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2019-20 Tennessee Hunting and Trapping Guide Now Available

Timber Rattlesnake *VENOMOUS, Crotalus horridus

The Timber Rattlesnake is is the largest, and the most dangerous, of the 4 venomous snakes in Tennessee; it occurs across the state.

Description: A large, heavy-bodied snake (36.0 to 60.0 inches in length) with a large, triangular head, vertical pupils, and the characteristic rattle at the end of the tail.   Body coloration is highly variable, but is usually gray with a black tail.

Other colors may include yellow, tan, brown, pink, dark brown, or black.   Black chevron-shaped crossbands occur all down the body.   Typically a rust-colored stripe occurs down the center of the back.

Top of the head is gray, light tan, or yellow with a dark brown line extending from each eye to the angle of the jaw.   Scales are keeled.   There is a large sensory pit on each side of the head between the nostril and eye.

Belly is tan or light gray sprinkled with brown specks. Males are larger than females. Young are lighter in color than adults.

Similar Species: Pygmy Rattlesnake is much smaller with tiny rattle; crown of head has 9 large plates (instead of small scales).

Habitat: Prefers mature, heavily wooded forests with rocky, south-facing hillsides; often associated with bluffs or ledges.   They can also be found around mountains, swamps, cane thickets, wooded stream corridors, and rural habitats.   It is common to see Timber Rattlesnakes coiled near fallen logs or sunning on rocks.

Diet: Mostly small rodents such as mice, rats, chipmunks, and squirrels; occasionally birds, lizards, and other small mammals.   Prey is killed by a venomous bite, in which the venom is injected by fangs located in the snake mouth.

Breeding information: Mating takes place in late summer or early fall after males follow scent trails to the females.   Females give live birth (ovoviviparous) to 5-14 young the following late summer or early fall; females typically produce a litter of young every other year.    Mothers stay with young for 1-2 weeks until they shed, then all disperse to locate food.

Status in Tennessee: Populations are declining across the region as a result of habitat loss and fragmentation, road mortality, and persecution.

Fun Facts:

  • The rattle, which is used to warn predators, is tan or gray in color and consists of hollow, interlocking segments made of keratin. Newborn rattlesnakes have a single segment on its rattle, called a “button.” Each time the snake sheds a new segment is added to the base of the rattle. Shedding is variable and rattles break off, so counting the segments is not an accurate way to determine the age.

Best places to see in Tennessee: South-facing hillsides of large, mature forests with rocky bluffs.

Sources:

Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.

Jensen, J. B., Camp C. D., Gibbons, W., and Elliot, M. J. 2008. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia, University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 575pp.

Johnson, T.R. 2006. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.

Timber Rattlesnake