The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

How to tell if you actually saw one!

"Don't tread on me!" I have a rattle to let you know that I am here!

The Timber Rattlesnake is one of the most ENDANGERED species in the state of New Hampshire. At present there is only a single known population in the entire state with possibly less than 25 animals, so while a chance encounter is slim, we continue to hope there may be more. We need your help: if you have possibly witnessed this rare animal we need to KNOW! Your sighting could potentially expand our knowledge and hope for the protection of this shy reptile. Your help and information is critical as we search the state for the last possible remnant populations. We are interested in ANY current and ALL historical encounters for the State's database. A positive sighting would be HUGE!

Why protect any Timber Rattlesnake?

Contrary to popular belief, timber rattlesnakes are shy, retiring creatures that wish nothing more than to be left alone. Their venom is intended for immobilization of prey & makes a poor self-defense system. The timber's rattle is an early warning system used to alarm & deter anything the snake perceives as a potential threat, including humans. (Click here for a sound file of a rattlesnake's rattle!). Rattlesnakes are NOT aggressive, territorial animals. The hope of a new, unknown population in NH is exciting, as pressures from development & habitat destruction are enormous at this time. Conservation & protection of habitat is crucial, as timber rattlesnakes co-exist in a delicate ecosystem with many other native species that are also displaced by loss of natural land. This habitat provides important land for all indigenous animals and represents a critical niche for a very misunderstood animal. This elusive serpent was once a common creature in historic times but is now clinging to the modern day New Hampshire landscape. Snake bite occurrence is non-existent in the past century and is only a hyped up version of the dangers of this snake. There seems to be a huge span between reality and legend regarding this serpent, this bogus information has caused the extermination of this sadly misunderstood species.

If you like the woods, hike, hunt, fish, go camping, rock climb and enjoy our natural world, the Timber Rattlesnake is your friend. This animal can only survive in quiet undeveloped areas which are rapidly diminishing from our state at an alarming rate. In the event a new population is found we may still have a chance at saving its habitat but we need to know all valid sightings. In the past most of our Timbers have been exterminated due to ignorance and fear of this serpent. Many dens and their inhabitants have gone never to return by the hands of development and excitable people.

We need your HELP, please consider the following information before designating your sighting. As we know ALL previous sightings are of the state’s resident imposters. A PICTURE of the snake is our best proof and allows us to determine a positive sighting instantly.
If you do encounter one please leave it alone and then tell us all about it!

We are interested in ANY Sightings in the following Areas, YOU may know something WE DON'T!

  1. New Hampshire - Nearly Extinct - Critically Endangered.
  2. Maine - Extinct?
  3. Rhode Island - Extinct?
  4. Vermont - Severely Threatened - Endangered.
  5. Massachusetts - Severely Threatened - Endangered.

Site kevin@timberrattlesnake.net for questions and comments.

Please Report a sighting with our form

 

The New Hampshire Timber Rattle Snake Mimics

1. The Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

 

 

This fast moving common native is completely harmless and part of the backyard landscape. It prefers fields, rocky outcroppings, rock walls, wood piles, trash piles, ponds/streams, foundations as well as man made structures where it can locate food items and bask in the sun. It may climb into low lying bushes to bask. It typically feeds on worms, slugs, fish, salamanders, possibly rodents and amphibians. Many people welcome the occurrence of garter snakes in their yards and gardens due to the many benefits of what they eat. If harassed it may offer to bite resulting in nothing more than a bit of bleeding and a superficial wound. As a last ditch effort to escape it may excrete a foul smelling musk to dissuade its would be attacker. This snake is typically no larger than 36" with the average one being 16 - 30". Black, yellow and white, a red tongue and a small head that may flatten out as the animals tries to bluff and appear dangerous to would be attackers. This snake typically calms down when handled and trust is established. Ribbon snakes are very similar to Garters but are long and thin and generally haunt areas around water.

 

This garter shares its den with Rattlesnakes.

