Venomous Snakes

Posted on in Todd Talks by Mak Gleckner

Most people believe that rattlesnakes and copperheads are aggressive and extremely dangerous; however, they’re actually quite docile creatures. I’ve enjoyed the sport of “hunting” Timber Rattlesnakes and Northern Copperheads for several years now. This process involves seeking, locating, and catching the snakes. Here in Pennsylvania, anyone who pursues a venomous snake must have a valid fishing license, along with a venomous snake permit.

Pennsylvania is home to three venomous snake species: Timber Rattlesnakes, Northern Copperheads, and Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes, which are rare in PA. The permit allows for the harvest of one Northern Copperhead and one Timber Rattlesnake per year. The harvested rattlesnake must be a male, so, to ensure that, the rattlesnake must be at least 42 inches long, and it must have 21 or more subcaudal scales (scales below the vent).

A common misunderstanding about rattlesnakes is that the number of rattle segments a snake has indicates the age of the snake. A rattlesnake sheds its skin an average of three times every two years. Each time it sheds its skin, the snake gains another segment on its rattle. However, the rattle is brittle, and sometimes part or all of it breaks off. Because of this, you cannot accurately determine the age of a rattlesnake from the number of rattle segments it has. The most segments I have ever found on a snake is 15, but most of the snakes I find only have six or seven. The largest rattlesnake I ever found was more than 50 inches long, but it only had four rattle segments. I could tell this was an old snake based on the length and thickness of it. It was probably more than 20 years old. Obviously, the rattle would not have been a very accurate indicator of its age.

I normally practice CPR on rattlesnakes (catch, photograph, release), because I find it very important to preserve them as a species. Rattlesnake hunting is one of my favorite activities in the summer, and I regularly travel several hours in a day to search in new potential spots. It’s a great way to keep in shape because I usually have to walk several miles to get to my chosen spots. Normally, the best place to find these snakes is pretty far off the beaten path. The reasons venomous snakes are not regularly seen near civilization is because 1: They need a very particular habitat in which to survive, and 2: People often kill them when they see them. It’s unfortunate that some people feel the need to kill snakes, but often their mentality is, “The only good snake is a dead one.” The truth is, if you leave the snake alone, most will not bother you.