If you have ever seen the words “Don’t Tread On Me” underneath the picture of a coiled rattlesnake—otherwise known as the Gadsden flag—then you already know what the timber rattlesnake looks like. Unfortunately for the species, it has experienced one of the greatest modern declines of any native reptile in Massachusetts, where only five small populations remain. Wildlife officials are now attempting to preserve the state’s dwindling number of timber rattlesnakes by establishing a population on Mount Zion near the Quabbin Reservoir. The site is also where officials conducted the highly successful American bald eagle restoration project.
However, not everybody is happy that the state are transporting a large number of snakes onto the island. Although there are no human residents on the island of Mount Zion, those who live nearby are afraid that the snakes could swim the short distance across the water and become entrenched in neighboring Petersham, New Salem, or Pelham.
“People are afraid that we’re going to put snakes in a place of public use and that they are going to breed like rabbits and spread over the countryside and kill everybody,” Tom French told the Associated Press.
Officials say that is not likely to happen.
“In the unlikely event that a rattlesnake did cross the 0.3 mile long causeway, it would still be in an area with far less human activity than nearly all of the other Massachusetts rattlesnake populations,” Fisheries and Wildlife wrote in a statement online. “While rattlesnakes are perfectly good swimmers, their survival depends on access to unusually deep hibernation sites (hibernacula), usually in a rock talus or boulder field below a ledge, or a deep fissure in bedrock. These special habitats are scarce on our landscape. Any snake that leaves the island whether by water or over the causeway will not be able to find a suitable hibernation site and if unable to return will die over the winter.”
Additionally, officials added that there have been no deaths in the state’s history due to timber rattlesnakes. The reptiles are typically passive in nature and will rarely bite, although their venom can be dangerous. You can hear French speak more about the issue below: