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Timber Rattlesnakes: Controversial Plan To Stock Island With Snakes

Feb 03, 2016 01:29 PM EST
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The Department of Fisheries and Wildlife plans to breed and raise 150 venomous timber rattlesnakes, to be unleashed on a remote island in the middle of the Quabbin Reservoir, Massachusetts, when they are big and strong enough. The hope, officials say, is to revive the state's native, but endangered species.

"By creating a colony on an island like that, they are far less likely to run into people who are on the trails and working their way around Quabbin Reservoir than they would be if we did nothing," Gov. Charlie Baker said in support of the conservation plan.

So, an island devoted solely to snakes, with plenty of unsuspecting prey, limited predators, and therefore not much population control--what could possibly go wrong?

"Well, they swim," Peter Mallett, president of the Millers River Fishermen's Association, who opposes the plan, told the Boston Globe. The idea of 150 big wet snakes finding their way off the island has him wondering which population ought to qualify as endangered.

However, Baker has downplayed such public concerns, saying, "If they swim off the island, first of all, it's a long way from the islands being discussed to get to shoreline anyway. And secondly, if they do, their likelihood of survival is pretty small."

Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) are large, heavy-bodied snakes in the pit viper family, measuring upwards of four feet in length. These snakes are one of the few remaining top predators surviving in the Appalachians. Generally, the typical hunting behavior of Timber Rattlesnakes involves long periods of lying motionless, with intervals of prowling. The snakes will strike its prey - using its venom only as a defensive mechanism - and track the victim using its sense of smell.

So, is giving the venomous, swimming rattlesnakes their own island to grow big and strong - maybe even larger than their average size of four feet with no foreseen limitations - really the best solution?

With controversy spurring over the topic, the state's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife offers some additional assurances.

"Any that escape the island will die during the following winter, unable to make it back to their nests," Tom French, assistant director of the department, told the Boston Globe. "And in reality, rattlesnakes are shy creatures who bite people only when threatened."

Nevertheless, it will be a while before the snakes take over the island. French explained that the snakes will be kept at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence for the first two years. Furthermore, the slow breeding process has barely begun and finding diverse snakes from at least three different populations around the state to limit inbreeding isn't particularly easy, either.

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