In defense of timber rattlesnakes

Recently removed from a protected species watch list, the timber rattlesnake is making a comeback in Pennsylvania.  And now one man is on a mission to help spread the word about this misunderstood reptile.


Recently removed from a protected species watch list, the timber rattlesnake is making a comeback in Pennsylvania.

And now one man is on a mission to help spread the word about one of the most misunderstood reptiles in the state.

Here's the story.

Snakes have had some bad press.

It started with the book of Genesis, and things haven't gotten much better since the Garden of Eden.

According to a Gallup poll, more Americans are afraid of snakes than they are of public speaking, heights, and spiders.

But in the forests of Pennsylvania, a man is on a mission to help people overcome their evolutionary impulses and learn to love snakes.

You know, my family's screwed up.

Most people I went to school with had three-wheelers and horses and dogs and cats.

We had snakes, and my dad did the snake hunts.

Bill Wheeler is the driving force behind the Keystone Reptile Club.

His father helped found it in 1968.

Back then, timber rattlesnakes were viewed as the enemy.

The club wanted to change that.

If you kids can understand the hourglass shape to the dark bands, or the Hershey kisses stacked down the side, maybe you'll save some snakes by teaching them that that's not a copperhead.

That's just a snake that I was holding, and he isn't going to hurt anybody.

Today, Wheeler is hosting the annual rattlesnake hunt at the Sinnemahoning Sportsmen's Club.

The event is all about education.

What I want you to look at is next time you find a snake shed, 'cause I don't want you picking up any snake unless you know what you're looking at.

I already know they bite.

Like...but I didn't know that some of them, like, have poison.

I learned how to handle the snakes and which ones are venomous and nonvenomous.

I think the snakes look cute, though.

It's neat watching the kids absorb everything they're taking in and knowing they're down the right path.

It's squeezing around my hand.

The kids get to handle all the nonvenomous snakes they want.

The pros handle the rattlers.

As far as the ecosystem goes, eat a lot of rodents.

Lots of rodents.

I'd like to say I would love to see one year without a rattlesnake or a copperhead in the woods to see what it looks like 'cause we'd be overrun with rodents.

When you hear 'snake hunt,' your first thought might be 'kill.'

This, however, is a conservation effort.

In 1978, the timber rattlesnake was listed as candidate species for threatened or endangered status in Pennsylvania.

The Fish and Boat Commission removed it from that list in 2016.

Even so, these hunts have a strict no-kill policy.

They come in, they give us a snake, we identify it, sex it, and mark it.

All that good stuff.

Use it for the educational tool it is.

Release it right back into the wild.

We want to release where you caught them.

A snake won't do very good if you release it in a different spot.

They have their own track they use throughout their life, and they'll travel that same little semicircle throughout their life.

Timber rattlesnakes can be found in heavily forested mountains across the commonwealth.

They are dangerous, but they're not out to get you.

There's only been one rattlesnake-related fatality in Pennsylvania in the past 30 years.

They are part of a complex ecosystem, both predator and prey, with lifesaving potential.

Snake-venom research has led to treatments for heart attacks, hypertension, even cancer -- breakthroughs that may not have been possible without a little respect.

Have a respect for them.

Respect your outdoors.

It doesn't matter if you're looking at snakes or whatever you're doing.

Respect your outdoors and learn about them.

Hopefully, you can keep all your friends and your family from killing every snake they see.