Substances & Homeopatic Remedies

    Crotalus horridus

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    Crotalus horridus


    The scientific name Crotalus derives from the Greek, κρόταλον, meaning "castanet".  The species name horridus is Latin for "dreadful," pertaining to the venomous nature of this snake. People in the South sometimes call this snake the "velvet-tail" or "canebrake" rattler.


    Traditional name

    English: Eastern Timber Rattlesnake
    German: Klapperschlange.

    Used parts

    Venom; procured by compressing the gland when the serpent is either pinioned in a frame or under the influence of chloroform.


    Animalia; Chordata / Vertebrata - Vertebrates; Reptilia - Reptiles; Serpentes - Snakes; Crotalidae


    Original proving

    Proving by Constanine Hering (Wirkungen des Schlangengiftes, 1837); 6 provers including himself, of the 1st and 2nd triturations. Also by Stokes, of the 3rd & 4th triturations on a single prover. TF Allen includes these along with several toxicologic reports of accidental bites in his Encyclopedia.
    JW Hayward of Liverpool's Monograph on Crotalus (1884) included results of more extensive proving, along with clinical symptomatology; and has been incorporated in JH Clarke's Dictionary and in Hering's Guiding Symptoms.

    Description of the substance


    Rattlesnakes are members of the Pit Viper family, which includes all the venomous snakes found in North America with the exception of the Coral Snake. They are best known for the presence of a "rattle" on the end of the tail. The rattle is actually a series of loosely attached, interlocking hollow segments composed of keratin. When a rattlesnake is frightened or disturbed, it vibrates the tail tip which results in the characteristic buzzing or rattling sound.  


    The Timber Rattlesnake is a heavy-bodied snake averaging around 3 feet in length With occasional individuals approaching 5 or 6 feet. They vary greatly in overall coloration depending on the region in which they occur. Specimens from the lowlands of eastern North Carolina are typically very light in coloration, often a pinkish-tan with dark black or brown crossbands. These eastern Rattlesnakes were formerly classified as a separate species known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake, but are now considered to be just another color phase of the Timber Rattlesnake. Timber Rattlesnakes from the mountain regions of Western North Carolina occur primarily in two varieties, a yellow phase and a black phase. The yellow phase tends to be more common in most areas. Yellow phase Timber Rattlesnakes have a background coloration of yellow or tan with brown or black crossbands. Black phase Timber Rattlesnakes are sometimes almost solid black in coloration but usually sport the same pattern as the yellow phase with the yellow or brown being replaced by much darker pigments. Contrary to popular opinion, the sex of a Timber Rattlesnake cannot be determined by its color phase. Because of its many different color varieties, people often mistake the Timber Rattlesnake for other rattlesnake species, particularly the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. However the Timber Rattlesnake is the only species of rattlesnake found in Western North Carolina. Like other pit vipers, the head of the Timber Rattlesnake is very broad in comparison to the neck. The pupils of the eyes are elliptical in shape (in bright light only) and there are heat-sensitive pits, one on either side of the face, between the eye and the nostril. Rattle segments on the tail periodically break off and. individual rattlesnakes will vary in the number of rattle segments present. A new segment is added to the rattle each time the snake sheds its skin, which may occur several times a year.

    Life cycle

    In the South, Timber Rattlesnakes breed in late summer and fall, primarily August through October. From 5 - 20 young are born the following year from August through October. The young rattlesnakes will remain near the mother for 7 - 10 days after birth and some may follow the female to dens to hibernate during the winter months.


    The mating season is in the early spring when the snakes emerge from hibernation. The young are born in the autumn from August through October. Timber rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous, meaning that the eggs are incubated and hatched within the female and she gives birth to live precocial young. Females give birth to 5-17 babies that are about 12 inches long. Females reproduce on a 3-4 year cycle and do not begin to reproduce until the age of nine. (Grzimek, 1976)


    In the warmer months, timber rattlesnakes are lone predators. During the summer, the snakes are migratory. They roam several miles from their winter den and do not have a permanent home. They cannot tolerate winter and hibernate for 7 months of the year, returning to the same den each year. They hibernate in dens which are often in rock crevices. These dens usually accommodate 15-60 snakes. The attack stance of rattlers is well-known. The snakes rise vertically with their head and neck forming an S, and when ready they thrust with fangs exposed. Another common behavior of rattlers is ritualized fighting among the males. It often occurs in the periods just before mating season. They lift their bodies and wrap themselves around each other, moving back and forth in a swaying motion, trying to pin each other down. (Brown, 1993)


