LBL Wildlife Report: Timber Rattlesnakes, Pest Control Experts
In the next installment of the LBL Wildlife Report, Tracy Ross and Woodlands Nature Station's lead naturalist John Pollpeter discuss timber rattlesnakes.
"Out in Land Between the Lakes, we have about 26 different species of snakes," Pollpeter begins. "Out of those, four are venomous. There's the cottonmouth or water moccasin, copperhead, timber rattlesnake, and Western pygmy rattlesnake. The timbers are our second most common venomous snake after the copperhead."
"Most people won't run across a timber rattlesnake. If you come across Land Between the Lakes and you see one, most likely it's going to be on the highway at night—that's usually when they travel."
"If you see one on a trail," Pollpeter continues, "it's most likely going to be tucked away. It's going to try to hide as much as possible. It's going to try to conceal itself from humans."
Timber rattlesnakes' rattles deter not only humans but other large predators as well. "Things like bison, elk, places that can have moose," Pollpeter says. "It's trying to tell you, 'hey, I'm here, I'm dangerous, please leave me alone.' For the most part, they will warn you that they're right there."
"In my experience coming across timber rattlesnakes, and I've come across quite a few here at Land Between the Lakes, I have never had one strike me. I've never had one show a lot of aggression. In some cases, we've had to remove them from a picnic area or something. You might have to try to capture it, which is a threatening thing for the snake. Even at the time, it may rattle, but it's never struck."
"It's not as scary as you see in the movies," he assures. "When you watch the old Westerns, you see the cowboy, the rattlesnake rattles, and then it strikes. It's very dramatic. But these guys only want to do their own thing."
"That doesn't mean they're not a dangerous animal. They're obviously the most venomous snake that we have. But it's been my experience that they tend to want to stay away from us and try to get out of the way. A lot of times, they're in places where humans aren't going to be walking around. It's rare to find them in a trail, come across them in the road. But they're more likely going to be in the tall grass, rocky bluffs, thick timber."
While timber rattlesnakes are venomous, Pollpeter says that a rattlesnake bite is not as lethal as movies suggest. "Of course, if you got bit, it's going to be painful. But you definitely have enough time to get to the hospital, treat yourself for shock, and the local ERs would be able to take care of you."
"The thing that I think is most important [about timber rattlesnakes] is they're a species that helps us take control over many other species that we have here. They're big into eating squirrels, rabbits, mice, and rats."
"In turn," Pollpeter continues, "when you have a population of rattlesnakes, they help control the amount of ticks you have in that area. A lot of those animals that they eat are covered in ticks, and that helps reduce tick population more so than getting rid of the deer in an area. That can be very beneficial to us."
A timber rattlesnake is (almost) featured on the historical Gadsden flag. "The drawing is a copperhead with a rattle on it," Pollpeter laughs, "but it is supposed to be a timber rattlesnake. That's a good symbol. We're tough, but we give you a warning. And don't mess with me."