Monday, July 6, 2009

Timber Rattlesnake

This menacing looking snake is the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). Don't you just love the species name? Horridus? Hinting at how horrible this snake can be? This is one of five venomous snakes in Missouri.
The other four are the 1.) Western Pgymy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius streckeri), 2.)Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus), 3.) Osage Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix phaeogaster), and the 4.) Western Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma).
The timber rattlesnake is the largest of all the venomous snakes in Missouri, reaching lengths up to 5 feet. The largest recorded specimen in Missouri was 47 inches long. The all time record for this species in one recorded in Alabama, at a length of 6 feet 2 1/2 inches and weighing in at 5.5 pounds. That would be one seriously large timber rattler. They are a thick bodied snake and often times have a girth the size of a grown mans forearm. These are a beautiful snake, and they are highly variable in their coloration. They can have a base color of yellow, gray, tan, or brown with dark brown to blackish markings. The markings are like bands or v-shaped lines along the mid-body. Often there will be a rust colored dorsal stripe running the entire length of the body.The tail is black. The top of the head is gray, light tan or yellow and unmarked. As with all pit vipers they have deep pits on either side of their head. These pits are sensory pits and used to hunt prey. They feed on mostly mammals, but will also eat birds, frogs and other snakes. While they are capable of eating other venomous snakes they typically eat garter snakes. These are potentially one of the most dangerous venomous snakes in North America, largely due to their very large fangs and copious amounts of venom. Thankfully they are mild tempered and generally give plenty of warning before striking. The one pictured below that is very well camouflaged was found on our farm in Fillmore Missouri. Yesterday my husband and I were there so I could do some bug hunting. We are aware that rattlesnakes reside on this farm and were being very careful as we walked through the tall grasses. I walked by a tree that had a small pile of yellow limestone rocks near it. It looked like a good spot for a snake to sun itself after a cool night like we had the night before. I noticed nothing. My husband walked right behind me, and said "There is a snake" I turned around and noticed he was pointing to the rock pile I was just near. I went back to the pile and sure enough there was small timber rattler laying in the grasses near the rocks. These snakes have amazing camo. I walked within 3 feet of him and never spotted him. He was about 2 feet long. Joey got a stick and gently nudged him so we could see where his head was, and it took off behind the tree and disappeared. He showed his head for about 1.1 second, certainly not long enough to get a picture. I at least got a picture of how cryptic their coloring is, and I found out how very easy it is to walk right past one and not know it is there. He did not rattle at any time, nor did he show any aggression.
Unfortunately these snakes are in sharp decline in much of their range, and have disappeared entirely from numerous counties throughout Missouri. Largely this is due to loss of habitat and persecution by people who fear being bitten. They are state protected and should be left alone. While I would not want to find one in my back yard, I certainly can appreciate them in the wild where they belong. I often try to educate people about their importance to an ecosystem and that losing them could cause untold amounts of devastation. Fear of snakes is so deeply rooted in many people that they feel the only good snake is a dead snake, and this tends to be doubled when it comes to the venomous variety. I could find no records of any deaths in Missouri due to this snake or any other venomous snake. Most bites occur in men ages 18-25. My guess is alcohol is involved. If you are inebriated, and out messing with a creature that you KNOW has the potential to bite and kill you, you deserve to be bitten! Leave them in peace and they will leave you alone. Above all else, if you want to see one of these snakes in the wild, leave the alcohol at home! If one can look past their own fears, to the beauty of these misunderstood creatures, they would see an animal that is fascinating in its creepiness and beautiful in its lethalness. Maybe next time I will find one and get a better picture.

References: Wikipedia
The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri By: Tom R. Johnson
First photo borrowed from


  1. I have never seen anything but garter snakes and some water snakes (I cannot recall their names). What a lucky find! So cool.

  2. It was cool, very creepy knowing I walked right past it and didn't see it! Makes me think of how many I walked by before and never knew they were there.

  3. I was backpacking with Boy Scouts, yesterday at S-F Scout Ranch in Knoblick, Mo. We camped at the Northern end of the large property and a scout had found a very large snake skin, that immediately was identified as a Timber rattlesnake. The skin appeared to belong to a snake that would have been at least 4ft. long. Later another adult and I where on a glade up hill from where the scouts where camping. I was standing within a foot of a large boulder that was sitting alone on the glade when I looked down and I saw a brown viporus head sticking out from underneath of the boulder. I calmly walked away from the boulder and looked on under the rock. The rattlesnake was about 2ft long and had a small rattle. After observing the snake it left the rock and scattered to the woods. The snake did not seem to be aggressive at all.