In a comment from my initial post, Brad P. asked me about the status of Timber Rattlesnakes in Ohio. Personally, I love snakes. I used to care for a diamondback rattlesnake, as well as a number of non-venomous snakes at the University of South Alabama's vertebrate museum, as an undergrad. However, my training and research is with mammals, and unfortunately, I haven't had the time to keep up with the plight of the timber rattlesnake in Ohio. However, Doug Wynn is arguably the most knowledgeable person on the subject. So, I went to him to help me answer Brad's question. His reply to the rattlesnake's status is below:
If one looks at the history of Timber Rattlesnakes in Ohio, their range has declined. From over 22 counties to eight. Numbers have also declined. In the 1950s, a well known Ohio naturalist captured more than 50 Timber Rattlesnakes from one Hollow in Shawnee State Forest. I would guess that it would now require 4-5 people and an entire day, to visit that same hollow and capture 3-4.
I am not optimistic. We have recently learned that our snakes leave their dens in the spring and hide under leaves for up to a month. Our agencies want to conduct controlled burns, which remove the leaf cover. I am not sure how the snakes will deal with that.
Male Timber Rattlesnakes are starting to show up in areas where they have not been seen in years. I heard a person say that's good and that populations must be increasing. I disagree. Pregnant females seek open, warm habitats that make them easier to see. People commonly kill them. Consequently, I think males are having to travel farther to find females.
All rattlesnakes need open, warm habitats for shedding, after large meals, and as mentioned above, when pregnant. I have heard people say that clear cuts must be good for them. I agree, but the open areas do not have to be large. One third of an acre is enough. You don't need to clear 25+ acres to meet their needs.
I have also heard people say that clear cuts are good for them because there are more rodents. I disagree. A university study determined that during the first year after a clear cut, rodent populations were low. Rodent populations then increase. However, they are small species of rodents. Habitat utilization studies show that Timber Rattlesnakes prefer older growth woodlands. This makes sense because this where you find larger species of rodents. If I was a male Timber Rattlesnake I would rather eat one Gray Squirrel and spend the rest of the summer chasing females, as opposed to spending half the summer eating small rodents.
I thank Doug for providing his expertise on this subject. The outlook seems bleak. Nonetheless, there is hope. It is of paramount importance that people aren't frightened of snakes and do not kill them. Thus, education is key. Furthermore, it's sometimes hard to control what happens on public land, but Appalachian Ohio is largely under private ownership. Planned burns
that occur within the current or potential range of the Timber Rattlesnake should keep the biology of this species in mind. Private woodlands with small openings, which is optimal habitat for many species (including the big furry ones that I study), should be maintained. In the end, as with many cases of endangered species, informing and educating the public could go a long way toward helping to save this beautiful creature in Appalachian Ohio.