 

This garter snake has a cloudy eye(opaque) indicating it has begun the process of shedding its skin.

   

 

2. The Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum)

Note the smooth glossy look, slender girth and small head of this 30" kingsnake.

 

This constricting Kingsnake is a bit more secretive than the Garter Snake and tends to hang around rock walls, rocky ledge, wood piles, trash piles, farmland and fields. It is not a fast moving snake and may often remain motionless as it depends on its camouflage as protection, not typically encountered climbing in trees or bushes. It may be found coiled up basking in the sun along trails and any other woodland haunts. It preys on other snakes, rodents and the occasional bird. This snake may bite if handled but bites are superficial and their teeth are small. The snake may excrete a musk to ward off predation. The milksnake will do everything it can to appear dangerous including flattening of the normally small head, lunging and RATTLING of the tail. Do not mistake this rattling mimicry as a RATTLE, they have a small thin tail that they rattle in the leaves appearing as a Rattlesnake. General color of this wonderful kingsnake is grey, brown/red saddles and a black and white checkered belly. A 48" animal would be a very large example of this medium bodied serpent. This snake is harmless and a benefit wherever it is found, although not endangered populations continue to decrease as development continues. Contrary to fabled lore, this snake does NOT milk cows or attack them! This snake may initially bite the handler but may calm down as the threat decreases.

 

The milksnake will rattle its tail, lunge and bluff its way to protect itself, note the checkered belly.

Above Photo - Andrew Hoffman

 

This is a young baby milksnake, note the small head, glossy appearance, bright colors and thin long tail.

 

 

This is a baby Timber, it is very different from a milksnake with an obviously larger bulbous head and darker coloration towards the animal's tail. The rattle is small but the tail is blunt unlike the thin tail of the milksnake. A newborn Timber has a single "button" for a rattle and makes little for an audible sound.

 

This young rattlesnake does not look like any other snake in the state when examined closely.

 

Note the distinct face on this young animal. The snake has vertical pupils and a defined ocular ridge above the eye.

 

3. The Eastern Hognose (Heterodon platyrhinos) - A New Hamphshire Threatened Species

This harmless little snake is a fantastic actor - one of the true "Jack Nicholson's" of the animal world. A Hognose with a flattened head and a tough guy act may scare away some predators. Hognose Photos - Jeff LeClere (http://www.herpnet.net/)

 

 

This rare harmless animal prefers sandy scrub and pine areas where it locates it chief prey item the American Toad. This animal will mimic the actions of a Rattlesnake and a Cobra. If encountered it may flatten out its head, hiss, strike and Rattle its tail pretending to be a Rattle Snake. It does NOT have a RATTLE. They generally will not bite but appear to be a terrifying foe when encountered. If this charade does not send its attacker away it may play dead by rolling over and hanging its tongue from its mouth and secreting its foul smelling musk. In theory it it nothing worth eating so the predator would turn up its nose at such a meal. Generally no larger than 36" and a mid bodied snake thicker than the Garter snake and the Eastern Milksnake. It also has rougher appearing keeled scales like the Water Snake and the Timber Rattlesnake. This snake has an upturned nose that it uses to dig through sandy soil. It is typically dark colored with limited pattern. It may be found along trails, under trash, sandy areas and rocky areas. It is not typical to see this animal on a ledge or elevation or climbing in a tree or bush. Please report ANY sightings of this rare animal here Please Report a sighting with our form and clarify it was a Hognose This snake rarely bites if handled.

 

Note the pointed upturned snout of this Hognose snake and the thin pointed tail.

 

The neck of this hognose is thick and blends into the head, the pupil is round unlike the Rattlesnakes vertical slit pupil.

 

This hognose flails about with a mouth open threat, flat cobra like appearance and rattling tail to bluff its way out of a confrontation. In reality they are extremely docile once they calm down.

Hognose Photos - Jeff LeClere(http://www.herpnet.net/)

 

As a last resort a Hognose may even play dead!

