If you have ever been hiking on a trail in the Finger Lakes, there’s a possibility you might have run into one of the most common snake species in New York: The timber rattlesnake.
“They do like to move around kind of in more kind of drier temperatures. They really like to spend their time out sunning themselves on these nice sunny days. There’s always the possibility as long as you take the appropriate measures, you’ll be safe out,” said Ryan Donnelly, Marketing Director and Educator at Tanglewood Nature Center.
Rattlesnakes: “They were here long before we ever were, they belong here” (video)
Nature educator: “We fear what we don’t understand”
Tanglewood Nature Center is a not-for-profit organization in the Finger Lakes region that specializes in rattlesnake education.
The center works with Polly Smith-Blackwell, a state-licensed timber rattlesnake handler and educator at Tanglewood. She educates the public on the importance of rattlesnakes to our ecosystems. She said you should be excited if you see one, not scared.
“We fear what we don’t understand. And I think if people do take the time to understand the true nature of a timber rattlesnake, they’ll realize that that’s not something we have to be afraid of,” said Smith-Blackwell.
Madeline Wlasniewski is a wildlife technician with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). She’s working on research to determine where the rattlesnakes live and how many are in New York.
“Typically children that are afraid of snakes, one of their parents are afraid of snakes they’ve picked up on it from their parents. This species in general, they’re just a very laid-back snake. They want to hang out in some shade in the woods, up on a hillside somewhere, and totally be left alone, they’re a pretty nomadic snake.”
Rattlesnakes benefit the local ecosystem
Wlasniewski explained that timber rattlesnakes are a hard animal to study, especially because they are threatened in New York with little habitat. The DEC has been doing site work to figure out what habitat is ideal and suitable for den sites.
Smith-Blackwell explained how rattlesnakes can benefit our ecosystem and actually help stop the spread of Lyme Disease from ticks.
“They’re actually a really critical part of our echo system that I think a lot of people don’t understand, don’t appreciate. But they help control the mice and the chipmunk population, which are huge vectors for spreading Lyme by carrying ticks and in perpetuating that disease. So snakes play a critical role in helping control that part of the ecosystem.”
Donnelly suggests if you see a rattlesnake on a trail this summer, to stay at least six feet of distance away and make sure you don’t provoke them as they will give a warning with their rattle and will try to move somewhere else out of the way.