TIMBER RATTLESNAKE
Crotalus horridus
Linnaeus, 1758


krō-tă-ləs — hŏr-rə-dŭs


Kansas Species in Need of Conservation (SINC)


An adult Timber Rattlesnake from Allen County. © Travis W. Taggart.
An adult Timber Rattlesnake from Chautauqua County, Kansas. © Suzanne L. Collins, CNAH.
An adult from Chautauqua County, Kansas. Image © Dexter Mardis.
An adult Timber Rattlesnake from Leavenworth County, Kansas. © John Tollefson.
Sub-adult Timber Rattlesnake from Marshall County. © Maci Loughrea.
Image © Suzanne L. Collins, CNAH.
An adult from Franklin County. Image © Jim Scharosch.

Description:
DANGEROUSLY VENOMOUS (a threat to life or limb): Largest native rattlesnake in Kansas. Heat-sensing pit on each side of the head between and slightly below eye and nostril; large rattle at end of a jet black tail; small scales covering most of top of the head with one large scale over each eye; a pattern of 18–33 dark bands or chevrons on the back. Head and body vary from pinkish gray to yellowish brown; indistinct rusty, reddish stripe often runs down the middle of the back. Belly grayish white. Young look like miniature adults.
This is a large, stout-bodied snake that can obtain lengths of five feet or more. Adults normally grow 900-1,520 mm (36-60 inches) in TL; largest specimen from Kansas: female (KU 1645) from Douglas County with a total length of 1,613 mm (63½ inches, including rattle) collected by Charles D. Bunker and G. I. Adams in June 1899; maximum length throughout range: 74½ inches (Conant and Collins, 1998); maximum weight for Kansas specimen: 2,386 grams (5 pounds, 4 ounces).
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Distribution:
The Timber Rattlesnake is known from the Marais des Cygnes, Kansas and Missouri drainage basins. It enters Kansas from Oklahoma in the Cross Timbers but is conspicuously absent from the Neosho River basin.
The observation at Pittsburg, Crawford County, was reported in the Pittsburg Morning Sun on Wednesday 29 August 2001. The snake was discovered at 11 am basking on the pavement near the south entrance to the Bath-Naylor Funeral Home. The article also stated that this is the third time in 17 years that a rattlesnake has been found inside the Pittsburg City Limits. This record is questionable and additional reports (or preferably specimen[s]) are desired.

(, Museum Voucher) (, Observation) (, Literature Record)
Open icons are questionable records; Click on a marker to view details. Export Google Earth (.kml)
  • Occurrence Summary:  
  • 359 Total Records 
  • 298 Museum Vouchers 
  • 61 Other Observations 
Some county occurrences indicated below may be too imprecise to map above.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences):
Allen (2); Anderson (2); Atchison (15); Bourbon (10); Chautauqua (21); Crawford (8); Doniphan (3); Douglas (82); Elk (6); Franklin (51); Geary (1); Jackson (1); Jefferson (9); Johnson (28); Leavenworth (19); Linn (6); Marshall (16); Miami (33); Montgomery (4); Osage (13); Pottawatomie (2); Riley (10); Shawnee (4); Unknown (5); Wabaunsee (2); Wilson (1); Wyandotte (2);

Natural History:
Active by day during spring and fall in rugged terrain along heavily vegetated, rocky outcrops on partially forested hillsides; in summer, moves to open sparsely wooded meadows and hillsides. Prowls at night during hot weather. Five to 14 young per litter are born in August, September, and October. Feeds on small mammals, as well as on smaller snakes.
Timber Rattlesnakes breed in the spring or fall (July or August) and are sexually mature in 7 to 12 years of age. Males may "combat" with other males. The two snakes intertwine the posterior portion of their bodies together while they raise the anterior half into the air and try to push each other to the ground. The successful male will go on to breed with a female. The females may breed every 2 to 4 years (3 is the most common interval) and may spend their gestation period near the hibernation dens. They do not eat during this period, but they spend much of their time basking. They are ovoviviparous and give birth to about a half-dozen young inside individual membranes. The young are born in August or September and are 10 to 13 inches in length.

