Outdoor trivia question: Are there any rattlesnakes in New England? In Maine?

To the first part, yes. Vermont still has the Timber Rattlesnake in western Rutland County.

To the second part, no. Maine has no rattlesnakes or any venomous snakes, for that matter.

At least, that’s what the snake experts tell us. Maine once was home to the Timber Rattlesnake but we are told they were “extirpated” a number of years ago.

Vermont wildlife folks, concerned that the Green Mountain State will lose its remaining rattlesnake population, are conducting a study in hopes of stemming the rattlesnake decline in western Vermont.

A recent press release reads: “The fate of timber rattlesnakes in Vermont is uncertain. The loss of critical habitat, collection for the black market pet trade, and indiscriminate killing have depressed populations to state-endangered status, and snake fungal disease may exacerbate these problems. Together with other snake species, timber rattlesnakes help control rodent populations, which would cause crop damage and spread diseases such as Lyme without limits from predators.”

Not sure how you feel about snakes. I wouldn’t want one for a pet. But they certainly have an important place in the natural scheme of things. Like all snakes, they are meat eaters and help keep down rodent and bug populations.

Over the years, western movies didn’t do anything to enhance the rattler’s reputation. In Roy Rogers’ West the only good rattler was a dead rattler.

Without Roy, there is still the modern-day “creep factor” when it comes to snakes. Face it, they are just not easy to love. This may explain why we humans sometimes invoke “snake” as a pejorative to describe somebody who is slimy, slippery or just plain sneaky. But their bad reputations notwithstanding, snakes are one of nature’s most fascinating creations.

A snake has unique eating habits. Because they have no hard hinge in their jaws like we do, they can eat up in one long gulp many times their own weight in groceries.

For example, a six-ounce snake, on its worst day, can probably devour a two-pound wharf rat as long as it can just get that first big bite. Between their elastic mouths and bodies, as well as their specialized digestive system, a snake can go weeks on one full course meal.

By human standards, it would be like you eating a whole watermelon in one swallow. Or the Subway TV guy, Jared, who now weighs about 165, eating up 500 pounds of tuna melts all at once, and then fasting for six months.

There are 2,700 snake species around the world. Ireland and New Zealand have no snakes. Maine has nine different species: The Brown Ribbon, the Smooth Green, the Northern Water, the Milk, the Northern Black Racer, the Ringneck, the Common Garter and the Red Belly.

It will be interesting to see if Vermont is able to save its disappearing rattlesnakes. State wildlife officials there are determined to do so. They view the Timber Rattlesnake as an important native Vermonter who is “an integral part of Vermont’s wildlife heritage.”

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Department of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] and his new book is “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook.”


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