     

4. The Northern Banded Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)

Photo - Andy Hoffman

 

These are NOT Water Moccasins, there are NO Water Moccasins in the Northeast( Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. A true venomous Water Moccasin requires the warmer temperatures of Southern United States. This thick bodied heavily keeled animal has a broad head and a possibly menacing appearance. They may appear ferocious when encountered but once again this is the snake pretending to be dangerous, in reality its teeth are small and any bite is superficial. They generally haunt water ways and can be seen basking by the waters edge, in bushes or swimming along the shoreline. They typically do not stray far from water and may often be found dead on the road as they move from area to area. Identification is easy, they are dark brown with a faint banded reddish pattern which is more distinct when the animal is wet. The belly is white with reddish checkering. They will flatten their large head and strike repeatedly when defending themselves. They may often behave spastic as they try to escape a dangerous situation. They may RATTLE their tail and will musk the handler until they calm down and danger appears to have passed. This snake has a similar appearance to the Timber Rattle Snake but lacks the obvious RATTLE and is completely harmless. If you encounter this snake you will often see it in or at the edge of a pond or lake. It feeds on fish and amphibians and a large female reach 48". This snake will often calm down in a short time and can be handled without biting the handler once this is done.

Photo - Jeff LeClere(www.herpnet.net)

 

A wet or young Water Snake will often have reddish bands which may make it easily confused with the Eastern Milksnake. The Milksnake is a thinner sleeker looking animal with a smaller head.

Photo - Coastal Plains Reptile

 

The water snake is thick bodied with rough looking scales, its head is larger than its neck but it has round pupils and lacks a rattle. This water snake shows its faint reddish bands which darken as the animal matures.

     
 

The large keeled scales of this Rattlesnake have a rough appearance which may cause some confusion when comparing one to the Water Snake or Hognose Snake. Timbers do not live in the water or hang around at the waters edge. Only a Rattlesnake has a rattle on the end of its tail, do not mistake a snake rattling its tails AS A RATTLE!

 

Although Rattlesnakes and Water snakes may look alike take a closer look at the eyes, the tail and the size of the head. These are the primary points of difference!

Northern Copperhead - State of VA Wildlife Photo

 

Copperheads DO NOT EXIST in the state of NEW Hampshire, there has never been a valid report. They may appear similar to a Water snake, Milksnake or Hognose but only occur in parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania continuing South and West.


5. The Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) species of special concern.

Black racer basking in the leaf litter.

 

This rare and elusive snake is the "Tough Guy" on the block. They are large growing, fast moving snakes with an often bad temper. They are extremely nervous animals and are often only glimpsed when encountered. As a person approaches this snake it will often flee the area unless it is cold, ill or injured. If cornered it will put on a show and rear up with its mouth open preparing for a fight, it may even rush the threat hoping to bluff its way out of the situation. It will RATTLE its long thin tail hoping to appear like a Rattlesnake, this snake unlike its demeanor is HARMLESS. It is a strong biter and may cause many superficial abrasions as it tries to escape. This snake generally haunts areas close to water and ledge but can be found anywhere as it roams in search of food, a mate and habitat. A typical encounter would be watching it cross a trail or surprising it in a rocky area as it absorbs the suns warming rays. This snake is also an accomplished climber and may climb bushes and trees as it hunts and basks. It has a wide food base and will eat other snakes, amphibians, birds and rodents. It may approach a length of 6' and appears as a long slender shiny black snake with large eyes and a white chin. The belly is bluish white and the snake is an overall sleek looking animal. Baby black racers are not black but grey with blotching that changes as the snake matures. This species was once common in New Hampshire but its numbers have severely been diminished due to habitat development and the high occurrence of road kill. Any sightings are of interest and value, please contact Report a sighting with our form, note it was a Black Racer. This species may communally den in rock ledge like the Timber Rattle Snake.

 

This black racer is still unsure if it has been spotted

 

Black Racer - Note the large, round pupil of the daytime hunter.

 

Rattlesnakes will often remain tightly coiled and motionless unlike the Black Racer.

