Recognized Subspecies in VA: None
Size: 30 - 60 inches
Range: Mountains of Virginia; Canebrake variation is found in Southern Coastal Plain
Status: Mountain variation is Tier IV | Canebrake variation is Tier II
When one thinks of rattlesnakes they usually think of the wild west, but in Virginia, they are more of a mountain species. This species used to be statewide, before European settlers wiped them out of any easily accessible areas. These snakes were wiped out due to their habits. Settlers could locate a nearby snake from the sound of their rattle. This species will brumate in dens with hundreds of other rattlers, and when settlers found these dens, they would blow the snake-filled dens up with dynamite. This meant only the snakes that lived in massive marshes and in the most ragged mountains survived this era.
Now, this species is protected for being harmed by law. This is a very iconic species in our state, and was almost the state reptile. This snake is the most venomous snake in our state, but it is also one of the nicest. This species will rattle its tail to say "back off", instead of holding still like other pit-vipers. This means rattlesnake bites are rare, and the overwhelming majority of rattlesnake bites are in the US are on the hands or face of intoxicated men under the age of 25. A rattlesnake would rather you leave it be than waste its venom on something it cannot eat. This said, baby rattlesnakes do not have a rattle, but a piece of skin on the tail called a "button". The rattle is made by holding back a portion of skin when the animal sheds; and after a few sheds, it builds up into a rattle. Rattlesnakes will not attack you, so when you see a rattlesnake: watch your step (there could be more), take photos from a safe distance, walk away slowly, and then brag to your friends that you saw a rattlesnake.
Timber Rattlers in the mountains can be found by scanning basking sites that are often in rocky areas near ledges. These snakes are often just referred to as Timber Rattlesnakes or the mountain variety. Mountain varieties are highly variable; often being yellow, black, or somewhere in between. The coastal variant is often called the "Canebrake Rattlesnake". These snakes are often a lighter brown with a brick-red mid dorsal line. This variety can be found by flipping boards and tin in or near marshes, but these snakes are incredibly rare. Road cruising can yield either variety as well.
Similar Species: Most snakes will rattle their tail in the leaves when threatened, but only true rattlesnakes will have an actual rattle. Otherwise, these snakes are not often mistaken for any other snake.
Maps and External Sources
Herping Virginia encourages all naturalists to practice ethical, safe, and sustainable herping. The use of proper herping methods and techniques is beneficial to both wildlife and herpers. Visit the links below for more information.