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First let’s get one thing straight; I am not a herpetologist having no degree in that science. I am, however, a herpetophile…one who has an interest in reptiles.

MartyMy knowledge and expertise come from personal interactions. Let's take for instance the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus Horridus) or as my friend, Randy Stechert, calls them: “buzz puppies.” This much maligned snake is actually our first national symbol; its image depicted on the first United States flag, the Gadsden Flag, with the motto, “Don't tread on me.”

The timber rattler and the copperhead are the only venomous snakes found in southern New York state. Timber rattlers can be found from southern New Hampshire to northern Florida and west into east Texas. Along the southern coastal plains in North Carolina is a variation called the canebrake rattler which grows larger.

Some time ago I was gifted with a small set-up of central American lizards. Not knowing how to keep them, I contacted and became a member of the New York Herpetological Society which soon led to my first interaction with timbers on a field trip to Bear Mountain State Park. It was, if not love at first sight, an extreme enthusiasm.

Individuals from the same litter can come in two color phases: black or yellow. Both are equally impressive. Coming up on a rattler sunning on a ridge overlooking a green valley can place one into a primeval setting. I've sat relaxed among them on one of these ridges, a black phase coiled several yards to my left and a yellow to my right. I'm sure they were as aware of me as I of them, yet, not sensing any fear or danger from me stayed put soaking up sun and enjoying the day as I was. On these privileged occasions I feel a peaceful spirituality and oneness with my environment.

MartyNow we come to my role as a nuisance rattlesnake responder. Through the auspices of the Department of Environmental Control (DEC) of New York and the recommendation of Randy Stechert, I am on record in several municipalities in Orange, Rockland, and the lower Hudson Valley counties as a responder. This means that if someone has what they believe to be a timber rattlesnake on their property instead of killing it (which could result in a fine) the local police are contacted. They in turn contact me or one of the other responders who happen to be around. My job (which by the way is voluntary) is to protect folks from the rattler, but mostly through education I wind up protecting the rattler from the folks.

I am often asked if I'm going to relocate a captured snake. The answer is “No.” Rattlesnakes can not be relocated. They live in ancestral dens often sharing them with other snake species. There they over - winter in a state of torpor and there the female gives birth to from four to a dozen live-born young in a litter. Adults emerge in early spring and travel up to a mile and a half along ancestral routes in search of food and water returning up to the den mid to late September (sometimes well into October). Males follow the female’s scent trails and mating occurs en-route.

If two dens are relatively close to each other, a male might follow a female from another den and mate with her, thus refreshing the gene pool but you cannot take a rattler from a Bear Mountain den and relocate it over twenty miles away into a Sterling Forest den. Timber rattlers are imprinted with their ancestral den. Though there may be exceptions, relocation is an unwise option.

Several years ago, I was contacted by the Blooming Grove Police. A woman in Mountain Lodge Park was concerned about a timber rattler on her lawn as she had a rottwieller with eight puppies. I assured her that the snake would avoid the dogs and move on. On my arrival a half hour later, I was proven wrong by the sight of a frantic woman. There was a rattler crawling about in the hurricane fenced kennel while the bitch was unconcernedly nursing her pups. I removed the serpent without incident and as required, measured, sexed and marked the rattle with a Sharpie indelible pen. The woman was so impressed with the snake’s docility that the following summer, when it once again appeared on her property she calmly picked it up with a hoe, as a snake-stick, and deposited it into an empty trash barrel and called me saying "I got one for you." I arrived and discovered it to be the same individual as the previous year! I released it once again about one quarter mile back up the mountain. Re-caps are proof that the timber rattler is a creature of habit.

Two summers ago, in late September I got a call from the Tuxedo Police about rattlers on someone’s property in Sloatsburg. On my arrival, I found a pair of timber rattlers mating. Picking them up together and still joined was no easy task but I did. I measured them as best I could, marked their rattles, bagged them and released them. Everyone was impressed...especially me!

In short, my experiences with timber rattlesnakes have been many, varied, sometimes surprising and always beneficial to both rattler and me. Space limits the amount of stories and there are many more. So I'll just close with this line: the timber rattler is a peaceful denizen of our forests; beneficial if nothing else in rodent control and certainly worthy, if not of our veneration, at least our protection.

Marty Kupersmith
aka Marty Sanders
Jay and the Americans

Singer/songwriter
Concerned environmentalist

www.martykupersmith.com

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Jay and the Americans
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