 

Black Racer crawling across a trail, note the slender appearance and long thin tail.

Photo Daniel Parker

 

This baby black racer looks nothing like the adult black form. The eyes are huge in relationship to the size of the head.

Black Ratsnake that does den with Timbers.

 

In some areas in the North East this snake may be confused with the larger slower moving Black Ratsnake which unfortunately has never been known to occur in the state of New Hampshire. A non NH native, the Black Ratsnake was once referred to as the Pilot Snake to denote that if you find it you may find a Rattlesnake nearby since they are often denning mates.

A Vermont Black Ratsnake.

 

Black Rat looks similar to the Black Racer and often den with Timber Rattlesnakes in their range.

 

I saw a Snake that RATTLED ITS TAIL!

Encountering a snake that shakes its tail and appears to be rattling does not indicate a rattlesnake. Eastern Milksnakes, Black Racers, Water Snakes and Eastern Hognose are all New Hampshire residents that will actively rattle their tails as they try to bluff their way out of a potentially dangerous situation. These species of snakes are rattlesnake mimics and HARMLESS.


6. The Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

 

This small inoffenisive snake can sometimes be found hiding under rocks, logs, leaf litter and in stone walls where it spends its entire life. The snake is a smooth shiny grey on top with a dark head, a ring around its neck and a bright orange belly. It will not typically bite when handled and may resort to musking the handler as a defensive measure. This little gem feeds on worms, amphibians and other snakes. This snake is generally a nighttime animals and is rare to be found out during the day. This snake is a small growing species possibly approaching mammoth lengths of 24" and lays small clutches of eggs in rotted logs, under rocks and in compost piles.

 

The orange collar that gives the snake its name. They rely on a bright orange belly to ward off predators.

 

 

Above Photos - Andy Hoffman

 

A baby ringneck snake is an incredibly small snake.


7. Dekay's Snake (Storeria dekayi dekayi)

 

These harmless small sized snakes have sometimes been mistaken as a baby Timber Rattlesnake. The snake is brown with darker lines running down the body, a small head and a cream colored belly. It feeds on worms, salamanders, insects and amphibians and can be found hiding under rocks and logs. It gives birth to live babies that may only be 5 - 6" long at birth. An adult snake would generally be no larger than 16 " with an average size of 10 - 12".

Above Photos - Andy Hoffman

 

Dekay's snakes may only be big enough to scare a worm, a salamander or a slug.

 

The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) - although venomous it is a shy snake that will seek a safe retreat when encountered. It preys upon rodents and birds, baby snakes may also include amphibians in their diet. This serpent is venomous to disable its prey, this type of protection would do the snake little good after it has been trampled by a hoofed animal. The use of a rattle can be startling and may spook or intimidate creatures that threaten it. Males are larger growing with a maximum size just over 50". The have a low reproductive rate and it may take a minimum of eight years for a female to mature. Live birth litters often number less than ten and the babies are extremely vulnerable to predation and winter kills. Rattlesnakes are extremely vulnerable in the North where they communally den, they are vulnerable to direct death when a den has been located by snake hunterss. They will often lay motionless depending on their camouflage to protect them from predators, this behavior leaves them incredibly vulnerable to human harm. The Timber has been exterminated from most of its former haunts, Maine, Quebec and Rhode Island no longer have ANY. New Hampshire is close to having NONE, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut have lost many of their former dens and the snakes are now protected. The last strongholds are New York and Pennsylvania with much of their former populations already lost. They need ALL of the protection that they can get before the last dens are gone. These snakes rely on a denning area where they spend late fall, winter and spring underground in this unique niche. The den provides deep cracks where the animal can hibernate during the cold periods without freezing. In the Spring they emerge are set out in search of food and basking. Timbers may travel distances of 3 miles during their active period, this is the time they are often encountered and killed. Often these snakes are creatures of habit and find their previous haunts developed and may find themselves confused and vulnerable to destruction. People often love to tell a great tale how they saved the community from the supposed dangerous venomous serpent. Killing this snake is now ILLEGAL and they are PROTECTED due to their rare status. The logic of killing one of these snakes is about as reasonable for you to go out and destroy every knife and fork in your community due to the potential danger they hold. Having and open mind, appreciating nature and the animals we share this world with is our only hope at protecting this species! These animals have gained a reputation that is completely false, they just want to be left alone. In the fall the adults return to the denning area waiting for the cooler weather to drive them down into the den. Any pregnant females will give birth to live babies during this period, these babies will remain in the vicinity of the den. Babies depend on following the pheromone trails left by the adult animals to locate the actual den crevices.

