Recently, a video posted on Facebook of a large rattlesnake crossing a trail at Brown County State Park went viral. Besides thousands of shares, the video was picked up by numerous online news outlets across the country.
Brown County State Park is one of the few places left where one can see a timber rattlesnake in the wild, said Leslie Bishop, a retired biology professor and former volunteer naturalist at the park.
Timber rattlesnakes require undisturbed deciduous forests with rocky ridges for suitable den sites. Communal dens are used for both birthing and hibernating, and an individual snake returns to the same den year after year.
In Indiana, the populations are primarily found on state and federal public lands in the south-central portion of the state, she said. Not only are timber rattlesnakes rare, they also are difficult to spot due to their excellent camouflage among forest leaves and fallen logs.
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Seeing a timber rattlesnake crossing a trail actually is an exciting and special event, she said.
Studies show that humans have a disposition to associate fear with a slithering motion — but the tendency must be reinforced by stimuli early in life, Bishop said. One study shows that as early as 2 months old, an infant can acquire fear of snakes from a parent’s physical or verbal reaction to the presence (or video) of a snake.
On the other hand, children who have positive encounters with snakes and see adults who exhibit positive reactions learn not to fear snakes. Furthermore, as a child learns more about snakes, natural curiosity replaces fear, she said.
The park’s Nature Center regularly offers free programs about snakes native to Indiana.
The timber rattlesnake has an undeserved bad reputation, Bishop says. In fact, its scientific name is Crotalus horridus, which doesn’t help a bit.
Lightning strikes, motorcycle accidents, airplane crashes and cataclysmic storms all pose a much greater threat than snakebites, she said.
It would be better for us and for the rattlesnakes of the world to replace our fear with a healthy respect and an appropriate distance, Bishop says. By carrying such an attitude with us when we visit natural places, we can look forward to the possibility of observing a snake — from a safe distance — in the wild and can better appreciate their beauty as well as their role in nature.
Friday, Aug. 25
Snakes Alive! — Brown County State Park camp store, 6 p.m., park gate fee applies.
Saturday, Aug. 26
Live snakes — Brown County State Park Nature Center, 10 a.m. to noon, a Front Porch Program, park gate fee applies.
Sunday, Aug. 27
Sensational snakes! — Brown County State Park Nature Center, 2 p.m., park gate fee applies.
Information: 812-988-5240 or interpretiveservices.in.gov.