Wildlife Biologists Learning From Our Zoo’s Timber Rattlesnakes

The Zoo’s three timber rattlesnakes recently provided New York State Department of Environmental Conservation scientist Madeline Alfieri the opportunity to develop and validate an aging technique to be used in wild populations.

Photo by Dr. Jeff Wyatt

Photo by Dr. Jeff Wyatt

“NYSDEC has been studying Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes, a threatened species, for approximately five years. This year we have started looking at rattle segment widths as a form of age analysis. Getting a better grasp on age of the individuals in New York’s population is extremely important as it allows us to manage them in the best possible way,” says Alfieri.

Timber rattlesnakes add a new rattle segment to their tail when they shed, which may be every other year in their natural range.  So, why don’t biologists simply count rattle segments to determine age in wild populations?

Photo by Dr. Jeff Wyatt

Photo by Dr. Jeff Wyatt

It turns out that finding a snake with a complete rattle is very rare in their natural range due to normal wear and tear. Since our Zoo’s three timber rattlesnakes are known to be ten years old, are graced with complete rattles and are documented with an exact number of sheds, we are able to provide a benchmark for standardizing the age assessment by measuring width of specific rattles instead of number of segments.

Photo by Dr. Jeff Wyatt

Photo by Dr. Jeff Wyatt

What an impactful contribution our Zoo’s rattlesnakes have made to better understand and conserve their wild counterparts! New York’s timber rattlesnakes are isolated to southeastern New York, the Southern Tier and eastern edge of the Adirondacks. They serve a unique role in nature’s balance and deserve our utmost protection, admiration and respect.

Photo courtesy of NYSDEC

Photo courtesy of NYSDEC

On your next visit to the Zoo, be sure to visit the three highly-social timbers with their perfect rattles, near the first entrance of the Main Building.

 

–Dr. Jeff Wyatt, Director of Animal Health and Conservation