    Timber rattlesnakes prey upon small mammals. Mice, chipmunks, ground squirrels, voles, shrews, and squirrels comprise the majority of this snakes diet. Birds and birds eggs (primarily ground nesters) are consumed at times. Timbers appear to be lie and wait predators using many senses to detect prey. They have been observed to lie coiled up next to a fallen log with their head resting on the log. The log acts as a runway for rodents. As a rodent approaches, vibrations traveling through the log alert the snake of a possible meal (Brown and Greenburg, 1992). Eyesight and the heat sensitive pits direct the strike (Oldfield and Moriarty, 1994).The prey is struck and released and the snake follows the prey using scent trailing.


    The Timber Rattlesnake occupies a variety of habitats depending on the time of year. Summer ranges include heavily forested areas, rocky hillsides, and fields bordered by forests. In early fall, Timber Rattlesnakes begin moving towards their winter hibernation dens which are typically rocky outcrops with deep crevices leading well below the frost line. Rattlesnakes often congregate near the den opening, sunning on the warm rocks by day and then crawling inside for protection as the temperature falls at night. Eventually cold temperatures cause them to remain underground in a dormant state, hibernating until the following spring. By late May and early June, Timber Rattlesnakes have left the dens, eventually repopulating their summer ranges. Timber Rattlesnakes are primarily nocturnal, but may be encountered by day as well. They feed on a variety of small mammals, primarily rodents such as rats, mice, chipmunks, and squirrels. Other small animals such as birds are also eaten occasionally. Rattlesnakes may wait quietly in a likely spot and ambush their prey when it happens along or they may actively hunt their prey by investigating underground burrows, crevices, and other similar locations. Their heat-sensitive pits help them to pinpoint warm-blooded prey even in the dark when their vision may be somewhat limited. Tests have shown that rattlesnakes can accurately strike at warm objects even if deprived of their sight. They kill their prey by injecting venom, a modified and highly specialized form of saliva, from glands located deep in the muscles of the upper jaw. The venom is conducted through a pair of modified teeth in the front of the upper jaw, known as fangs. Prey animals seldom run farther than a few yards after being bitten by the rattlesnake. Like other snakes, the forked tongue of the Timber Rattlesnake is used for smelling. It trails the stricken animal with its sensitive tongue to wherever the prey has fallen. Interestingly enough, if the snake strikes a bird, it does not let go, instinctively knowing that a bird will fly away, not leaving a scent trail upon the ground that the snake could follow. Then, usually beginning with the head, the Timber Rattlesnake swallows its prey whole. Days or weeks may pass before the Timber Rattlesnake has an opportunity to feed again.Timber rattlesnakes bear live young during late summer or early fall. Litters range from around five to nineteen young which are totally on their own from birth, receiving no care from the female.  


    Status: special concern
    Populations of timber snakes are rapidly being depleted across the species' range. The main causes are habitat destruction, snake hunting, and commercial collection for the pet trade. Several states have passed laws protecting the timber snake, but it is not on the threatened species list in many states. The species is not in serious danger but is headed in that direction unless efforts are made to protect it. (Brown, 1993)


    Although still common in some locations, the Timber Rattlesnake is rapidly declining throughout much of its range, primarily due to habitat destruction and intense persecution by man. Rattlesnake dens are often dynamited and individual rattlesnakes encountered by humans are almost always killed. Overcollecting of rattlesnakes has also become a major cause of their decline. In some states, the Timber Rattlesnake is now protected by law. Although most people believe that rattlesnakes are quite aggressive animals, the opposite is true. When encountered, most Timber Rattlesnakes will lie quietly, relying on their concealing coloration to protect them from a potential enemy. It is normally only in self-defense, when disturbed or stepped upon, that the Timber Rattlesnake will rattle its tail and strike. Although the Timber Rattlesnake is venomous, very few human bites are recorded and fatalities from bites are extremely rare. These beneficial snakes occupy important niche in our forests and if encountered, would rather be left undisturbed.


    This species is found throughout most of the southeastern United States and ranges northward from Iowa into Minnesota and Wisconsin via a narrow band along the Mississippi River. In Iowa, they are found along the Mississippi River and in various areas in the southern third of the state. Many of the existing records may unfortunately become invalid due to habitat loss and human interference, activities to which timber rattlesnakes seem particularly sensitive to.