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Timber Rattlesnake - Crotalus horridus

leafThe timber rattlesnake is a heavy-bodied snake with a broad head that is distinct from its narrow neck. The top of the head is unmarked and usually yellow to light gold in color. Adult timber rattlers average 35 to 50 inches in total length. They have a yellow, brown, rust-orange, or in rare cases gray ground color with black or dark brown crossbands extending along the back. There is a dark brown stripe behind each eye, and there may be a rust-colored middorsal stripe from the neck to the tail. The tail is short and thick, all black, and tipped with a tan rattle. Juvenile timber rattlers are marked like the adults.

They vary greatly in overall coloration depending on the region in which they occur.

Specimens from the lowlands of eastern North Carolina are typically very light in coloration, often a pinkish-tan with dark black or brown crossbands. These eastern Rattlesnakes were formerly classified as a separate species known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake, but are now considered to be just another color phase of the Timber Rattlesnake.

Timber Rattlesnakes from the mountain regions of Western North Carolina occur primarily in two varieties, a yellow phase and a black phase. The yellow phase tends to be more common in most areas. Yellow phase Timber Rattlesnakes have a background coloration of yellow or tan with brown or black crossbands. Black phase Timber Rattlesnakes are sometimes almost solid black in coloration but usually sport the same pattern as the yellow phase with the yellow or brown being replaced by much darker pigments. Contrary to popular opinion, the sex of a Timber Rattlesnake cannot be determined by its color phase. Because of its many different color varieties, people often mistake the Timber Rattlesnake for other rattlesnake species, particularly the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. However the Timber Rattlesnake is the only species of rattlesnake found in Western North Carolina.

Like other pit vipers, the head of the Timber Rattlesnake is very broad in comparison to the neck. The pupils of the eyes are elliptical in shape (in bright light only) and there are heat-sensitive pits, one on either side of the face, between the eye and the nostril. Rattle segments on the tail periodically break off and. individual rattlesnakes will vary in the number of rattle segments present. A new segment is added to the rattle each time the snake sheds its skin, which may occur several times a year

Geographical Range & Habitat

This snake has a very limited range in our state, found in only 8 or 9 counties in north Florida. It ranges as far south as Alachua and Dixie Counties and as far west as Hamilton and Suwannee Counties. There are verbal reports that this snake occurs in a few northern counties of the panhandle, but there are no verified records. Outside of Florida, the species ranges north to southern Maine and west to central Texas and southeastern Minnesota.

Timber rattlesnakes in Florida prefer low bottomlands where it is fairly damp, river beds, hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, swamps, and cane thickets.

Venomous or Harmless - The Look-a-Likes

timber2.jpg Timber Rattlesnake
HN_easternhog.jpg Eastern Hognose Snake

Additional Notes

This snake was once very common and still is in some parts of its range. Throughout the past it, as well as other rattlesnakes, has been persecuted by in rattlesnake roundups, in senseless killings, and the sale of its skin to specialty leather shops. The rattlesnakes and other snakes, are one of our best allies in the fight to control rodents. They should be respected, not feared.

The only other rattlesnake it might be confused with is the eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), which has large dark diamonds down its back and a brown tail. The southern populations of the timber rattlesnake, including those in Florida, with a reddish brown stripe down the middle of the back and a pinkish body are sometimes listed as Crotalus horridus atricaudatus, the canebrake rattlesnake. However, the canebrake subspecies is not considered valid by some experts.