Occurrence Activity:
White dates indicate there is at least a single recorded occurrence on that date. The darker blue a date is, the greater the relative number of observations for that date.
Remarks:
Reportedly declining throughout much of its former range, this large, shy snake is generally doing well where it occurs in Kansas. While individually well-camouflaged it is difficult for populations to escape detection, and it is generally a well-known snake where it occurs. Fitch (1984) postulated that prior to settlement, Timber Rattlesnakes were not common and that with greater control of fires and the concomitant increase in forests their populations increased. However, over the past 50 years, there is ample evidence suggesting an overall decline in numbers and populations.
In less urbanized areas the Timber Rattlesnake is abundant despite its large size and venomous disposition, and populations have probably changed little in the past 50 years. In urban areas, the greatest threat it faces is habitat conversion for development. In these areas (Wyandotte, Johnson, and Douglas counties specifically) populations are certainly declining.
Enough data exists to show that many populations of Timber Rattlesnakes still persist in less developed portions of Johnson, Wyandotte, and Douglas counties. Local extinctions and fragmentation have already occurred, and more is inevitable, however now is the time to ensure that enough of these areas are protected to avoid the regional extinction of this species.
The Timber Rattlesnake was listed as a Kansas SINC species in 1993.

Bibliography:
1758 Linné, Carl von (=Linneaus). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis 10th Edition, Volume 1, L. Salvius, Stockholm. iv + 826pp.
1859 Cope, Edward D. Catalogue of the venomous serpents in the Museum of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, with notes on the families, genera, and species. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia 11():332-347
1860 Mitchell, S. Weir. Researches Upon the Venom of the Rattlesnake: With an Investigation of the Anatomy and Physiology of the Organ Concerned. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Smithsonian Institution, Washinton, D. C.. 145pp.
1862 Colt, Miriam. D. Went to Kansas: Being a thrilling account of an ill-fated expedition to that fairy land, and its sad results; Together with a sketch of the life of the author, and how the world goes with her. L. Ingalls and Company, Watertown. 294pp.
1882 Yarrow, Henry C. Check list of North American Reptilia and Batrachia with catalogue of specimens in U. S. National Museum. Bulletin of the United States National Museum (24):1-249
1895 Stejneger, Leonhard. The poisonous snakes of North America. Annual Report of the United States National Museum 1893(2):337-487
1900 Cope, Edward D. The crocodilians, lizards and snakes of North America. Pages 153-1270 in Report of the U. S. National Museum for the Year Ending June 30, 1898 , Washington, D. C. pp.
1904 Branson, Edwin B. Snakes of Kansas. University of Kansas Science Bulletin 2(13):353-430
1907 Ditmars, Raymond L. The Reptile Book; A comprehensive, Popularised Work on the Structure and Habits of the Turtles, Tortoises, Crocodilians, Lizards and Snakes which Inhabit the United States and Northern Mexico. Doubleday, Pae, and Company, New York. 472pp.
1911 Hurter, Julius. Herpetology of Missouri. Transactions of the Academy of Science St. Louis 20(5):59-274
1925 Linsdale, Jean M. Land Vertebrates of a Limited Area in Eastern Kansas. Thesis. University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. 312pp.
1927 Linsdale, Jean M. Amphibians and reptiles of Doniphan County, Kansas. Copeia 1927(164):75-81
1928 Burt, Charles E. Some distributional and ecological records of Kansas reptiles. Transactions of the Academy of Science St. Louis 26():186-208
1929 Taylor, Edward H. A revised checklist of the snakes of Kansas. University of Kansas Science Bulletin 19(5):53-62
1946 Gloyd, Howard K. Some rattlesnake dens of South Dakota. The Chicago Naturalist 9(4):87-97
1953 Hall, E. Raymond. A western extension of known geographic range for the Timber Rattlesnake in southern Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 56():89
1953 Schmidt, Karl P. A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. 6th Edition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois. 280pp.
1956 Loomis, Richard B. The chigger mites of Kansas (Acarina, Trombiculidae). University of Kansas Science Bulletin 37():1195-1443
1959 Prophet, Carl W. An outline for conservation teaching in Kansas. Kansas School Naturalist 5(3):16
1972 Pisani, George R., Joseph T. Collins, and Stephen R. Edwards. A re-evaluation of the subspecies of Crotalus horridus. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 75(3):255-263
