If you plan on getting to New Jersey but can’t be bothered to trust any snake, I have good news for you: you only have one type of snake to worry about. The problem is the snake in question is the timber rattlesnake.
So today, I’ll help you solve the problem, and what better way to achieve that than to learn as many details as possible about the reptile? This will allow you to understand its behavior, preferred habitat, and how to avoid and deal with it if necessary.
Let’s get it going!
The Timber Rattlesnake
If you’re looking to understand the timber rattlesnake better, consider the following points:
Timber rattlesnakes are fairly small, growing up to 30-40 inches. They have very thick and strong bodies, which is normal for most venomous snakes, rattlesnakes especially.
These snakes have varying coloring, but they revolve around the same 2 nuances: brown and grey. Variations only exist along these 2 colors with differences in intensities.
Most specimens also exhibit the same pattern, which is noticeable triangle shapes covering the entire dorsal area. Some individuals have rings and spots instead of triangles.
In typical rattlesnake fashion, this species also comes with raised scales, providing the reptile with a rough appearance. The head is typically flat with wide jaws and a triangle-shaped face.
Overall, the timber rattlesnake is easily distinguishable, and it’s unlikely that you will mistake it for another snake. It’s important to keep track of the physical differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes if you don’t plan on dying, for instance.
Habitat and Distribution
The timber rattlesnake lives primarily in the Eastern US, around the Appalachian Mountains, and surrounding areas. They can also be found in some areas in Canada, wherever the climate allows the snake to thrive.
In terms of preferred environments, timber rattlesnakes occupy a variety of ecosystems, especially those rich in vegetation.
You can also encounter specimens in rocky regions and mountain slopes where the reptile can use its distinct coloration to render itself invisible.
This is especially useful if you consider the snake’s hunting tactic, which relies on ambush and waiting for the prey to come close.
Diet and Hunting
Rattlesnakes have a varied diet with a predilection for rodents, small mammals, birds, and reptiles.
The preferred hunting method refers to 3 primary strategies:
- Detection and preparation – The rattlesnake has several means of detecting the prey. These include the keen sense of smell, the ability to sense vibrations in the soil, sight, and, most importantly, infrared detection thanks to the heat pits located on the face. These senses allow the snake to tell what type of animal is coming towards them, the distance, movement speed, and whether the animal is prey or predator.
- The strike – The timber rattlesnake will keep a low profile and strike only when the target is within reach. The venom will get to work immediately, which can have several effects. If the prey is small and the quantity of venom injected is more than necessary, the animal may become disabled on the spot. If not, it will most certainly flee the scene, in which case the timber rattlesnake requires a plan B.
- The plan B – This includes pursuing the prey actively after the venom has been injected. The rattlesnake will take its time because it can use its smell to keep track of the dying prey. Once the animal is dead, the snake will find and eat it whole.
In essence, rattlesnakes are ambush predators that rely on keeping a low profile and striking from the shadows. Their venom is powerful enough to kill almost anything, including humans.
Fortunately, the snake won’t be able to eat you, but that’s of little comfort.
Rattlesnakes have a distinct defensive behavior that can be separated into 3 categories:
- Fleeing and hiding – Rattlesnakes can typically sense your approach from quite a distance, long before you can actually see them. If they have the time, they will either flee and hide in their burrow or among the surrounding vegetation. If not, they will simply keep a low profile, hoping you won’t come near them.
- The audible warning signs – If the first tactic has failed, the snake will resort to the next move, which is displaying its trademark defensive behavior. This refers to assuming the standard defensive position, which is the snake curling in a spring-like position, with the head in the middle. This position is meant to protect the snake’s vitals and ensure the optimal mechanical stance in case it needs to strike. The defensive stance is also accompanied by hissing and the distinct tail rattling, which earned the famous hunter its ominous name.
- The strike – If all of these defensive tactics fail, the rattlesnake has nothing left but to strike. Fortunately, each rattlesnake bite is a dice roll. That’s because approximately 33% of the bites are dry, no venom injected. The reason for that is the rattlesnake saves its venom for its prey. Rattlesnakes also prefer to inject a small amount of venom in most bites, which is why most rattlesnake bites are not lethal. But you can’t rely on that, so you need urgent medical assistance in case of being bit.
I would like to mention 2 important things here:
- The snake may skip some phases – Not all rattlesnakes go through all of these warning signs before biting. Sometimes, they will just bite first and rattle and hiss afterward. This tends to happen if you simply surprise the snake, in which case the animal might not have time for anything but biting.
