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Timber Rattler

Arkansas Timber Rattlesnake

Timber Rattler
Artwork by Robert Porter
Art Teacher-Hampton High School

Timber Rattlesnake
  Crotalus horridus horridus

Timber Rattlesnakes are between 3 feet and 5 feet in length.  Males of the species will generally be greater in size than will the females.  Their coloration will range from blackish, pinkish, yellowish or grayish with bent, dark, cross bands aligned with the dorsal length of the body.  A reddish stripe runs between the crossbands.  The tail is black.  The snake is divided into two subspecies, Canebrake (Crotalus horridus atricaudatus) and Timber (Crotalus horridus horridus).  The Timber will be found in the mountains and will not have the mid-dorsal stripe.  The Canebrake will be found in the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont area of the nation.  The Canebrakes have darker markings.  There is some disagreement about dividing the species into subspecies.
Scales are ridged and give the snake an appearance of being rough-skinned.  The timber rattler has a triangular head and many small scales on the crown of the head.

Like other members of the pit-viper family, the timber rattler has a temperature sensitive opening on either side of the face.  These pits, found below and in front of the eye, are placed at different positions on either side of the snake's head in order to make it possible for the snakes to line up their prey in total darkness.   This sensory organ is perfect for detecting potential predators as well as prey. 
The fangs are covered by a protective sheath of tissue, and are normally folded back against the roof of the mouth.  Fangs are hollow and are connected to a venom gland which lies behind the eye. Fangs are replaced at regular intervals whether they are broken or not.
The rattle is made of loosely attached horny segments with a new segment added each time the snake sheds.  Each time the snake rattles a distinctive sound can be heard.

Composed of a complex mix of proteins, snake venom acts upon the circulatory and nervous systems.  The venom and it's delivery system is the snake's method of procuring prey, and is a defensive weapon against predators.  It also aids in digestion.
The Timber rattlesnakes are sit-and-wait predators, often found lying adjacent to rodent paths. The prey is killed when bitten and afterwards is swallowed. Male animals use ritual fighting for mating partners. When attacking, the snake raises it's  head and forms an S with the upper part of the body.  These snakes will hibernate in groups in rock caves facing to the South or Southeast. Hibernation usually lasts about  7 months.
The young snakes are born live in a membranous sac which they open with a sharp egg tooth.  The 8 to 10 inch long young are equipped with a single, tiny rattle segment, venom and fangs.   These young snakes receive no maternal care.   Juvenile rattlesnakes experience high mortality rates, limiting the number of adults entering into the population.    Predators include hawks, owls, fox, coyote, and raccoons.   Timber rattlesnakes reach sexual maturity between 7 to 10 years of age.

The life expectancy of a Timber rattler might be up to 30 years in captivity.

Timber Rattlesnakes are non aggressive with a reluctance to bite, but have highly toxic venom.


 Albino canebrake
Canebrake Rattlesnake
Crotalus horridus atricaudatus
With permission from Mardi Snipes

Timber Rattler
With permission from Steven J. Beaupre
University of Arkansas


 Timber Rattler
With permission from Steven J. Beaupre
University of Arkansas

Timber Rattler
With permission from Steven J. Beaupre
University of Arkansas

Range and Habitat

Inhabiting heavily vegetated forest areas, and rock outcrops on partially forested hillsides with a nearby water supply.
Timber Rattlesnakes have declined in population due in part to the lower reproductive rate of the females.  A loss of habitat has also contributed to the decline in population.   Indiscriminate killing, illegal collection and lack of suitable den sites appear to have been a major limiting factor in some areas.  The Timber Rattlesnake is already protected in 17 of the 27 states in which it occurs, and is a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Behavioral Patterns

Active during the day in both the spring and in the fall.
Active at night in the summer
Retreats into burrows for the winter
Spends long periods of time coiled and waiting for prey.
Reproduces by mating in the spring and produces litters every other year
Live births will average about 10 in number.
Newly born are venomous at birth.

How do rattlesnakes bite?
Rattlesnakes have two retractable fangs that quickly spring into action when they are attacking their prey.  Generally, they will attack humans only when their territory has been encroached upon, or when they have been provoked.


Mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, bats and other small mammals, and even occasionally birds make up the diet of these snakes.  The snake, after striking the prey, follows the scent of the venom to the prey item and then swallows it whole.  The venom, composed of enzymes, also helps with the digestive process.

Warning: Rattlesnakes belong to the pit viper family (Viperidae). These dangerous snakes have a heat-sensitive sensory organ on each side of the head that enables them to locate warm-blooded prey and strike accurately, even in the dark. The curved, hollow fangs are normally folded back along the jaw. When a pit viper strikes, the fangs rapidly swing forward and fill with venom as the mouth opens. The venom is a complex mixture of proteins that acts primarily on a victim's blood tissue. If you hear a rattlesnake shaking its rattlers, back away. The snake is issuing a warning, and if the warning is ignored it may bite. Pit vipers are never safe to handle. Even dead ones can retain some neurological reflexes, and "road kills" have been known to bite. Respect the snake and avoid contact. A rattlesnake serves a useful purpose in the natural setting, and if man were to remove them the balance would be disrupted and man would quickly learn the unfortunate consequences.   We need these snakes and they are in serious decline throughout the habitat area.


Pit Vipers of Arkansas
Photos and copy from Steven J. Beaupre
University of Arkansas
(with permission)

The Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) is the common inhabitant of Arkansas streams, river, and lakes.  In some areas, the cottonmouth invades high mountain streams, persisting mostly on a diet of fish and frogs.  The strong markings on this specimen sometimes persist into adulthood, otherwise, adults are usually black.  This snake is known for its defensive display:  showing the white of its open mouth.




The Copperhead (Agkistrodon contovtrix) is a denizen of the leaf litter.  The markings of this secretive pit viper make it all but invisible in forests of Arkansas.  The snake occurs statewide, and may be found virtually anywhere.  The copperhead subsists on lizards, frogs, small mammals, and cicadas.  Motionless and invisible in the leaf little by day, the copperhead forages at night during the heat of summer.


The Pigmy rattlesnake (Sistruvus Miliarius) has a spotty distribution in Arkansas and rarely appears in large numbers.  Nevertheless, it is widespread, and can turn up essentially anywhere.  It is a small snake that spends most of its time hidden in leaf litter and under logs.  Primary habitat includes deciduous and pine forest as well as cedar glades.  The pigmy eats lizards and small mammals.



Western Diamondback

The Western Diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atroraka) is usually a snake of the western deserts.  However, its distribution ranges into the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, where some of the largest individuals of the species can be found.  Preferring open talus and rocky hillsides, the species is rarely encountered, and its current status in Arkansas is largely unknown.


Western Diamondback
2002© Evelyn Jeffers

Steven J. Beaupre, Photos used with permission.  
Mardi Snipes.  Photos used with permission.

For web based games, quizzes and activities dealing with snakes, check out the following sites on the web. (coloring sheets & quizzes) (word search puzzle)

This site has a zillion great game sites that include all sorts of things (as well as snakes)

Another site with lots of games and activities in many subject areas (snakes included) 

This web page was developed by Evelyn Jeffers, Gifted/Talented & Social Studies Teacher, 
Hampton High School, Hampton, Arkansas
Contact me at

Thanks to Steven Beaupre, University of Arkansas,  Mardi Snipes and Robert Porter for their assistance
with material, drawings and photos.

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