In the last week or so, a few colleagues and readers have brought to my attention a recently circulating e-mail that purports to tell the story of a number of Timber Rattlesnakes found under and around a hunting club cabin in Coosa County, Alabama. All the snakes were killed, including three adults and over thirty juveniles. It's been a big snake year for Coosa County, already a coral snake has been found there after being undetected for forty years and I recently heard of a pigmy rattlesnake that was found dead on the road (often a useful means of finding rare snakes).
From the e-mail I received:
"Went to our hunting club in Rockford , AL for clean up day and here are some pics of what we found. These pictures are of what came from under the front steps of the club house!...I have heard of two tales in my life of people encountering a hoard of snakes like this but I have never seen anything like this! One of the members was weed-eating around the steps when the first large one came out. He got his gun and shot it. Then another guy killed another one of the 3 big ones. Then some of the little ones started coming out. Killed the rest with a hoe. Finally poured some gas around the steps and ran the rest of them out and you can see in the pictures how many were wound up killed..."
I have edited out some information in the e-mail pertaining to the names and addresses of those involved. And I'll give the hunters the benefit of the doubt and suggest that they killed the snakes because they feared for their safety.
One of the reasons I was forwarded this e-mail was because two of my recent posts (here and here) described some commonly circulated pictures of dead snakes with grossly exaggerated stories or descriptions. However, there is nothing within this story or series of pictures that suggests to me that this did not occur exactly how it was described.
Timber Rattlesnakes are known from this region of Alabama and that the incident occurred on a hunting club suggests there were a lot of woodlands in the area; good snake habitat.
Timbers also like to hide under structures (often rock piles), which made the crevices and hide-outs under a rarely-used hunting cabin an excellent place for the adults to take up residence. At least, it seemed like an excellent place at the time.
The size of the dead juvenile snakes suggested that they were newborns and this is the time of year (i.e. the fall) that rattlesnakes will give birth. Thirty four (give or take) babies is a lot for one snake (23 is the most I've heard of for a Timber), so I think it's likely that these babies are from more than one snake. Perhaps two or three of the adults in the pictures were the mothers.
Again, it's hard to fault people for destroying rattlesnakes on their property when they fear for their safety, but killing them was probably their most dangerous course of action as it greatly increased their chance of a bite. Perhaps the snakes would've dispersed into the surrounding woods by the time hunting season rolled around. Perhaps nobody would've ever known all those babies were there if the first adult snake hadn't been spotted. We'll never know.
In the future I hope they maintain their cabin and the surrounding area in a fashion that discourages the reptiles from taking up residence in the first place (i.e. removing brush and hiding places).
Just think of all the rats and mice that are now free to casually explore the hunting cabin...