Are you someone that finds snakes creepy or fascinating? Personally I am a mix of both, but creepy usually wins out with me. Either way you should be aware of the snakes local to your area, so you know which ones are dangerous. There is a particular snake that has been used as a symbol of American strength in the past. Think of the “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan with the picture of a snake–that’s the rattlesnake!
The Adirondacks are home to many snakes, but one species that is unique to the Eastern United States is the Timber Rattlesnake. Our very own Split Rock area in Essex has a population of these snakes not found anywhere else nearby. “Split Rock Mountain is believed to contain the northern-most breeding population of the Timber Rattlesnake on the East Coast” according to the NY Department of Environmental Conservation. Split Rock just happens to be the perfect habitat for them despite our climate (usually long, cold winters). The snakes enjoy the deciduous forests with rocky outcroppings and crevices, and areas with open tree canopies for sunlight basking. When hiking on one of the Split Rock Mountain Wildway’s trails you may encounter one of these rare snakes sunning itself.
So how do you know if you’ve seen one of these snakes? Timber Rattlesnakes may have a brown or black coloration. Look at both pictures in this post to see the differences in color. These snakes have slit eyes like a cat, and their heads have a thick triangular shape. Also, they of course have a rattle at the tip of their tail. They are usually content to stay on the ground, but sometimes will climb into bushes or short trees. They hibernate in winter and are active from late April/early May to about mid-October. “Measuring from 3-4.5 feet (91-137 cm) or more in length, the Timber Rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in New York” (NY DEC). Examine the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s description of the Timber Rattlesnake for more details.
Douglas Yu and his family were hiking at Split Rock when they encountered a Timber Rattlesnake. Here is a video he filmed in which you can hear the warning rattle of the snake:
Timber Rattlesnakes are poisonous. If you encounter one simply keep your distance and do not attack or bother it. Usually they remain still in an attempt to blend in, but they will rattle their tail if threatened. It may be that you hear the rattle before even seeing the snake if you’re not paying attention and the snake is camouflaged well. The snake may feign attacks at you if you get too close in an attempt to get you to leave. The best thing to do is just get away and leave it alone. A snake bite may or may not include venom because snakes need to preserve their venom stores for hunting prey. If you are bitten you should get medical attention immediately. A venomous bite could potentially be deadly if untreated, but it is extremely rare for someone to die of a bite nowadays.
Timber Rattlesnakes are an endangered species in several states, which means that is is illegal to harass, catch, injure or kill them (NY DEC). New York only names the snake as ‘threatened’ on the conservation list, but those laws still apply here. So if you have a fear or hatred of snakes and encounter one don’t think you need to get rid of it, just leave it alone. These snakes prefer to avoid humans and will not attack unless provoked. Timber Rattlesnakes seem to have been hunted to (almost) extinction in the Northeast. In the past bounties were offered for killing the ‘dangerous rattlesnakes.’ My grandfather had talked about killing the snakes and cutting off and keeping the snake’s rattle to turn in as proof for collecting the bounty prizes.
So now you know that Split Rock is home to these snakes (or just know a little more about them if you were already aware), and you can be on the look out if you’re out walking or hiking in the area. This way you will be aware of the potential danger, but you might also get some cool pictures if you spot one. So remember they’re out there and will wake up with the summer heat.
You can visit timberrattlesnake.net to discover more about this snake, how to differentiate it from similar snakes, and why it should be protected.