Saturday, July 21, 2012

Horridus in the Jersey Highlands

Timber Rattlesnakes are isolated into two major populations in New Jersey, the pine barrens and the highlands. The highlands animals are found in scattered populations across northern New Jersey where human interference has not yet made an impact. After scoring a pine barrens animal last weekend, I was determined to find a montane horridus in New Jersey before I leave in a few weeks. After doing a fair bit of online research and scouting some habitat on Google earth, I settled on a new location and set off. My destination would require me to cross a ridge, traverse back down a slope, and then up another ridge. After a two hour hike, I finally reached this open ridgetop complete with exposed rock, grasses, and an open canopy.

Southeastern facing glades like his one are textbook sites for timber rattlesnake dens. Although I don't believe there to be an actual den at this location, this type of habitat is prime real estate in the summer for this species. As I slowly traversed this area, I noticed signs of rattlesnakes being in the area as an very old shed of a large, stocky snake was seen between two boulders. As I reverted back to the trail which cuts through this area, I heard what sounded like a faint hiss or buzz. It wasn't very audible, but it got my attention. I turned to my right and laid my eyes upon this beautiful snake.

Timber Rattlesnake - Crotalus horridus

A beautiful dark phased male, this animal was right out in the open directly to my right while I was looking to my left. As I was firing some photos, in addition to rattling he made several noticeable raspy hisses which rattlesnakes sometimes are known to do. I believe he emitted a faint hiss as I passed too close to him, which is what drew my attention to my right. I would have walked right past him had he not made a sound.

This individual was not very big, maybe three feet in length. Besides its size, the tapering rattle was also a good indicator that this was a fairly young snake. Timbers often garner a bad reputation for being extremely aggressive by many locals, however this couldn't be any further from the truth. As you'll see in the video below, this snake was very reluctant to rattle and only sounded the alarm as he crawled away slowly.

It's unfortunate that this species is still killed by ignorant people across its range, something that protection at the state level cannot always deter. Timbers are easily one of the most retreating rattlesnake species which is found in North America, and most would rather flee than hold their ground. The NJ Department of Fish & Wildlife does a great job at keeping this species under a close watch and is virulent about enforcing state endangered species protection laws. If you encounter a rattlesnake in New Jersey or elsewhere, admire it from a distance and take a few photos. That's what I've always done, and I've got all ten fingers from taking a hands off approach.

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