- Younger snakes are more dangerous – It may sound counterintuitive, but baby and juvenile rattlesnakes are more dangerous than adults. This is primarily because they don’t know how to control the amount of venom injected. They are also smaller and more vulnerable than adults, so they tend to overreact. So, if you see a small and seemingly young rattlesnake, don’t mess with it.
Venom and Biting
Timber rattlesnakes possess a mixed venom, containing both hemotoxic and neurotoxic components.
The venom has a multitude of effects, including swelling, pain, uncontrollable hemorrhage, localized necrosis, partial or complete paralysis, organ failure, respiratory failure, and death.
Depending on the quantity of venom injected, the bitten animal’s size, and the location of the bite, the severity of the symptoms may vary dramatically.
It’s important to note that not all rattlesnake bites are equally as dangerous based on these factors and the other ones we’ve mentioned earlier. But what should you do if you’ve been bitten?
Here are some tips:
- Call 911 – This is the first step immediately after eliminating the danger. And by ‘eliminating the danger,’ I mean removing yourself from the area. Don’t attempt to kill or capture the snake because this can lead to more bites and even more venom in your system. Calling 911 first is critical because every second matters when dealing with a venomous bite.
- Record the event – It’s important to write down the bite time and the snake that bit you. Try to be as thorough as possible. This will help the 911 responders to figure out the right treatment and type of antivenom you need.
- Calm down and relax – It may be difficult not to panic after being bitten by a rattlesnake, but that’s exactly what you must do. Panicking only increases your heart rate, causing the blood to rush through your system and helping the venom spread faster. You need to calm your heart rate and lie down, waiting for help to arrive. Keep your bit higher than the heart level to slow down the blood reaching the area. This will slow down the venom’s activity.
- Refrain from any DIY treatments – Don’t attempt to suck the wound, don’t apply a tourniquet, and don’t cut the wound site. Any such action will worsen the situation. Also, keep an eye on your symptoms to inform the 911 operators of what you’re experiencing.
As a plus, I recommend taking the necessary precautions even before leaving home. Get adequate protective gear if you know you’ll be traversing the snake’s habitat, and inform other people of your route and destination.
Also, notify them of your current whereabouts regularly; doing so makes it easier for the right people to reach you in case of need.
Numerous efforts are underway today, aiming to protect the rattlesnake population across US soil and beyond. Some of the core strategies in this sense include:
- Preserving forested regions
- Implementing laws meant to reduce the impact of roads and human development on the snake population
- Raise awareness about the need for conservation efforts
- Educate the public on rattlesnakes and their importance in the ecosystem
All animals play a critical role in their respective ecosystem; otherwise, they wouldn’t exist. This is even truer for rattlesnakes due to their feeding preferences.
Rattlesnakes feed on animals that we would consider pests, like rodents, rabbits, lizards, other snake species, etc. Disrupting their population will have a direct impact on the ecosystem as a whole.
Other Snakes Found in New Jersey
Now that we’ve discussed timber snakes and dissected their habitat, behavior, and characteristics, let’s look at other potential crawlers you can meet in New Jersey.
Unfortunately for you, there are quite a few other venomous and non-venomous snakes that are similar to rattlesnakes living in the same areas.
Many of these share the same habitat as rattlesnakes, so cases of mistaken identities are quite commonplace.
Here are some examples to write down:
- Northern copperhead – Copperheads are quite close to rattlesnakes in appearance in terms of coloring, pattern, and behavior. Fortunately, many copperheads have a lot of orange on them, which isn’t a color you’re likely to encounter in rattlesnakes. But many individuals are grey or brown with a similar body pattern to that of rattlesnakes.
- Eastern rat snake – Many specimens of eastern rat snakes are black with white underbellies, but not all. Some are orange or brown and may look like venomous snakes to an untrained eye. Fortunately, eastern rat snakes are not venomous, although this doesn’t mean they can’t bite. So, make sure you give them the space they need.
- Northern water snake – This species is semi-aquatic, so you’re most likely to encounter it near various bodies of water like lakes, rivers, and swamps. The snake comes with a thick body and colors and patterns similar to rattlesnakes.
You can easily differentiate between rattlesnakes and imposters by assessing the presence of the tail rings. Those are only present in rattlesnakes. If, for some reason, you can’t see the snake’s tail, make sure you’re aware of the rest of the characteristics.
These include the triangle-shaped head, the triangles covering the dorsal area, the vertical slits for pupils, which are only present in venomous snakes, etc.
Also, for an additional safety measure, I recommend simply avoiding all snakes you encounter in the wild. None of them will appreciate your presence, and you get to stay safe with minimal effort this way.
Timber rattlesnakes are fascinating predators, but they’re also deadly.
Stay away from them in the wild and learn the basics of preventing and dealing with rattlesnake bites. This will save your life one day.