A researcher for Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues
at the Saint Louis Zoo and Saint Louis University are tracking timber
rattlesnakes in west St. Louis County and neighboring Jefferson County
to see how close to civilization the snakes are getting as humans
developing subdivisions invade the snakes’ turf.
researchers are studying timber rattlesnakes and also copperheads in
their Pitviper Research Project. They hope their efforts will educate
the public and convince people that they can live with the species
without destroying them. Wayne Drda is the Washington University
researcher. Jeff Ettling, reptile curator at the Saint Louis Zoo, is
another member of the research team. Third member is Ryan Turnquist, a
biology major at Saint Louis University, Friends of the three and the
Missouri Department of Conservation also assist in the study.
people detest snakes, so the first instinct is to eliminate them, said
Drda, who researches at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center
and who recently assisted Corey Anderson, former Washington University
biology graduate student, in his doctoral thesis. Anderson, a student
of Alan Templeton, Ph.D., Washington University professor of biology,
now is a postdoctoral researcher in biology at Arizona State University.
can live with the knowledge that timber rattlesnakes and copperheads
are in your area, and if you have a problem, you need to go to
herpetologists, who can figure out a plan or help remove the snakes,”
he said. “We don’t want to see people become nature vigilantes.”
researchers take captured snakes and implant a small radio transmitter
to follow the snakes’ movement and migration patterns and to study
“I am the field manager, organizer, and I oversee
the equipment,” Drda said. “Jeff will be doing the DNA analysis work,
and Ryan helps with the field work and is our GPS"GIS computer whiz.”
researchers have found things about timber rattlesnakes that are
counterintuitive. Their breeding time is late summer and early fall and
not the spring. While males can wander as much as a couple of miles a
week, the females, after giving birth, stay with newborns until the
young shed about seven to 10 days later. The females generally stay
closer to home, but the males are more active and consequently have
longer home ranges.
Most adults are ‘homies’ – returning to
the same area year after year after leaving their den sites – others
seek out new turf, especially during their rapid growth years.
rattlesnakes have rattles that are rarely used because with camouflage
there is no sense in giving away your location, Drda added.
quintessential suburban lawn is not the preferred habitat of timber
rattlesnakes. But occasionally a suburbanite in the colleagues’
research areas sees one passing through. The team has trained people in
the area to contact them so that they can capture and release.
goals are to understand the ways of these species and to educate
suburbanites and rural people about them, so that we can keep a proper
balance in the face of development,” Drda said.
Washington University in St. Louis. June 2007.