The timber rattlesnake will vibrate its distinctive 'rattle'—a series of loosely fitted scales at the end of its tail—when faced with danger or startled in any way. Though the noise generally deters any predators from approaching, the main purpose of the rattle is to avoid getting stepped on. Of all the rattlers, timbers are the least likely to rattle and draw attention to themselves. They prefer to remain hidden under a fallen log.
Rattlers can reach 50 inches in length and are generally yellow, brown, or orange with black or dark brown crossbands along their backs. The tail is black and tipped with a tan rattle.
Timber rattlesnakes hibernate in the winter, generally from the end of October until the end of April. In the spring and fall, rattlers are diurnal, but during the summer months they are both diurnal and nocturnal. When they aren't hibernating, timber rattlesnakes eat small mammals including mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, and young rabbits.
The timber rattler prefers to wait quietly for its prey to come within striking distance and then attack. Its venom causes the prey to die rather quickly. The rattler is able to follow the scent of its food if it happened to try to run. Rattlers swallow their prey whole and their venom, composed of enzymes, aids in the digestive process.
Female timber rattlesnakes breed only once every three or four years because they rarely feed during pregnancy and this greatly depletes their body stores. Litters of six to 15 live young are born in late summer or early fall. Due to their small size at birth, juvenile rattlers experience high mortality rates.
© MSA 2005
Range: eastern United States
Habitat: temperate forests, grasslands
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