"That's a big snake!" says Clayton Fleener as he catches footage of … well, a big snake! A timber rattlesnake, to be precise, moseying across a trail in Brown County, Indiana. Take a look:


There are more than 30 species of snakes in Indiana, but only four of them are venomous, and only two of those have rattles: the smaller eastern massasauga and the larger timber rattlesnake. Timbers can grow as long as 1.5 metres (5 feet), and while it's hard to tell exactly how long the snake in Fleener's video is, it sure isn't small!

Anyone who has been out searching for snakes can attest that the sight of a big serpent scooching across a trail is pretty exciting. Snakes tend to spend a lot of their time nestled in cozy hiding spaces, and a beautifully patterned specimen like this one can easily disappear among the leaf litter.

So why is this big reptile so active? It's just that time of year. Right now, we are smack in the middle of mating season, and male timbers have a habit of slithering far and wide to find female friends: research has found that these snakes can travel more than six kilometres in search of sex. There may be no better time to come across a big male out and about than right now.

If you happen upon a snake like this while out hiking, do what Fleener and friends did. Take a video and keep your distance. Rattlesnakes do not chase people – you're a lot bigger and stronger than they are, and besides, they're saving that venom for food – but they are wild animals and can be dangerous. Remember, the majority of snake bites in the United States occur when people are grabbing at the snakes.

What's more, this species is listed as endangered, and thus protected, in the state of Indiana. Timber rattlesnakes are widespread across the eastern US, but their populations are fragmented in the Midwest. Habitat destruction is a major problem for a species that relies on good sites to hibernate through the cold months.

These snakes reproduce slowly and don't have a lot of babies, so they can struggle to survive through environmental strife. The sight of this big serpent trucking along is not only beautiful and exciting, but also it's a good sign – it means the endangered snakes of Indiana are on the move and hopefully busy getting busy.



Top header image: Scott Sanford/Flickr