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Rattlesnake Questions

Posted: Wed Aug 04, 2010 1:14 pm
by microcollie
I normally welcome any and all wildlife to visit, and use fencing and/or repellants to keep them from devastating the gardens. Deer, raccoons, groundhogs, foxes, skunks, etc. are all a part of my Western MA property. I have several dogs that seem to help keep the wildlife out of the gardens.
Yesterday, I was out in the late afternoon, deadheading (and contemplating doing a raindance :( ), when I heard a funny buzzing noise. Lo and behold, there was a four foot long yellow and brown rattlesnake at the other end of the bed. I went inside to get the camera, but by the time I got back, it had moved on. I must say that I didn't feel too safe prodding around much looking for it, so I assume it moved on. In all my years gardening here, I've never encountered one.
My concern is for my pets safety. I'm not sure if it was just passing through, never to be seen again, or might be taking up residence in my yard. I did some poking around online last night to try to find out how aggressive they are, how much of a danger they might pose to an inquisitive dog, etc. Not coming up with any easy answers.
Anyone know much about rattlesnakes in the northeast? Should I be worried? Should I be doing something to make him/her less welcome in the garden? I read that they're pretty shy (probably why I've never seen one before) but not sure if this shyness would extend to my pets? Any insight would be welcome.
I have to say it was one of the prettier snakes I've seen. I'm certainly not opposed to it living in the more wild parts of the property, just not sure if it's a welcome addition to my gardens.

Posted: Wed Aug 04, 2010 4:37 pm
by tomf
That is strange as far as I know there should not be any there. They like dry country, we have them in Oregon but only on the other side of the mountains where it is dry.

Posted: Wed Aug 04, 2010 5:06 pm
by microcollie
Thanks for your tips, Marlingardener. I figured that someone in the south or west might have encountered them.
I've done a little more research today, and found that they were once fairly common in the northeast, but have been hunted and trapped to near extinction. (This is the timber rattlesnake that we have here) In fact, they are on the endangered species list in several states, mine included. It's illegal to kill, trap, relocate, or antagonize them. So I've decided that the proper authorities should probably be made aware of the sighting. (whish my camera had been handy) While I was looking for the correct people to call, I came across several reptile dealers offering rewards for a sighting. :twisted: I'll have to deal with finding how to report that as well!!!
On the bright side, it seems that they are really shy and will almost always flee instead of fight...Good news for the pets. Further, it seems that my garden is not really the ideal habitat for them. I'm assuming that it was just a passerby on it's way to the rocky hillside at the end of my property. It's their mating season, so maybe it was just out for a night on the town.

Posted: Wed Aug 04, 2010 7:09 pm
by Ozark Lady
Rattlesnakes in the northeast! I had no clue they lived there too.
I have seen them in the west, and here, but never when I was living further east.
And I blamed being too close to Texas for having rattlers here! Since we also have armadillos and road runners, which I never saw in central or eastern Arkansas.

Posted: Wed Aug 04, 2010 7:50 pm
by Kisal
Gopher snakes, aka Bull snakes, are great mimics of rattlesnakes, but are non-poisonous. They even make a rattling noise by vibrating their throats and slapping their tails against the ground. When threatened, these snakes will flatten their head into the arrowhead shape known as a mark of rattlesnakes, and adopt the same s-shaped coiled posture typical of the rattlesnake.

Gopher and bull snakes are difficult to tell apart from rattlesnakes, without some experience. It's quite startling to be suddenly confronted by a snake displaying the best-recognized traits of rattlers. My suggestion, if you think both snakes live in your area (they do where I live), is to learn to identify one from the other. You might look for a herpetological society in your area, or contact a zoo or university.

When I was a wildlife rehabber, of the hundreds of calls I received from people who thought they had a rattlesnake in their yard, only 1 of the snakes turned out to actually be a rattler. The rest were all gopher snakes.

[url=]This site[/url] has some good, basic information for differentiating a poisonous snake from a non-poisonous species. The site offers a list of 3 points to check out. I don't dislike snakes, nor do I find them frightening ... in fact, I find them rather interesting. I can see myself taking time to observe #1 and #3, but no way am I going to try to ID a snake by counting the scales underneath its tail! :shock: LMFAO

Posted: Wed Aug 04, 2010 7:52 pm
by Kisal
tomf wrote:That is strange as far as I know there should not be any there. They like dry country, we have them in Oregon but only on the other side of the mountains where it is dry.
I've observed rattlers in the Coburg Hills, northeast of town. They occasionally come into town when it gets very dry in the summer. :)

According to Umass, timber rattlers live in that state:

Posted: Wed Aug 04, 2010 9:15 pm
by microcollie
Thanks for the links, Kisal.
I'm kicking myself for not having my camera with me...I almost always pick it up on my way out of the house.
I've spent most of the day researching this, getting more and more fascinated as I go. (Of course the work that I was supposed to be doing is becoming a huge pile on my table, but I do have my priorities) I've looked into what other snakes I might have mistaken it for. A gopher snake would be a great candidate, except I only see mention of them in your neck of the woods. And I did stay and study it for a good 10-15 minutes before leaving to get the camera, and am sure that it had a rattle. Since it was actively rattling and seemingly a little tense that it was being watched so closely, I kept at a distance of 5-6 feet or so. I couldn't count the cells on the rattle, but I could see it's tail clearly.

I finally found contact info for a few people that might be able to give me further info. (local fish & wildlife folks, and a couple people at UMass) I'm sure the first thing they'll ask is if I took pictures :oops: .
By the way...snakes are always welcome in my gardens and, like you, I'm normally happy to see them. I just was concerned for the safety of my animals.

Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2010 1:29 pm
by planter
I have never heard of them in the Berkshires collie but I know the Blue Hills reservation has a population. They won't tell you where they "nest" and hang out but it's for the snakes sake not ours.

Your lucky to have them out there and should definately let the MDF&W know about it. They would be very interested especialy if it's not another mountain lion sighting. They love those. :wink: You have a heck of a better chance of getting hit by lighting or getting Lyme than having that snake strike you.

I say your lucky to have them but I SURE think I would be more focused if I thought one was under the maters while I was picking. Just remember they are more afraid of you than you are of them.. RIGHT!!! :roll: