Rattlesnakes Still Active

 

            Last week while driving down one of northern Montgomery ’s rural roadways I saw something ahead that caught my eye.  It couldn’t be a stick because it was moving across the road surface.  It looked like a snake, but surely we’d had enough cool nights to send all those creatures into their winter dens for hibernation.  As I got closer it became evident that it was indeed a snake.  Even better it was a five foot long, seven rattle rattlesnake. 

            After getting a few pictures of this creature I headed back to the office where I called an expert on snakes at the N.C. Zoological Park .  After all, it had nearly frosted the night prior to seeing this snake.  Mark Lewis, a Zookeeper in the Reptile Department, came to my aid.  Mark works with snakes routinely on the grounds of the Zoo and is also an expert on their behavior in the wild.  According to Mark, it is not the coolness of the nights that determine when snakes begin their hibernation.  Rather, it is the warmth of the day that influences this behavior.  The cool, fluctuating temperatures we’ve witnessed the past couple of weeks typically send snakes towards their den areas.  They recognize that winter is quickly approaching so they don’t want to be left out in the cold, literally.  During these weeks of cool nights and warm days the snakes will take refuge in their dens during the cool periods.  In the daytime they will often come out of the dens and find a warm sunny spot to take in some rays.  However, as the evening approaches they will quickly retreat to their dens. 

            In our area, rattlers are among the first of the snakes to begin their hibernation period.  Once temperatures fall below the 70 degree mark rattlesnakes will be off to begin their six month nap.  Other snakes, however, will hang around until the high temperatures plummet into the low 60’s.  In the spring the cycle will reverse itself.  Other snakes, such as king snakes, will leave their dens when temperatures crawl back into the 60’s.  The rattlers will stay underground until the warmer days reach into the 70’s. 

            As stated in previous articles Montgomery County is full of wonderful wildlife.  Depending on who you ask, rattlesnakes can be included in this category.  Rattlesnakes are often portrayed as dangerous, aggressive animals that seek out people to bite.  However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  In nearly all situations rattlesnakes are calm and docile while relying on their camouflage to protect them.  The only time they will attempt to strike a person is if they are stepped on or otherwise feel threatened.  So for now, take caution when walking through the woods on warm, sunny afternoons.  But in a few more weeks your fears of rattlesnakes can hibernate until the 70 degree days of next spring.