When may you see a Timber Rattlesnake:

Late spring through October is a likely window.

Where you may find A Timber Rattlesnake

 

On a rocky sun exposed ledge, rock slides, mountains, outcroppings or hills. Rockslides provide basking, food and safety for Rattlesnakes.

 

Ledge for Rattlesnake denning. Mountains, hills, rock bluffs, elevated ledge and or rocky areas.

 

Timbers may bask on rock outcroppings like this.

 

 

 

Rattlesnakes like deep crevices with open tree canopy for basking and plenty of rock.

 

Massive rock structures with open areas to bask.

 

A perfect rock slide where Timbers may have once denned. An entire population will live in this slide leaving themselves vulnerable to human decimation if discovered.

Rattlesnakes are most often encountered on or near Southerly rocky ledge where the animals bask absorbing warmth from the suns rays.

 

Crossing a trail, coming out to bask, note the distinct eye of this snake.

 

Timber relying on camouflage to go undetected.

You may encounter a Timber Rattlesnake
  1. - Crossing a dirt trail/road in an undeveloped area.
  2. - In a sunny exposed area in the woods.
  3. - Coiled under or near large rocks or logs in undeveloped areas.
  4. - While camping, hunting or fishing in one of New Hampshire's remote areas.
  5. - Unexpectedly in a new housing development that was recently changed to suburbs most likely elevated ledge type area.
  6. - Rock climbing / hiking the same habitat that attracts people also provides the right niche for these snakes. A climber that finds large thick bodied snakes out basking on a rock ledge may be witnessing one of the rarest animals in the state of New Hampshire!
  7. - A Quarry/Mine and the surrounding area.
  8. - While out trapping.

 

 


    You should not find a Timber
  1. - Sitting on your lawn or in your driveway in a developed neighborhood.
  2. - In the woods behind your house in a developed neighborhood.
  3. - In your basement.
  4. - In your vegetable garden.
  5. - In your swimming pool.
  6. - Crossing a paved road.
  7. - Crossing a body of water, hanging out near or in the water/swimming. Those snakes are generally water snakes, not Water Moccasins and are HARMLESS! There are NO venomous Water Moccasins in the North East!
  8. - During the winter, late fall or early Spring.

 


What does it look like and what does it act like - Have a possible sighting?

Use the following information to confirm your encounter.

 

The snake has a thick body in respect to its length and the scales appear raised, rough and keeled. Note the thick body of this Timber compared to the boot, this snake offered no inclination to bite and wandered away. As it crawled it held its tail raised above the ground unlike any other snake in the state.

 

This snake is a black phase, Timbers vary in appearance but note the rough keeled look of the scales and the head held in the center. The snake does not have a smooth appearance to it like that of a Milksnake or Black Racer.

 

 

Generally the New Hampshire's snakes coloration darkens as the area approaches the tail of the snake. This is harder to note on melanistic(black) adult animals. This animal remains motionless occasionally tasting the air with its tongue waiting for "danger" to pass.

 

The rattle is on the end of the snake's tail and is often light colored on adults unlike the rest of the animal, do not confuse a snake shaking its tail as a rattle. The rattle is thick and blunt unlike the narrow tail of our non venomous mimics. Young Timbers may have a darker rattle that lightens with age.

