RUTLAND COUNTY- The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has
been working with researchers at The Nature Conservancy and the
Orianne Society to conserve a piece of Vermont's unique natural
heritage, the timber rattlesnake. They have captured rattlesnakes
from the wild and implanted radio transmitters under their skin as
part of a two-year study of timber rattlesnake habitat and
movements in western Rutland County.
The researchers have also been working to determine the extent
and severity of a condition referred to as 'snake fungal disease'
that has recently begun afflicting Vermont's timber
rattlesnakes. Snake fungal disease causes blisters or brown,
crusty lesions on the face and neck of infected individuals.
Biologist Doug Blodgett leads the timber rattlesnake project for
VF&W. "We first documented the lesions on timber rattlesnakes
in 2012," said Blodgett. "Since then, the condition has been
observed in several species of snakes throughout Vermont. It's
difficult to assess the effects of this disease on individuals, but
it does appear to be associated with population declines in
Timber rattlesnakes are one of 11 species of native snakes in
Vermont. They once ranged throughout the Champlain Valley, but are
now found only in two isolated populations in western Rutland
The fate of timber rattlesnakes in Vermont is
uncertain. The loss of critical habitat, collection for the
black market pet trade, and indiscriminate killing have depressed
populations to state-endangered status, and snake fungal disease
may exacerbate these problems. Together with other snake species,
timber rattlesnakes help control rodent populations, which would
cause crop damage and spread diseases such as Lyme without limits
"There's always been a strong cultural bias against rattlesnakes
due to sensationalized Hollywood depictions of these animals as
highly aggressive, stalking menaces of the forest," said
Blodgett. "Nothing could be further from the truth. In
my dozen years of experience working with rattlesnakes in Vermont,
I've been most impressed with how docile, tolerant and secretive
these animals are. They do just about anything to avoid
confrontation with people."
Public perception of rattlesnakes is changing as people gain a
better understanding of this species. Fear and hatred are
giving way to interest and curiosity, as people begin to appreciate
the important role that rattlesnakes play in the ecosystem.
While most rattlesnakes in Vermont remain in remote areas, they
are occasionally found near people. VF&W urges Vermonters who
find a rattlesnake in their yard to avoid handling the snake and to
contact the Rattlesnake Removal Program at 802-241-3700 to have the
snake safely relocated by a trained expert.
"These animals are the original native Vermonters. They've been
here for thousands of years and are an integral part of our
ecosystem and our wildlife heritage," said Blodgett. "I see them as
a symbol of something still untamed and wild in a fairly tame
landscape. They deserve our protection and stewardship."