Timber Rattlesnake

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

timber rattlesnake

Timber rattlesnake./J.D. Mays

General: The timber rattlesnake is large, stocky, and generally 3 to 4 feet long. It comes in two color phases, yellow and dark. A venomous snake, the timber rattlesnake uses its venom to strike and kill its prey, usually small mammals such as mice, voles, and chipmunks. Timber rattlesnakes are found from southern New England south through the Appalachian mountains to northern Georgia and west to southern Wisconsin. They need large tracts of mature hardwood or mixed hardwood and coniferous forest with openings in the trees’ canopies that let sunlight to reach the ground, allowing the snakes to bask and supporting the low vegetation where rattlesnakes find prey. Mountain laurel, blueberry, huckleberry, and greenbrier are some of the low shrubs and vines often found in rattlesnake habitat. Forest canopy gaps also let rattlesnakes thermoregulate by basking in the sun; pregnant females in particular need to bask so that their unborn young can develop. (Timber rattlesnakes give birth to live young.) Basking sites are typically near protective cover, including patches of dense vegetation and fallen woody debris. In winter, rattlesnakes hibernate in dens and crevices among rocks; individuals return to the same den site each year.

Status: Once common, timber rattlesnakes are now protected in many states, where they live in small isolated populations. Threats include commercial hunting, persecution by humans based on an unwarranted fear of venomous snakes, and habitat loss and fragmentation. Timber rattlesnakes may dwindle in areas of mature forest where the trees’ canopy becomes closed, shutting out sunlight from the forest floor. The timber rattlesnake is considered a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in 19 eastern states.
How to Help Timber Rattlesnakes: Openings in the forest canopy created by carefully conducted timber harvests can boost young forest habitat, which in turn can lead to an increase in the small mammals on which timber rattlesnakes prey. Such openings, when strategically located near rocky areas, can maintain or improve basking habitat required by pregnant females.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

For more detailed information on the timber rattlesnake, including references to scientific papers, download Under Cover: Wildlife of Shrublands and Young Forest. This publication can also be purchased from the Wildlife Management Institute.

An extensive online publication by the U.S. Forest Service offers information on managing habitat to help timber rattlesnakes, including the use of timber harvests and controlled burning.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within this species' range to increase your chances of seeing this and other wildlife that use young forest.