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In the rugged Brown County Hills region landscape lies the ideal habitat for the secretive timber rattlesnake. The dense forest, covered with fallen logs and leaf litter, provides the perfect camouflage rendering the snake practically invisible from both prey and predator.
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The timber rattlesnake can be recognized by its black or dark brown tail and dark chevrons running down the length of its body. As with all rattlesnakes, it also has vertical pupils, a pit organ and, of course, a rattle.
Though it has a rattle, timber rattlesnakes are reluctant to make much noise with it; an obvious disservice to the small rodents, birds and frogs that may end up as its next meal. Its ability to remain undetectable spells trouble for the small mammals in its diet. Chipmunks, mice and squirrels scurrying across fallen logs are detected easily by their vibrations. The rattlesnake will then strike its prey with its long fangs, inject its venom and later track down the dying rodent using its acute sense of smell.
While the timber rattlesnake favors seclusion over spotlight, it could use a little recognition as one of our state’s endangered species. Once roaming the entire southern half of Indiana, its now isolated populations can be found from the Brown County Hills region south to the Ohio River. If encountered, law indicates it should be left alone – which is just fine for Indiana’s most reclusive reptile.
How You Can Help the Timber Rattlesnake
Threats to the timber rattlesnake include habitat and hibernaculum destruction, fragmentation and human disturbance and persecution. Here are a few ways you can help keep the timber rattlesnake from these threats and keeping them safe in our state.
Protect Hibernacula - Leave hibernacula and surrounding ridges undisturbed.
Do Not Relocate - The species is rather attached to particular territories and habitats, and generally does not survive relocation.
Protect Habitat - Leave fallen logs and debris in place; allow vegetation to grow around logs. When conducting timber management, leave activities from October to early April when injuring a snake with equipment is less likely. Also, do not conduct land management practices in the vicinity of a hibernaculum.
Buffers - Snakes like the timber rattlesnake generally avoid humans and developed areas. If you live in the Brown County Hills region, create a 10-yard buffer around your home by removing underbrush and woody debris greater than four inches in diameter. Without good cover, snakes will be more visible and usually pass through.
The Nature Conservancy in Indiana's Brown County Hills Project Office has worked hard to protect and preserve the land in Southern Indiana, including locations where the timber rattlesnake is found. Visit our project office to learn more about what we are doing in the Brown County Hills.
Timber Rattlesnake Quick Facts
- In the winter timber rattlesnakes hibernate communally; any other time, they are on their own.
- Snakes emerge from hibernation in late April to early May. They are mostly encountered in the late summer during the mating season.
- During the mating season, males travel great distances searching to a mate.
- Females give birth no more than once every three years and will only reproduce 3x in her lifetime.
- The maximum life expectancy for the timber rattlesnake is 25 years.
What if I Find a Snake?
Laws protecting this endangered specie prohibit the killing of timber rattlesnakes. If encountered, leave it alone. Do not handle or move a rattlesnake - they will bite when threatened. Instead, contact your local conservation officer or wildlife authorities for assistance.