber rattlers sometimes fall prey to white-tailed deer, sheep, hogs, dogs, and red-tailed hawks, although they are most commonly killed by humans. Juvenile rattlesnakes are sometimes eaten by domestic chickens and turkeys. Although they pose an obvious risk, because of their propensity for eating pest rodents, timber rattlesnakes are considered beneficial to humans.
Timber Rattlesnake Reproductive Habits
In the winter, timber rattlesnakes hibernate in a den. Sometimes they slumber alone, other times they gather with other snakes. Some dens contain snakes of different species and both venomous and non-venomous snakes will lie together. It appears that snakes return to their previous hibernation den by following scent trails. These communal dens are often found under rocks, in a stump hole, fissures of rocky crevices, or under ledges.
The life cycle for timber rattlesnakes is slower than other venomous snakes, which accounts for their dwindling numbers. A female timber rattlesnake is not sexually mature until she is 5 years of age. While she is pregnant, timber rattlesnakes are often found sunning themselves in open habitat. This action exposes them to human eyes and vehicles; both are a danger to the timber rattlesnake. If she survives her pregnancy, the timber rattlesnake gives birth to live young. Like other venomous snakes, timber rattlesnakes are viviparous, which means the eggs hatch inside of the mother and live young emerge. Usually there are between 6-13 snakes per litter. Young neonate timber rattlesnakes stay with the mother for 1 or 2 weeks before she leaves them, and they must survive on their own. Furthering their decline in numbers, timber rattle snakes go 2-3 years between birthing litters.
Timber Rattlesnake Bites and Venom
Timber rattlesnakes have the sharp fangs and deadly venom that nightmares are made of. As stated above, they would rather not use their valuable venom on humans, but if they feel threatened, they will not hesitate. If you are ever given the tail shaking warning by a rattlesnake, back away. In most cases, the timber rattlesnake will slither off, if you give it the opportunity for an honorable exit. If it is feeling agitated by your presence it may lift its head in an attempt to make itself appear larger and more intimidating. It may rattle its tail, expose its fangs, and make a hissing noise as a final warning. Most bites happen when people accidentally step on the rattler or when they are trying to kill or forcibly remove the timber rattler. In many instances of timber rattlesnake bites, drug or alcohol use is a factor.
Venom is costly for the timber rattlesnake to produce. Snakes can control the amount of venom they inject into a foe; sometimes they bite but do not inject any venom. Other times only a small amount of venom is used, but sometimes the snake bites will all its deadly poison. It is estimated that 50% of timber rattlesnake bites are dry bites where no or an insignificant amount of venom is injected. If you have sustained a rattlesnake bite, seek medical attention immediately. Allow doctors to monitor your condition and judge whether the bite was dry or venom filled. Medical care has progressed such that timber rattlesnake bites are rarely fatal if treatment is sought quickly.
Rattlesnake venom is a hemotoxin, which means it destroys tissue. The venom serves to begin digesting the animal which the snake intends to eat. Unfortunately, this means the area which sustained the bite will begin to die off and deteriorate. This death/digestive process is extremely painful and toxic to the body. After the timber rattlesnake bite, you will experience intense pain, swelling, and the area around the bite will turn black. If allowed to progress, large chunks of flesh may die off never to recover. Distinct from other rattlesnake species, timber rattlesnake venom may cause myokymia, an involuntary quivering of muscles or muscle fibers in localized areas.
Treating Timber Rattlesnake Bites
The mortality rate is higher with rattlesnake bites than other venomous snake species, but it is still relatively low. Analysis of records from poison control centers show that for every 736 people bitten by a rattlesnake, 1 of these people die. Much of the success rate hinges on prompt medical treatment. Time is of the essence when dealing with a rattlesnake bite. Do not delay medical treatment. Many hospitals in areas with venomous snakes have access to CroFab Antivenom. The sooner CroFab Antivenom is administered the less tissue death and loss. The antibodies in CroFab bind to the poison surging through your system and neutralizes the toxins. The antivenom stops the progression of tissue damage. Interestingly enough, antivenom is not administered for every rattlesnake bite. Hospital protocols require an assessment of your symptoms and carefully watching and evaluating your progression.
Get to the hospital as quickly as possible after a timber rattlesnake bite. However, while you await your ride, there are a few things thing you can do.
Move away from the snake to avoid further conflict.
Remain calm and call 911 at once.
Remove rings, watches, or bracelets.
Try to remain as still as possible, keeping the affected limb lower than the heart.
If you cannot call for help or are in an inaccessible area, walk slowly and calmly trying to keep your heart rate down.
If you have a pen or marker, draw a circle around the swollen area and note the time. As the damaged tissue moves further away from the puncture wound, draw additional circles and time notations. This will enable doctors to determine the rate of damage and guide them on how best to proceed. Do not waste valuable time trying to find a pen if it is not readily available.
Get to a hospital with antivenom as quickly as possible.
Knowing what not to do in an emergency is as important as knowing the proper things to do. Legend, lore, and literature shows us how rattlesnake bites used to be handled… often with poor outcomes. I am reminded of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Yearling. When Pa Baxter was bitten by the rattlesnake in the Florida scrub, he immediately took out his knife and cut out the flesh around the puncture wound. He then killed the doe, making the namesake yearling an orphan, and used her liver to extract the rattlesnake venom. Miraculously, and much to the surprise of the drunken doctor, Pa Baxter survived the rattlesnake bite. In the novel Pa Baxter’s life is credited to his quick action and the sacrifice of the mother deer, but today we have much more effective means of surviving rattlesnake bites.
For your best chance of surviving a rattlesnake bite, the CDC recommends NOT doing the following:
Do not apply a tourniquet.
Do not apply ice to the puncture site.
Do not slash at the wound or try to cut out the swollen area.
Do not try to suck out the venom.
Do not drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages.
If you are struck by a timber rattlesnake, get to the emergency room as quickly as possible. This is not the time to take 2 aspirin and see how you feel in the morning; allow the professionals to evaluate and treat you. We are fortunate to have an effective antivenom readily available which saves thousands of lives per year.
Timber Rattlesnake Professional Removal
Timber rattlesnakes are often encountered when their habitat is recently altered or when pregnant females are sunning themselves. While they reduce the rodent population, and arguably rodent borne diseases, timber rattlesnakes present a danger to your family and pets. Rattle snakes are easy to identify by their characteristic rattle. If the snake’s tail rattles, it is venomous. We do not recommend do-it-yourself snake removal tactics for venomous snakes such as a timber rattler. Whether the snake is outside or heaven forbid inside your home, Nextgen Pest Solutions has a solution. Our professional snake removers can safely get rid of timber rattlesnakes from your yard or home. Often a snake is in your territory because it has food and shelter available. To prevent future snakes from taking up residence within your fence, consider implementing a rodent prevention program. Nextgen Pest Solutions is a veteran-owned business whose sole purpose is to serve you. Whether you have snakes, rats, bed bugs, roaches or ants, our technicians are trained and equipped to get rid of whatever is bugging you.