Date of Award

8-2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Wildlife and Fisheries Biology

Advisor

Guynn, David

Committee Member

Lanham , Joseph

Committee Member

Hanlin , Hugh

Committee Member

Savitzky , Alan

Abstract

Although the most common rattlesnake in the eastern United States, the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is little studied and remains poorly understood. Furthermore, populations have been severely diminished throughout its range and only a few scattered metapopulations remain in what was once a large and extensive North American range. Whereas some timber rattlesnake populations in woodland communities of the northeastern and western US have been studied, information on those occurring along the southern part of its range is virtually non-existent. In South Carolina there has been relatively little research done on this rattlesnake and there has been no formal study on the timber rattlesnakes of the upstate. Therefore, I radio tracked several timber rattlesnakes for three years (2006-2009) and built a portfolio of their basic ecology, movements, home ranges, habitat association, and thermal ecology in upstate South Carolina. We captured and implanted 18 rattlesnakes with radio transmitters and monitored them throughout the course of the study. The favored position of South Carolina timber rattlesnakes was a coiled posture. Typically, timber rattlesnakes emerged from hibernation in late March/early April and returned to a hibernaculum in November/early December. These timber rattlesnakes did not necessarily return to the same hibernaculum year after year, and the use of communal dens was not apparent. On average, males traveled farther and had larger home ranges than both non-gravid females and gravid females. Gravid females had larger movements and home ranges than non-gravid females, as some made lengthy movements to give birth. This was not observed for all gravid females, however. Mating and birthing occurred in the late summer/early fall and females tended to seek open areas with tree falls or rock outcrops. Overall, timber rattlesnakes utilized a deciduous macro-habitat and typically selected a micro-habitat that included having logs/fallen branches less than 1 m away. Timber rattlesnakes' average body temperature was slightly higher during 2007 than the other years, but this is most likely due to 2007 being a surgery year and consequently not a full tracking year.
Translocation--the movement of snake from one location to another--was employed in this study to relocate problem animals from public areas. The release area was between 949 m and 2670 m away from the original capture sites and across a road and lake. Four timber rattlesnakes were translocated and none of them returned to the original site of capture. One death and one transmitter failure were observed, but the other two appeared to adapt to the new habitat and have overwintered successfully for 3 and 2 winters respectively. Preliminary success with this technique is encouraging for future management plans but more research is clearly needed.

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