1978 Harris, Herbert S. and Robert S. Simmons. A preliminary account of the rattlesnakes with descriptions of four new subspecies. Bulletin of the Maryland Herpetological Society 14():105-211
1982 Fitch, Henry S. Resources of a snake community in prairie-woodland habitat of northeastern Kansas. Pages 83-97 in Herpetological communities: A symposium of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles and the Herpetologists League, August 1977.  Wildlife Research Reports 12. 239 pp. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D. C. pp.
1983 Collins, Joseph T. New records of fishes, amphibians, and reptiles in Kansas for 1982 . Technical Publication of the State Biological Survery of Kansas 13():9-21
1991 Fitch, Henry S. Reptiles and amphibians of the Kansas ecological reserves. Pages 71-74 in Multidisciplinary Guidebook 4. Kansas Academy of Science, Lawrence. pp.
1993 Riedle, J. Daren. Distribution of the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) in Chautauqua, Elk and Montgomery Counties, Kansas. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. 13pp.
1993 Riedle, J. Daren. Distribution of the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) in Chautauqua, Elk, and Montgomery counties, Kansas Privately printed, Emporia, Kansas. 8pp.
1994 Riedle, J. Daren. Distribution of the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) in Chautauqua, Elk, and Montgomery counties, Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (95):43051
1996 Miller, Larry L. Many amphibian and reptile species identified during KHS 1996 fall field trip to Wabaunsee County. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (106):2-3
1996 Rakestraw, J. Spring herp counts: A Kansas tradition. Reptile & Amphibian Magazine (March-April):75-80
1998 Gamble, Jerre Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hartford, Kansas. 91pp.
2002 Fitch, Henry S. and George R. Pisani. Longtime recapture of a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) in Kansas. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (3):15-16
2003 Fitch, Henry S. and George R. Pisani. Ecology and behavior of Timber Rattlesnakes in Kansas: A study of a widespread species at the westernmost limits of its range. 2003 Summary with plans for 2004 and beyond. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. 12pp.
2003 Freeman, Craig C. A natural areas inventory of the Ft. Leavenworth Military Reservation, Leavenworth County, Kansas. II. Open-file Report No. 117. Kansas Biological Survey, Lawrence, Kansas. 199pp.
2004 Fitch, Henry S., George R. Pisani, Harry W. Greene, Alice F. Echelle, and Micael Zerwekh. A Field study of the Timber Rattlesnake in Leavenworth County, Kansas. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (11):18-24
2005 Pisani, George R. and Henry S. Fitch. Timber Rattlesnake Conservation Action Plan--Kansas. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, . 11pp.
2005 Taggart, Travis W. Results of the KHS 2005 fall field trip [to Crawford County]. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (16):19-21
2005 Taggart, Travis W. and Curtis J. Schmidt. Geographic distribution: Crotalus horridus. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (14):11
2006 Fitch, Henry S. and George R. Pisani. The Timber Rattlesnake in northeastern Kansas. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (19):11-15
2006 Pisani, George R. and Henry S. Fitch. Rapid early growth in northeastern Kansas Timber Rattlesnakes. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (20):19-20
2006 Taggart, Travis W. Distribution and status of Kansas herpetofauna in need of information. State Wildlife Grant T7. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. vii + 106pp.
2008 Taggart, Travis W. KHS 2008 spring field trip. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (25):2-3
2010 Pisani, George R. Conservation of venomous snakes is a delicate balance of science, sociology, and politics: Review of Timber Rattlesnakes in Vermont and New York: Biology, History, and the Fate of an Endangered Species, by Jon Furman. IRCF Reptiles and Amphibians: Conservation and Natural History 17(2):1213
2010 Pisani, George R. and Henry S. Fitch. Further notes on growth of juvenile Timber Rattlesnakes in Northeastern Kansas. Reptiles and Amphibians: Conservation and Natural History 17(4):210-215
2012 Rohweder, Megan R. Spatial conservation prioritization of Kansas for terrestrial vertebrates. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 151pp.
2014 Anonymous. Rattler Iola Register 9 September 2014():
2016 Pittman, Galen L., Henry S. Fitch, and W. Dean Kettle Vertebrate animals on the Fitch Natural History Reservation (1948-2002) Kansas Biological Survey Report Number 188, Lawrence. 48pp.
2019 Riedle, J. Daren. The truth about snakes. Kansas Wildlife and Parks Magazine July/August():18-21
Account Last Updated:
2/18/2020 9:18:17 AM


Travis W. Taggart © 2020 — Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University