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Snake ‘rattles’ awareness in Southeastern Minnesota


By Mitchell Walbridge

Fri, Jul 12th, 2013
Posted in All Agriculture

By Mitchell Walbridge

Southeastern Minnesota’s prize title of ‘bluff country’ is true it’s name in so many ways, consisting of beautiful sloping hillsides, steep scenic cliffs, diverse vegetation and an abundance of wildlife. So many different creatures live among the changing terrain; there is no question that nature can have so much than what meets the common man’s eye.

This is proven by Jeff Eastman and his three dogs’ encounter with at least one timber rattlesnake in rural Houston County after one of his dogs was bit twice.

Timber Rattlesnakes are not new to the neighborhood of southeast Minnesota. According to experts from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “Historically, timber rattlesnakes occurred in eight southeastern Minnesota counties.” In fact, since 1980 the peripheral range for timber rattlers has included Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Olmsted, Wabasha, and Winona Counties.

Timber rattlesnakes are large snakes with heavily scaled bodies, mostly known for their venomous bite. Easily spotted by a timber-like coloration pattern across its dorsal side, a timber rattler commonly appears either yellow, tan, brown, reddish brown, or more infrequently, gray.

The size of the snake varies depending on the geographical region, but the average snake typically measures 31.5 inches to 48 inches. This species of snake also is very tactile when choosing its prey, utilizing a “sit-and-wait” technique to surprise its prey. Prey for a timber rattlesnake most likely includes small mammals, such as mice, moles, chipmunks, squirrels and small rabbits.

Like many other animals in northern climates, timber rattlesnakes have seasonal changes for when they are active. They hibernate during the winter months and are usually active anywhere from mid-April to early October.

So, where can they be spotted? Well, their name gives a pretty good hint. Timber rattlers usually live in forested areas in our corner of the state, especially in “steep, rugged bluff prairies and valleys of the Mississippi River drainage.” Mainly, they thrive in the woodland and grassland habitats.

The DNR has put forth efforts since the 1990’s to track rattlesnake activity in southeastern Minnesota, monitoring den sites with both human observation and cameras, tracking the dwindling population.

There has been a steep decline worldwide of timber rattlesnakes, but it has been especially evident in the southeastern Minnesota area. Some of the reasons for population decline include “habitat degradation, rattlesnake roundups, intentional killing, and collection for the fashion and pet industry.” Due to expanding borders of our small towns and hobby farm development across the corner of the state, snakes have been forced into smaller availability of habitat areas. Road expansion and construction have also both been factors.

Minnesota has the timber rattlesnake listed under a ‘threatened’ status and a plan has been put in place in the 2009 by the Minnesota DNR for population recovery and monitoring efforts.

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