Timber Rattlesnake (Canebrake Rattlesnake)

Crotalus horridus

Last updated: June 7, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com

Timber Rattlesnake (Canebrake Rattlesnake) Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Viperidae
Genus
Crotalus
Scientific Name
Crotalus horridus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Timber Rattlesnake (Canebrake Rattlesnake) Locations

Timber Rattlesnake (Canebrake Rattlesnake) Locations

Timber Rattlesnake (Canebrake Rattlesnake) Facts

Diet
Carnivore
Favorite Food
Rodents, shrews, rabbits, amphibians, and birds
Common Name
Timber Rattlesnake
Special Features
Dark zig-zag patterns set against brown, gray, or pinkish skin

Timber Rattlesnake (Canebrake Rattlesnake) Physical Characteristics

Lifespan
Up to 37 years
Length
3-7 feet

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The timber rattlesnake, also known as the canebrake rattlesnake in some places, is one of the most common venomous snakes in the eastern United States.

Other local names besides the timber and canebrake rattlesnake include the black rattlesnake, American viper, banded rattlesnake, and eastern rattlesnake. But whatever they’re called, this species should be avoided at all costs. These are highly dangerous snakes that have evolved a rattle to signify the threat they pose to other animals. This article will cover some interesting facts about the identification, habitat, diet, and distribution of the timber rattlesnake.

5 Timber Rattlesnake Amazing Facts

  • The timber rattlesnake’s reproductive season takes place from spring to late summer. Males compete for potential mates by doing a courtship dance in which it slides up to the female, rubs his body against her, and curls his tail up underneath her. Females tend to reproduce every two or three years. She can produce up to 20 baby rattlesnakes in a single clutch.
  • Like all other pit vipers, the timber rattlesnakes have pit organs located between their nostrils and eyes to sense changes in the temperature of the surrounding environment.
  • Because they are so intolerant to cold weather, the timber rattlesnake hibernates for up to seven months during the winter. A single den can accommodate 15 to 60 snakes at a time. When warmer weather arrives, the snakes will migrate several miles from the den to hunt for prey.
  • Timber rattlesnakes are considered to be excellent climbers. One of the most interesting facts is that they have been found in trees up to some 80 feet high.
  • The timber rattlesnake was designated as the state reptile of West Virginia in 2008. It was also a potent symbol of the early American settlers and revolutionaries.

Where to Find Timber Rattlesnakes

Timber rattlesnakes are found in various locations such as hardwood forests, swamps, agricultural fields, and rocky hills throughout the eastern half of the United States. Historically, they were also located as far north as Canada. The snakes found at higher elevations are generally referred to as timber rattlers. The snakes at lower elevations, especially in their range near the coast, are generally referred to as canebrakes. While these snakes do have a winter den, they lack a permanent year-long home.

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Timber Rattlesnake Scientific Name

The scientific name of the timber rattlesnake is Crotalus horridus. Crotalus derives from the Greek word krotalon, which means rattle. This genus includes most of the world’s known rattlesnakes, including the western diamondback and the sidewinder. The species name horridus means shaggy, bristling, horrid, or fearful. They are a member of the viper family.

Timber Rattlesnake Population & Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, the timber rattlesnake is a species of least concern. General population estimates are not available, but numbers appear to be decreasing throughout most of their natural range. These snakes often fall victim to habitat loss and road accidents. Their natural swamp and wetland habitats are some of the most at-risk locations around the country.

How to Identify Timber Rattlesnakes: Appearance and Description

The timber rattlesnake can be distinguished from other members of its genus by the dark vertical zig-zag bands (usually containing black or dark brown colors) set against the otherwise gray, brown, or almost pinkish body. There is also an orange or yellow stripe running straight down the back and along the head. Several different color morphs are recognized, including a black color morph and a yellow color morph.



The scales along the back are heavily keeled. This means they are extremely rough to the touch and stand out slightly from the skin. The rattle at the end of the tail, which is actually composed of five or six “buttons” made from keratin (the same substance as hair and fingernails), makes a familiar warning sound when it’s shaken to send an ominous signal to potential predators and threats.

Baby rattlesnakes and juveniles look similar to adults, except they only have a single button on the rattle as well as a stripe from the eyes to the jaw. Adults generally measure anywhere between 3 and 5 feet long (a few exceptional specimens can reach 7 feet). The sexes appear similar to each other, but there is a noticeable size difference. The males weigh about 2 pounds, whereas females weigh around 1.3 pounds, which should make identification between them easier. Read about the largest timber rattlesnake ever recorded.

