During Vermont’s long, cold winters there’s no chance of encountering a snake. But they're here, hidden below the frostline until spring arrives. Vermont is home to eleven native snake species, including the only rattlesnake to call the Northeast home, the eastern timber rattlesnake. But these reclusive animals are at the northern end of their range and only a small population exists after years of human persecution and habitat loss. Today concerned conservationists are working hard to ensure Vermont's only venomous snake remains part of our natural heritage.
Black racers were thought to be extinct in Vermont until a young road-killed racer turned up in Putney in 1985. After discovering an isolated population of black racers on a routine search at a wildlife management area in the state, the Reptile and Amphibian Scientific Advisory Group, along with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) are monitoring these snakes. This isolated population of snakes is using a strip of land under a power line that passes through state-owned land as well as a projected work site for VTrans. With funding from VTrans, researchers surgically implanted radio transmitters in two adult racers to help track the habitat needs of the snakes year round. The research is a collaborative effort to ensure that the needs of the snake and the project are met. Black racers average about three to five feet in length. Some adult females can grow upwards of six feet. Young racers are gray with large brown, black or reddish blotches down the back (the pattern fades as they get older). Their skin has a satin-like sheen to it. Finding a racer is very difficult. They live in a variety of habitats including rocky ledges, pastures and overgrown fields. They're extremely fast, which is probably why they are called "racers." They're non-venomous, but will defend themselves if threatened. When startled, a racer has been known to make a run at its attacker with its head up. They'll also rattle their tails in dry leaves, mimicking the sound of a rattlesnake. The ultimate goal of the advisory group is to maintain the current racer population and increase it by managing the feeding, basking and wintering areas the snakes inhabit while keeping an eye out for evidence they are reproducing. Host Lawrence Pyne joins members of the Reptile and Amphibian Scientific Advisory Group as they attempt to locate two racers tagged with transmitters.
Mention the word “rattlesnake” and the reaction you’ll get is either awe and fascination or fear and loathing. Timber rattlesnakes are listed as an endangered species in six of the 27 states that they inhabit from New Hampshire to northern Florida. Here in Vermont at the northern extent of their range a small population exists and is barely holding on after years of persecution. Today wildlife biologists, the Nature Conservancy and concerned volunteers are taking steps to ensure that timber rattlesnakes survive and thrive in Vermont.
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