A WILDLIFE AGENCY RELEASE RATTLESNAKES?
know winter is over when I check my email and see questions about snakes.
Based on the recent number, spring has arrived. Some are questions I
see every year. Others are totally new. Following is one I have never
been asked before. To provide a full answer will require two consecutive
A friend told me she had read or heard something about a place in New
England, I think near Boston, where some wildlife agency plans to release
rattlesnakes. If this story is true, what do you think about such an
It is true. The state of Massachusetts has proposed a plan to release
endangered rattlesnakes on a 1,352-acre uninhabited island (Mt. Zion
Island) in a large inland body of water (Quabbin Reservoir) that serves
as the drinking water supply for Boston. I applaud the governor and
wildlife officials in the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
for their proposal to assure the continued existence of one of America's
most iconic snakes, the timber rattlesnake.
the MDFW even think about releasing rattlesnakes anywhere in the state?
According to the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs,
the MDFW "is responsible for the conservation - including restoration,
protection and management - of fish and wildlife resources for the benefit
and enjoyment of the public." Their rationale is that the MDFW
should protect rattlesnakes along with other native species. Some people
like the idea of having these formidable, self-reliant, awe-inspiring
predators as part of the natural landscape. They provide an atmosphere
of adventure, something many nature enthusiasts appreciate.
to Tom French with the MDFW about releasing the rattlesnakes. He said,
"this population would serve as a safety net" because the
species is "slowly but consistently" declining in numbers.
The state's plan is to establish a population of timber rattlesnakes
in order to protect it from further degradation of its native habitat,
highway mortality and persecution by people who unlawfully kill rattlesnakes.
I say "unlawful" because timber rattlesnakes have been officially
protected in Massachusetts since 1979, and a heavy fine can be imposed
on a person for intentionally killing one.
rattlesnakes, called canebrake rattlesnakes in the South, are indisputably
venomous, which is critical for them to catch their prey such as rats,
squirrels and chipmunks. The species was found historically in parts
of all but two eastern states, Michigan and Delaware. They once occupied
virtually all natural terrestrial habitats including hardwood and pine
forests, mountains and river floodplains. Today, few remain in urban
or suburban neighborhoods or areas of intensive agriculture, in part
because of human intolerance to their presence. They are believed to
now be extinct in Maine and Rhode Island. Wildlife officials in Massachusetts
are afraid their state might not be far behind.
the potential to inject a lethal dose of venom into other animals, timber
rattlesnakes are benign creatures; their first response to a human is
usually to remain motionless. Many will not even rattle when approached,
and numerous people have actually stepped on a large rattlesnake without
being bitten. Anyone coming across a timber rattlesnake can watch it
from a safe distance.
like many animals, including bluebirds, raccoons and koalas, rattlesnakes
will defend themselves if pestered and will bite if handled. The solution
to that problem is the don't-pick-them-up rule. A Don't Tread on Me
revolutionary battle flag bore a picture of a timber rattlesnake. Benjamin
Franklin is credited with referring to the flag when he wrote, "She
never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She
is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage."
notable historical fact is that the timber rattlesnake has the distinction
of being the first North American species of snake to receive a formal
scientific name. Carl Linnaeus named the species in 1758. No other U.S.
snake can claim that legacy.
What are the concerns about and justifications for releasing the rattlesnakes?
you have an environmental question or comment, email