Protect the Timber Rattlesnake

The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is a Threatened Species in New York State. It is illegal to take, import, transport, possess, or sell an animal listed as Threatened. Measuring from 3-4.5 feet (91-137 cm) or more in length, the timber rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in New York. The record length is 74 ½ inches (189 cm). Timber rattlers impress one as being very stocky due to their stout stature and heavy musculature. Despite their size, cryptic coloration allows them to be easily concealed. Two color patterns are commonly found:

Yellow Phase

The yellow phase pictured above, is characterized by black or dark brown crossbands on a lighter background color of yellow, brown or gray. The black phase is pictured below, demonstrating dark crossbands on a dark background. Black or dark brown stippling also occurs to varying degrees, to the extent that some individuals appear all black. 

 Black Phase

Scales are ridged (known as “keeled”), giving this rattlesnake a rough-skinned appearance. The timber rattler has a broadly triangular head with many small scales on the crown of the head bordered by a few large scales on the top of the head. The eyes of a timber rattlesnake are elliptical (“cat eyes”).

All Timber Rattlesnakes want to be left alone and may defend themselves when threatened, although often try to escape before engaging in conflict when molested. Bites are extremely rare and typically occur when people harass individual snakes by picking them up or attacking them. To a lesser extent, people are occasionally bitten when accidentally stepping on a concealed snake. Some snakes will sit along the side of the trail, and people miss them. Timber Rattlesnakes will often sit in blueberry bushes by many of the rock ledges. They blend in so well that you often cannot see them when you are looking directly at them. It is important to understand that Timber Rattlesnakes are protected in New York, as they are considered a status of "Threatened". You may not annoy them, harm them, or kill them. Further, habitat they use for life functions considered critical for survival (ex. denning, foraging, mating, birthing, etc) is also protected from alteration. You can carefully move them out of the way with a long stick if you are certain this is your only option to pass by one (walking around the animal is a much better solution… it is extremely rare for a person to find themselves in a scenario where they cannot simply walk around the animal).

As ambush predators, these animals lie and wait for their meals to come to them. They eat almost exclusively small mammals, such as chipmunks, voles, and mice. They have very special adaptations for feeding which include venom, retractable fangs, cryptic coloration, chemoreception (incredible sense of smell used to find the exact location where to sit and wait for a meal to scurry past), and the ability to sense very subtle vibrations (using their chins to detect when a meal is approaching).  In fact, a timber rattlesnake may wait for weeks in the same location waiting for a particular mouse to pass an exact location so it can ambush it. Because they rely so heavily of their natural camouflage, often timber rattlesnakes do not move when a person passes near (and, often, the person has no idea they just passed a rattlesnake!). They invest a great deal of energy and time into waiting in a particular location for finding food which seemingly adds to their reluctance to move away from perceived disturbances. These snakes do not want to use their venom for anything except catching and digesting food (as a cold-blooded animal that depends upon sunlight and external heat to metabolize, the venom aids in quickly and efficiently digesting food). It is not a defense mechanism, but rather the first and perhaps most critical part of their nutrient procurement process.  

The Timber Rattlesnake is found around Yankee Lake. These snakes, although venomous, are rarely a threat to humans and all efforts should be taken to protect these animals. We have seen a few that were hit by vehicles over the last few weeks. Although many drivers will swerve or stop short to prevent hitting a squirrel or chipmunk, we need to react the same way when a snake is in the road. The existence of rattlesnake dens near Yankee Lake helps our cause to stop the development of the woods around the lake. Female Timber Rattlesnakes won’t reproduce until they are at least 8 years old, and then only give birth every 3-5 years typically. This is why accidental deaths of these snakes on roads or otherwise must be prevented. It is a species that doesn’t reproduce in quantities that allow it to recover quickly. Habitat loss (especially due to high density residential, agricultural, and commercial developments) will increase the risk of human/animal conflict, the probability of snakes getting hit on roads, and predation from hawks, coyotes, foxes, skunks, etc.

 Snake Bite Stats

What to if you have Timber Rattlesnake Encounters in the Wild

1. If you come upon a snake in the wild, leave it alone. Give it lots of room and chances are, it will either remain still while you walk by, or it will move along to get out of your way. Rattlesnakes will not instigate an encounter unless provoked. The chart above shows how uncommon it is for a person to die from a snake bite. The chart includes all snake bites, not just rattlesnakes.

2. If you find a live snake in the road, drive around it. Do not attempt to move it or run over it. If you are near a phone, call authorities so they can decide whether or not to pick it up to relocate it. If possible, stay near the animal (but more than 10 feet away) to prevent other drivers from running it over until authorities arrive or the animal moves off the road on its own. You can call animal control or 911. You may also contact the NYSDEC Division of Law Enforcement dispatch at 1-877-457-5680. 

3. If you find a dead snake in the road, DO NOT TOUCH IT OR PICK IT UP. A recently killed venomous snake can still inject venom. Leave it alone and call the authorities.

4. Timber rattlesnake bites are very rare. However, if you are bitten by a rattlesnake, do not attempt to treat the bite site yourself. Remain calm (keep your heart rate low) and call 911 to get you to a hospital emergency room to assess the bite and administer antivenin if needed. Remember, there has not been a documented timber rattlesnake bite that was fatal in over 100 years! 1

The endangered and threatened species that live around Yankee Lake are our best defense against overdevelopment and destruction of our natural resources. Please help protect these animals. Timber Rattlesnakes may be our greatest ally in protecting the natural and undeveloped Whale Tail along with maintaining the quality of life we all desire at Yankee Lake.

Links for additional information:

DEC Timber Rattlesnake Fact Sheet

New York Natural Heritage Program

 Photo Comparisons with Other Snake Species

 Catskill Mountain Snakes

With the exception of the religious sects that intentionally molests venomous snakes during church sessions and refuses medical treatment when bitten

News & Events 5/8/2019

Water Quality Summer of 2018

The New York State report on Yankee Lake Water Quality over the course of the 2018 summer season is available  by clicking this link.


The opening date will be July 4. A signup form for the July 6 Basketball Clinic can be accessed here. We encourage interested families to register by June 21 to help with our number of volunteer coaches.

Doug Spranger made and edited a 5 minute video taken from his drone copter flying over Yankee Lake. This beautiful sequence was shot in high definition (1080 p), and can be viewed on YouTube at this link.

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