Snakes seem to get a bad rap for one reason or another. Personally, I am a great admirer of snakes. Sure, some could be dangerous when provoked, but that could be said about most wildlife. Some fear may come from misunderstandings and some may be for personal reasons. Either way, more information about snakes cannot hurt.
The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is probably one of the most feared snakes in Virginia. Being venomous, some people hate them for that reason alone. It does make them more dangerous than some other snakes, but do not expect this snake to “hunt” you.
Snakes in general, try to avoid confrontation. Rattlesnakes even have a handy rattle at the end of their tail to warn you when they are getting uncomfortable. It is whether you heed this warning that can affect the outcome of the situation.
Timber Rattlesnakes (a.k.a. Canebrakes) can grow up to six feet long and give birth to live young from August though September. Females actually incubate the eggs within their body by basking in the sun. Each female gives birth to about 6-10 young every two or three years. The young are equipped with fangs and venom from birth, so they should be considered just as dangerous as their parents.
In Virginia, rattlesnakes can be found in the western half of the state as well as in the southeast. They can generally be found in deciduous forests around rugged terrain. During the summer, females will bask on rocks in the warm sun while males tend to stay in the cooler forest undergrowth.
Rattlesnakes generally feed on small mammals such as squirrels, mice, chipmunks, rabbits and birds. They will also eat insects, amphibians and other snakes. They usually forage for food at night, while basking in the sun during the day. Rattlesnakes have long fangs which they use to inject their prey with venom. Their toxicity and venom can vary depending on geographic location and ontogenetics.
The combination of long fangs and high venom yield may make this seem like a very dangerous snake (which it can be), but luckily they have a mild disposition. If you are walking through the woods in an area with rattlesnakes, listen for a tale-tell rattle. A lot of times the snake will see you first and try to warn you of its presence. It is also good to scan the ground where you are walking. Stepping on this snake would definitely increase your chances of a bite. If you do encounter a rattlesnake while in the woods, give it plenty of space and continue on your journey. If the snake does not feel threatened by you, it has no reason to try to defend itself. These reptiles are vital to our ecosystem and should be respected, even if disliked.