Picture Ohio! – Timber Rattlesnake, Shawnee State Park

Timber Rattlesnake, Shawnee State Park, Ohio
Timber rattlesnake, Shawnee State Park, Ohio

In early May I visited Shawnee State Park in southern Ohio to participate in Flora-Quest, an annual event that showcases the landscapes, wildflowers, butterflies and other inhabitants of Shawnee State Forest in Scioto County and the Edge of Appalachia preserves in nearby Adams County. Jenny Richards, the naturalist at Shawnee State Park, is an expert on Shawnee’s reptiles and amphibians, and she invited me to meet Timber, a 23-year old timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridis) that was born in 1990 and lives at the park’s nature center. The  timber rattlesnake is an endangered  species in Ohio, where it is confined to a few remote, forested areas in Zaleski, Pike, Tar Hollow, and Shawnee State Forests.

Timber rattlesnakes can attain a length of six feet, but average about 40 inches long. Although they are highly venomous and potentially dangerous, these snakes have a mild disposition unless molested and usually make little attempt to rattle or strike. Timber enjoys a slither in the grass near the nature center, and Jenny was happy to take him out of his glass home in the center so we could admire him and take some photographs. The photograph below shows  Jenny carefully using a snake stick with a hook to lift Timber out of his plastic travel box to enjoy the fresh air for a few minutes. Timber rattlesnakes are long-lived, and Jenny mentioned that Timber may survive in captivity at Shawnee for more than 40 years.

Jenny Richards with Timber Rattlesnake, Shawnee State Park
Jenny Richards with timber rattlesnake, Shawnee State Park

Timber is a yellow phase timber rattlesnake, which has a series of dark brown or black chevron-shaped bands on a base color of brownish yellow. The black phase has the cross bands on a ground color of blackish brown. Jenny told me that during his 23 years in captivity Timber has developed cataracts and lost most of his sight, though his other faculties, including his venomous bite, are still acute and I made sure to maintain a respectful  distance between us during our photography session. I used my favorite wildlife photography lens, a 50-500mm Sigma zoom, on a Nikon D7100 camera, which allowed me to take close-up photographs at ground level from a distance of several feet so that Timber wouldn’t feel threatened.

Timber rattlesnake's tongue
Timber rattlesnake’s tongue

Although Timber’s vision is impaired, he is able to use his sensitive heat receptors and his forked tongue to detect the presence of prey, which in the wild consist mostly of mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, and a few amphibians and other snakes. The powerful venom injected during a successful strike quickly immobilizes the prey, which the rattlesnake tracks using its tongue and heat sensitive pits above and in front of each eye, allowing the snake to detect very small changes in air temperature at a distance of several inches or more. Timber rattlesnakes spend the winter in communal underground dens in rocky areas, emerging in spring to feed, bask in the sun on woodland ridges, and locate mates to reproduce. The young are born in mid- to late summer, and are able to strike and inject venom from birth.

Timber rattlesnake, Shawnee State Park
Timber rattlesnake, Shawnee State Park

Adult timber rattlesnakes have few natural enemies, but they have been relentlessly persecuted, hunted and killed  by people throughout their range in Ohio and elsewhere. Your chances of encountering a timber rattlesnake in the wild in Ohio are extremely remote, but be careful when hiking in areas like Shawnee State Forest during the warm months, especially when traversing downed trees and rocky areas, where timber rattlesnakes like to curl up and rest. Timber rattlesnakes pose no danger to people unless they are severely provoked, so give any snake that you meet a wide berth and you will have no problems. Timber has been used by Jenny Richards to help educate thousands of visitors to Shawnee State Park over the years, and hopefully has helped the survival of these fascinating and beautiful creatures that inhabit a few pockets of true wilderness remaining in the Buckeye State.





This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. What a beautiful snake. Very interesting and educational story. I wasn’t even aware that we had rattlesnakes in Ohio. If I happen to come across one, however, I don’t think my lens of choice to photograph it will be my macro lens.

  2. Kathy,

    We also have smaller, Eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes in a few swampy areas of western and northeastern Ohio, as well as the venomous Northern Copperhead in the hill country of southeastern Ohio.

    You would need to be too close for comfort with a 50mm or 100mm macro lens, though a 200mm macro lens would give you enough working distance for safety.

  3. i met that snake before and he is a beautiful creature. I volunteer at the nature center.

  4. I was riding my bike in the forest on Sunday, June 7, 2015, and I saw a timber rattlesnake. I got a great photo and video. It was about 4′ long. A beautiful animal. Very exciting.

  5. Are there still Timber Rattlers in Shawnee? Or have most of them been captured?

  6. Leah, there are still timber rattlesnakes in Shawnee State Forest, though you are very unlikely to see one. Next time you are in Shawnee State Park, visit the Nature Center and talk with naturalist Jenny Richards, who is an expert on Shawnee’s snakes and other reptiles.

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