- In general, timber rattlesnakes are apex predators in the wild and are the third-largest venomous snake in the U.S.
- Kingsnakes and Eastern indigo snakes, as well as skunks, eat these rattlesnakes as they are immune to its venom.
- Animals that are not immune to timber rattlers’ venom but have developed specialized methods for hunting and consuming them include bobcats, coyotes, fox, skunks, hawks, and owls.
Timber rattlesnakes are the third-largest venomous snake in the United States. They can get to be 5-6 feet long and weigh around 1-3 pounds. Rattlesnakes are considered apex predators so there are not a lot of predators that are going to take on a large venomous snake. However, there are a few other snakes that are immune to venom that will attack and eat rattlesnakes. There are also a variety of animals that will prey on young and juvenile timber rattlers. Let’s take a look at what eats timber rattlesnakes!
What Is a Timber Rattlesnake?
Timber rattlesnakes (also called canebrakes) live in the eastern United States, including states from eastern Texas over to South Carolina, up to New York and west to the edge of Minnesota, the eastern edge of Iowa and down to Texas. These rattlesnakes have a triangular head, with its neck getting smaller leading into a long medium-thick body. At the end of its tail is a series of “buttons” that rattle as a warning to predators. Rattlesnakes are pit vipers so they have two openings on the side of their heads that are used to seek prey by heat-sensing. They have three different color varieties, but the most common ones have a base color that is tan with dark brown markings and a rust-colored stripe going down the length of their body. Some are quite a bit darker in color with fainter markings as well.
Where Do Rattlesnakes Live?
These pit vipers can survive in a wide variety of habitats including deserts, forests, grasslands, scrub, and swamps. They can be found in the Americas from Canada’s southern regions through Mexico, Central America, and South America. However, they tend to thrive in North America’s southwestern regions.
Are Timber Rattlesnakes Venomous?
Yes, timber rattlesnakes are very venomous and harmful to humans if bitten, but bites can be treated at medical facilities. Their venom is what makes them a dangerous predator and a creature not many animals will try to eat.
What Eats Timber Rattlesnakes?
Kingsnakes and Eastern indigo snakes eat timber rattlesnakes. Both of these snake species are immune to the venom and are not afraid to take on a snake that is bigger than them.
- Kingsnakes are known to be aggressive snake-eating snakes, preferring snakes over small rodents in some cases. The Wildlife Resource Division in Georgia confirmed that a video of a snake swallowing another large snake was indeed an Eastern kingsnake eating a timber rattlesnake. In Dexter, Georgia, a woman videotaped the incident. Kingsnakes are known to eat not just rattlesnakes but cottonmouths and copperheads as well.
- Eastern indigo snakes are the largest native snakes in the U.S. with a length of 60-82 inches long. They are a medium-bodied black snake with a rust or orange colored chin. They prefer reptiles over small mammals and don’t mind eating venomous snakes like the timber rattler.
How Do Kingsnakes Kill and Eat Timber Rattlesnakes?
Kingsnakes will approach a timber rattlesnake and strike right away, usually at the head. It will bite and latch on to the head and then wrap its body all the way around the other snake, constricting it. Without much hesitation it will start swallowing the snake whole, head first. Even snakes much larger than the kingsnake can be eaten.
How Do Eastern Indigos Kill and Eat Timber Rattlesnakes?
Eastern Indigo snakes are not constrictors but they are some of the fastest striking snakes. They will strike a timber rattlesnake in the head and pin them to the ground, chewing as it goes, then swallowing the snake whole, head first.
Other Animals That Eat Timber Rattlesnakes
Other animals that eat timber rattlesnakes include bobcats, coyotes, fox, skunks, hawks, and owls.
How Do Bobcats Eat Timber Rattlesnakes Without Being Bitten?
Bobcats are not immune to venom, but they can be stealthy hunters. If they sneak up on an unsuspecting rattlesnake they can pounce on it delivering a lethal blow to the snakes head with its large paw and claws. The snake is knocked out before it has a chance to strike and deliver its venom. Bobcats will also target smaller, inexperienced timber rattlesnakes that are easier prey than the adults.
How Do Owls Hunt Timber Rattlesnakes?
There are a few species of owls that prey on snakes. The barred owl, barn owl, eastern screech owl and the largest, great horned owl. Owls have a few things going for them when it comes to an “Owl vs. Snake” battle. Since owls hunt at night they have amazing night vision and can detect even the smallest of movements from prey. With snakes, they have the upper hand because they can silently swoop down and crush the snakes head in their claw before grabbing it off the ground and flying away with it for food. Owls are not immune to venom, but they rarely get bitten with this swoop and kill tactic. Therefore, killing venomous snakes like timber rattlesnakes is a viable option for them.
How Do Skunks Eat Timber Rattlesnakes?
Did you know that skunks are immune to rattlesnake venom? They are immune if they get bitten and if they eat a rattlesnake the venom will not make them sick. Skunks are related to mongoose which are known to eat venomous snakes as well. A quirky “circle of life” fact is that great horned owls will eat skunks and don’t seem to be bothered by their smell.
Do Humans Eat Timber Rattlesnakes?
Yes, they can. People have been consuming what they hunt for years even if that includes a rattlesnake. The meat of the rattlesnake has been compared to being similar to frog legs. However, timber rattlesnakes are a threatened or endangered animal in many states so it is not lawful to “take, transport or have on in possession” in most states. Globally they are listed as Least Concern and decreasing, so individual states are doing what they can to help keep these snakes at a healthy population. Timber rattlesnakes play an important role in maintaining our current ecosystems, so keeping them around is so very important.
Do Timber Rattlesnakes Hibernate in Large Groups?
Yes! Talk about a rattlesnake buffet — if a predator came across a den of hibernating timber rattlesnakes they could find anywhere from 30-60 snakes all huddled together in one place. Some dens have included nearly 200 snakes! They also have an odd behavior of sharing their dens with other snake species like rat snakes, black racers, and copperheads. They do not like to share their dens with kingsnakes for obvious reasons and other snake-eating snakes are not invited either!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Scott Delony/Shutterstock.com
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