Here is how to identify the timber rattlesnake:

  • Gray, brown, or tan skin colors with pinkish hue
  • Black or dark brown cross-band colors with zig-zag edges
  • Rattle at the end of the tail with five or six buttons
  • Pit organ located between nostrils and eyes
  • Vertical pupils

Timber Rattlesnake: How Dangerous Are They?

Timber rattlesnakes are considered to be one of the more dangerous animals in the eastern part of the United States. Their large size, long fangs, and high venom delivery mean they pack a potent punch. Immediately after the snake delivers its bite, the venom will start to cause pain, swelling, excessive bleeding, and various neurological symptoms. Because the venom prevents the wound from properly closing, there is a small chance that a person would bleed out and die, so medical attention should be sought immediately. On account of their large size and potent venom, adult timbers have few natural predators in the wild, but baby rattlesnakes and juveniles are sometimes in danger of falling victim to predators.

Timber Rattlesnake Behavior and Humans

Although their venom is quite dangerous, the timber rattlesnake is not considered to be all that aggressive. Unless directly threatened or provoked, the snake will only strike people after performing a long series of rattling and defensive maneuvers. It will usually prefer to run away and hide. As long as you’re aware of your surroundings and don’t surprise this snake by accident, the chances of receiving a bite shouldn’t be too high. Even then, with proper treatment the long term prognosis for everyone is quite good.

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About the Author

Growing up in rural New England on a small scale farm gave me a lifelong passion for animals. I love learning about new wild animal species, habitats, animal evolutions, dogs, cats, and more. I've always been surrounded by pets and believe the best dog and best cat products are important to keeping our animals happy and healthy. It's my mission to help you learn more about wild animals, and how to care for your pets better with carefully reviewed products.

Timber Rattlesnake (Canebrake Rattlesnake) FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What has worse venom: timber rattlesnakes vs water cottonmouths?

When comparing the venom of timber rattlesnakes vs cottonmouths, it’s important to note that being bit by either of these snakes merits medical attention. However, a bite from a timber rattlesnake is generally more serious.

Are timber rattlesnakes venomous?

Yes, this species is considered to be highly toxic. They should never be approached or handled in the wild.

How do timber rattlesnakes hunt?

Timber rattlesnakes will wait patiently in the brush for an animal to pass by. It will then strike out quickly and inject venom into the prey’s body. The prey is then consumed whole. Because this snake has the ability to sense changes in the environmental temperature with its pits, identification of prey is made quickly.

Are timber rattlesnakes aggressive?

The timber rattlesnake usually won’t strike out immediately unless directly threatened. It will enter a defensive crouch and deliver a series of obvious warning rattles first.

Where do timber rattlesnakes live?

The timber rattlesnake lives in various forest, hill, and swamp locations throughout their eastern US range.

What do timber rattlesnakes eat?

The diet of the timber rattlesnake consists almost entirely of squirrels, rats and mice, shrews, rabbits, lizards, amphibians, and birds.

Is a timber rattlesnake the same as a canebrake rattlesnake?

The timber rattlesnake is often referred to as the canebrake in the coastal plains region of the southeastern United States. The canebrake is the name of the cane thickets that once dominated the region. Sporting gray/pink skin, the canebrake rattlesnake is sometimes considered to be its own separate local variation of the timber rattlesnake (although it’s not recognized as a subspecies by any taxonomists).

How deadly is a canebrake rattlesnake?

This reptile definitely has the ability to kill a person, but bites are fairly rare. It isn’t quite as aggressive as its other rattlesnake relatives.

How big does a canebrake rattlesnake get?

The largest timber rattlesnake ever was around 7 feet long, but most don’t grow any larger than 5 feet.

What type of venom does a canebrake rattlesnake have?

Depending on where it lives, the timber rattlesnake may include various mixtures of neurotoxins (which affect the neurological system) and hemotoxins (which affect the red blood cells and circulatory system). Some member of the species may have relatively weak venom which won’t do much damage even if injected into a person.

How long do timber rattlesnakes live?

The lifespan of this reptile is thought to be about 30 years in the wild. They have been known to have a lifespan of up to 37 years in captivity.

What are the differences between timber rattlesnake and eastern diamondbacks?

The key differences between timber rattlesnake and eastern diamondback are their habitat and range, physical markings, size, and behavior.

Both of these snakes have long, hollow fangs to deliver powerful venom; they sense their prey with pit organs and warn of their strike with the shaking of rattles at the tip of their tails.

Sources
  1. , Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Crotalus_horridus/
  2. , Available here: https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/crohor.htm
  3. (1970) https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/timber-rattlesnake Jump to top
  4. (1970)

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