Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Biology, Books for the News

Ted Levin on the reintroduction of timber rattlesnakes


Ted Levin’s recent piece for the Boston Globe Magazine on reintroducing timber rattlesnakes to a Massachusetts island was aptly subheaded, “The plan to release poisonous snakes in the Quabbin freaks people out. But snakes are the ones that should be worried.” Timber rattlers are the subject of Levin’s forthcoming America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnakeso he’s certainly the go-to authority on the situation. Below follows a brief excerpt, which outlines the perspective Levin suggests we embrace:

Releasing snakes on Mount Zion may pose far more danger to the snakes themselves than there ever will be to shoreline fishermen or outdoors enthusiasts. Yes, rattlesnakes occasionally swim, but there is no evidence that they ever lived in the hills (now islands) in Quabbin Reservoir’s man-made wilderness. And it isn’t clear that Mount Zion could support a population of overwintering rattlesnakes. Even if the snakes could find a retreat below the frost line, no one knows if there are enough mice and chipmunks on the 1,400-plus-acre island to support them.

The unleashing of rattlesnakes on Mount Zion should be viewed as a scientific experiment, starting with snakes from populations not as threatened as those here (like Pennsylvania). Step one should be: Release a number of adult, nonnative rattlesnakes with radio transmitters. Step two: Track the snakes; discover where they eat, bask, shed, mate, and birth. Then, when October ushers in cold weather, discover if they find sanctuary below the frost line or freeze to death during the winter. If the rattlesnakes survive for a couple of years, augment the population with additional releases of young native snakes. They’ll follow the pheromone trails of the adults back to the den. Once the native rattlesnakes begin to breed and the nonnative snakes have been removed, the experiment will be deemed a success.

I truly hope it works. This plan may prove to be the last, best chance to keep an iconic serpent in Massachusetts.

To read Levin’s piece in full, click here.

To read more about American Snake, click here.