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The ‘buzz’ about rattlesnakes

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A few weeks ago, there was news of a couple rattlesnake sightings at various locations in Pike County, PA. It spurred one of the local news channels to present a short informational segment on rattlesnakes and do’s-and-don’ts when seeing a snake. Rattlesnakes do draw some attention when they are seen, but it’s probably the last thing they want to do, as they just want to live undisturbed.

The timber rattlesnake can be found throughout most of the region, but sightings are infrequent as the patterning of their skin enables them to blend in with their surroundings. Rattlesnakes spend a lot of time in isolated areas not occupied by humans; it’s only when they are crossing a trail, road, or perhaps someone’s back yard that we tend to spot them.

During the summer, people usually see rattlesnakes ranging several miles away from their den sites to feed on small mammals and to mate. They tend to follow the same routes year after year but will not remain in any one place for too long.

If a female successfully mates, she will store the male’s sperm over fall and winter. In summer, the gravid females stay at gestation sites on south-facing ledges where they bask in the sun, usually with other females. It’s not uncommon to see at least 10 females together at some gestation sites. In late August or early September, these females bear five to seven live young (called neonates). Most of these sites are out of the way and not near human activity.

Timber rattlesnakes are protected in all three states in the region; it’s unlawful to intentionally harm them. If you see a snake on the trail, simply walk around it, staying at least four feet away. Take a picture if you want, but keep your distance. If you hear a “buzz” or rattle, stop what you are doing, discern where the sound of the buzz is coming from and then move away. Rattlesnakes are not aggressive; the rattling is a way to convey the message, “you are too close, move away please.” Above all, do not try to handle a rattlesnake. This is what accounts for most of recorded incidents with venomous snakes in the area.

So, if you see a rattlesnake in the wild, enjoy the view, for this species has a secretive life and is not often seen by us. They are non-aggressive and would rather not waste venom it needs to hunt on mammals that are too large to eat. If we do get a bit too close, heed its warning, for they would rather “buzz” than bite.

rattlesnakes

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