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August 18, 2005

A venomous Timber Rattlesnake shown here from Clyde Peeling's Reptiland is common to this area.
Photo by Michael Bavero/The Daily Item

Heat and drought bringing
snakes out of their dens

By Eric Mayes
The Daily Item
HARRISBURG — The hot, dry summer has drawn an unusual number of rattlesnakes out of their mountain lairs and into the valleys.

Rattlesnake sightings seem to be higher than normal this year, said Dan Tredinnick, press secretary to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Although lacking hard statistics on either the population of rattlers in Pennsylvania or the number of humans who have encountered them this summer, he said his office is getting more calls about them than normal.

"We don’t have any quantitative data," said Mr. Tredinnick. "But anecdotally, that is being reported all over Pennsylvania."

The combination of heat and little rainfall is probably the cause, he said.

"If people are seeing snakes and other reptiles that (lack of water) is very likely the reason," he said. "Just like us, they need water."

Areas where they might traditionally slake their thirst may have dried up, he said, leaving the snakes no other choice but to go looking for new watering holes.

"They will go and seek other areas and the type of habitat they need," he said.

There may be other causes depending on the location. Human activity such as lumbering or clearing land for new homes could drive snakes into new areas but widespread sightings this year seem to point to a lack of water.

His advice for anyone who encounters a rattlesnake is "leave it alone."

"Certainly don’t kill it," he said. "As much as it sounds like a cliche, the snake has more to fear from you than you do the snake. Frankly, they want to avoid us. You give a snake a wide berth, it’s certainly not going to pursue you and that applies to venomous and non-venomous snakes."

A snake census is under way that should help officials track snake populations of all types throughout the state, Mr. Tredinnick said.

Rattlesnakes are scarce, which is why they should not be killed.

"They are considered to be a candidate species," he said. "They’re not quite endangered; they’re on the cusp."

And man continues to intrude on their territory.

"Because of habitat fragmentation, they are not found in most areas of the state," he said. "They are looking for heavily wooded areas or rock fields for denning and basking sights. They rely on heat from the sun and radiant heat the rocks provide."

E-mail comments to emayes@dailyitem.com

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