 

An adult Timber's rattle is obvious. Note the light segmented rattle next to the snake's large head. Rattlesnakes that try to escape will often buzz and raise their rattle off the ground as they crawl away.

 

The rattle often lays down when the snake is not threatened.

 

Note the seven segmented rattle on this sub adult snake. Note the darker region towards the tail.

 

Note the button rattle of this baby Rattlesnake and the distinct large head compared to its neck diameter. The button is so small it makes no detectable noise and must grow a few segments to be heard. Young Timbers are unlikely to be found far from their rocky den areas and is not a likely candidate to be found in any neighborhood.

 

This Timber holds its tail up in the air and buzzes to let you know that it is there in hope that you will leave it alone. Rattlesnakes will often pull into a protective coil once discovered and may remain motionless relying on their camouflage to hide their presence. If a snake feels threatened it may begin to buzz its rattle which sounds much like a loud bumble bee or a stream of air escaping a tire. The sound is typically audible unless the animal encountered is a baby or small juvenile snake.

 

Rattlesnakes DO NOT:
- live or directly hangs out in the water like the Banded Water Snake
- play dead like our rare Eastern Hognose Snake.

- open their mouths and lunge without provocation like some of the mimics, they rarely attempt to bite unless startled or harassed.
- chase people, in fact they are extremely shy and will seek a safe retreat when threatened. Any story retold of an aggressive snake going out of its way to encounter a person is merely a fable.

 

Rattlesnakes have very distinct eyes with a cat-like pupil. In many individuals the eyes are obviously different from any other non venomous animals in the state of New Hampshire.

The elliptical pupils are obvious on this light phase Timber.

 

Even on this Melanistic phase Timber the eye is still distinct as a Rattlesnakes eye.

 

The "cat-eye" pupil of this light phase Timber's eye really stands out.

 

 

Note the large thick triangular head on this Rattlesnake with its heat pits used to detect location of its prey in the dark.

The triangular head is large and pronounced in respect to the size of its neck. The head size is designed to house the venom glands and fangs which are used to immobilize rodents.

 

Can you spot this light phase Timber? These snakes depend on camouflage for protection. Rattlesnakes do not use venom as a defense. Venom is used to subdue prey, they rely on camouflage and their rattle to dissuade possible predators. Biting is a last resort.

 

Can you find this dark phase Timber? Most Rattlesnakes will situate themselves close to some form of cover in case of potential danger.

 

Occasionally a Rattlesnake may venture into a low lying tree or bush to bask or search for a possible feeding opportunity. A rare encounter, this Timber was found 6' up in a tree basking and enjoying the day. Timbers are poor climbers due to their weight & girth and will not climb high into a tree.

 

Timbers have many predators in the woods, this one had recently lost its eye to something in the woods. A baby Timber can easily be killed and predated by birds as small as a Blue Jay or Grackle.

 

This Timber shows scars (without scales) on its head where it suffered injuries from some type of predator.

The Timber shed skin is the darker thicker skin and looks nothing like the lighter colored Black Racer skin. A Water snake DOES have a thicker skin as well as the Hognose, close inspection by us is all that is needed.

 

The Timber shed is much more rugged than the thin Garter Snake skin. Milksnakes also have a darker shed than garter snakes but much thinner than that of the Timbers.

There has not been a single record of a Rattlesnake bite in over 100 years in the State of New Hamphsire!

The unlikely occurrence of a bite from an animal that is stepped upon does not guarantee envenomation. If a snake were to actually bite out of fear there is a great likely hood that the resulting bite is a “dry bite”. A “dry bite” is when a snake resorts to biting out of fear and does not release venom as it would do when hunting its prey. Venom is a valuable resource for snakes and is needed for subduing rodents.

Dog bite – Since dogs enjoy roaming the woods and open areas they may be more likely to encounter this snake. A rattlesnake bite for a dog would result in a painful bite with local swelling and should be medically treated.

Do you still think that you actually saw a Rattlesnake ? Please Report a sighting with our form. We REALLY appreciate your TIME!