Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Other Names
Canebrake Rattlesnake

Timber rattlesnakes have wide heads and narrow necks—a typical distinction of all venomous snakes except coral snakes (Micrurus fulvius). Timber rattlers are the second largest venomous snake in Texas and third largest in the United States. Adult timber rattlesnakes reach a length of 36 to 40 inches (91 to 101 cm), and weigh 1.3 to 2 pounds (0.58 to 0.9 kg). They have a heavy, light yellow, gray or greenish-white body with a rust-colored strip along the length of their bac and a black tail is tipped with rattles. Timber rattlesnakes have yellow eyes with elliptical or cat-like pupils. Twenty to 29 dark, V-shaped crossbars with jagged edges form a distinctive pattern across their back.

Life History

Rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice and occasionally birds, other snakes, lizards, and frogs are the timber rattlesnake's prey. Coyotes, bobcats, skunks, foxes, hawks and owls, and snake-eating snakes such as king snakes, indigo snakes and cottonmouths feed on timber rattlesnakes. Sexual maturity is reached at three years for males and up to four years for females. Mating season is in early spring; only once every two to three years for females.

Timber rattlers, like other pit vipers, do not lay eggs. Instead the eggs are kept inside the female's body until they are ready to "hatch." The egg have an estimated incubation time of six months. Litters consist of between five and 20 young, which are 10 to 17 inches long (25 to 43 cm). Young may remain near their mother for seven to ten days after birth, but no parental care is provided. Timber rattlesnakes live up to ten years.

Although diurnal (active during the day) during spring and fall, timber rattlesnakes become nocturnal (active at night) during the oppressive heat of the summer. They will coil beside a fallen tree or log and wait for their quick-moving prey to pass. Pit vipers can develop an appetite for certain prey—some spend their lives eating only birds or chipmunks while others will eat a variety of foods. Their interest and appetite seems to be shaped by killing a particular prey early in life.

Highly venomous, timber rattlesnakes are sometimes slow to defend themselves and rely on their ability to blend into their surroundings to avoid confrontation. They seek to escape rather than risking danger and will remain silent, and if possible, will hide before revealing their position to a predator. Despite their large size and reputation, they are difficult to provoke into rattling or biting. Still, it does happen. It is best not to take any chances with such a potentially deadly snake. If one is bitten, seek immediate medical attention.

According to popular belief, one can tell the age of a rattlesnake by the number of rattles present at the end of its tail. A baby rattlesnake is born with the first segment of its rattle, called a "button". As the snake grows (and with each molting of its outer skin) an additional segment is added to its rattle. Younger snakes shed more often than older snakes, but on average, free-ranging snakes may molt three to six times a year. Another clue to a snake's age is its color: timber rattlers darken as they age, and the darkest are old males. The scientific name, Crotalus horridus, is formed from two Latin words: crotalum, meaning "bell or rattle," and horridus, for "dreadful"—which makes reference to its venom.

Timber rattlesnakes prefer moist lowland forests and hilly woodlands or thickets near permanent water sources such as rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and swamps where tree stumps, logs and branches provide refuge.
Timber rattlesnakes are found in upland woods and rocky ridges in the eastern United States; the eastern third of Texas.
Although many timber rattlers meet their deaths at the hands of people or by automobiles, the fastest way to kill timber rattlesnake populations is by destroying or altering the places they need to hunt, hibernate and live.