Appearance: Known for its triangular head, slanted eyes and elliptical pupils, the timber rattlesnake is venomous. Large and stocky, rattlesnakes often measure between three and six feet long. Rattlesnakes in this region can be identified as yellow phase (yellow or tan with black or brown cross-bands) or black phase (almost solid black with darker patterns). When frightened by potential predators, they will vibrate the tip of their tail to create the well-known “rattling” sound. As members of the pit viper family, rattlesnakes can also be identified by the pits or heat-sensitive organs located between their nostrils and eyes. They use these pits to detect body heat of both prey and potential danger.
Range: Timber rattlesnakes are common in the mountains and forested areas. Populations are highly susceptible to human activity. To help protect rattlesnake populations, avoid relocating individual species, protect habitats, and do not disturb den sites. To avoid unwanted interactions, always be aware of your surroundings when you are hiking. Despite their reputation, rattlesnakes prefer not to bite. Their initial defense mechanisms are to lay motionless, camouflage with their surroundings, flee, or warn off predators by “rattling.”
Diet: The rattlesnakes’ camouflaged patterns are especially important for successful hunting tactics. As sit-and-wait predators, rattlesnakes will blend into their surroundings, wait in an ambush position, capture their prey and kill it by injecting venom. Their carnivorous diets consist mostly of small mammals and occasionally birds.
The WNC Nature Center is home to a number of native reptiles, including one timber rattlesnake. Stop by the Appalachian Station to practice your venomous snake identification skills!