A Day in Nature: Danger lies beside the trailPublished 11:35am Monday, July 22, 2013
By Rebecca Bearden / Alabama Nature Center
It wasn’t the first time I had seen one of these magnificent creatures in his preferred habitat, but it was the first time that I had witnessed this particular snake without anyone else present to verify his grandeur.
Coiled comfortably beside the forest service trail, head resting peacefully on his camouflaged body, this timber rattler was waiting to ambush the first rodent that crossed his path. I crossed his path on my Saturday afternoon run through the woods of the Oakmulgee Ranger District in the Talladega National Forest. My legs itching from the stinging nettle I brushed at the dirt road where I parked, I was psyching myself up to scale one of the more challenging ridges with no water and no camera. I halted as soon as I saw the chevron markings near the tall grass on the trails edge.
The first thought that hit me: “Crotalus horridus, I am so glad I didn’t step on you!” This big snake was certainly picture worthy. As I ran back down the hill to get the camera from the car, I thanked God for giving me a rattlesnake on my run and prayed it would still be lying in wait when I returned.
And he was. As I crept close enough to get a decent photo, he remained motionless, un-phased by the barrage of camera clicks.
His name says it all. Crotalus means “bell or rattle,” while horridus, means “dreadful,” in reference to his venom. On this particular afternoon, he saw no reason to appear dreadful. He displayed the classic timber rattler body style: broad head with elliptical pupils and a heavy body featuring dark crossbands along his back. Like many others that I have seen in that area, he was more of a light tan or tawny color, with a copper-colored stripe running the length of his back.
His signature black tail was adorned with a tan rattle. His kind can be found from New England to Florida to Texas to Wisconsin—and in all 67 of Alabama’s counties. My particular reptile friend seemed to prefer the pine ridges of the Oakmulgee that afternoon, but others of his species may inhabit hardwood forests and cane thickets, searching for mice, squirrels, frogs or birds.
Though this guy was cool and collected in mid-summer, timber rattlers may display a more active personality in late summer when mating begins. During this time of energy expenditure, they have been known to migrate short distances to refuel on rodents. If mating is successful, five to 20 young will be born the following year from August through October. During the winter, these snakes may hibernate in a den, occasionally forming colonies in stumps, burrows and rock crevices.
After a cooling rain, you may be blessed enough to see a timber rattler crossing the road, searching for warmth along the asphalt. Please refrain from making him a tire target. And if you see one in your backyard, just remember that they are searching for food—not you. The fastest way to eliminate timber rattlesnake populations is by destroying or altering the places they need to hunt, hibernate and live. Every state inhabited by timber rattlesnakes has laws protecting the species. Please respect their role in the ecosystem.