The Timber Rattlesnake has black W-shaped cross bands on a tan, yellow, or dark brown background. They have a black tail and the rattle on the end of the tail is a yellowish-tan color. Timber Rattlesnakes may have a yellow head, in which case they generally have a brightly patterned body, or they may have a black head, in which case they have a darker patterned body.
The rattlesnake is a thick snake usually 2-4 feet in length (the longest documented in Vermont is 54 inches), with heavily keeled scales.
This is Vermont’s only venomous snake. It is not at all aggressive but it should not be handled.
Timber Rattlesnakes inhabit rock slides, ledges, and nearby deciduous (oak-hickory) woodlands.
Before You Report a Rattlesnake
One hundred percent of the rattlesnake reports that we have checked up on, outside of a few in Western Rutland County, were actually Eastern Milksnakes. Eastern Milksnakes have an eye-catching pattern, and they rattle, coil, and strike. This behavior is a bluff, but it convinces many people that they are hearing and seeing rattlesnakes when they really are looking at a Milksnake. Instead of a shaking tail, a rattling sound, or a striking pattern, look for the solid black tail, solid black or yellow head, and a large and obvious segmented, yellowish brown rattle at the end of the tail. If you see a blotched pattern and hear a rattle or see a snake shaking its tail, it is probably a Milksnake. If you see a segmented rattle at the end of a black tail, it is a rattlesnake.
This species has a state natural heritage rank of S1 (rare). The Timber Rattlesnake has been designated a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (high priority) in Vermont’s Wildlife Action Plan and is endangered in Vermont. Please report all sightings of this species in Vermont. Take photos if possible. Even historic sighting information is useful.
- Crotalus horridus at the Animal Diversity website
- Crotalus horridus at the Canadian Herpetological Society website
- Crotalus horridus in the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Action Plan: Amphibian & Reptiles (9/25/2015 draft)
- Crotalus horridus at the Snakes of Massachusetts website
Species summary written by Ariel K. McK. Burgess.