Biologists in West Virginia study how to relocate rattlesnakes

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Biologists in West Virginia study how to relocate rattlesnakes
A timber rattler peers out from a hiding spot in the West Virginia forest. (Photo courtesy W.Va. Dept. of Commerce)

Biologists with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources have teamed up with graduate students to monitor the movement of timber rattlesnakes in an effort to develop methods for moving the reptiles from high-use recreation areas.

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The project is part of a three-year-long study in and state forests and will help researchers come up with a way to relocate rattlesnakes found in parks and other areas frequented by people without causing harm to the snake, according to Elizabeth Johnson, a Marshall University graduate student.

“We have three groups of snakes that we’re watching and what we learn is going to be very beneficial to our understanding of how movement affects rattlesnakes,” Johnson said.

“So, if you’re at Kanawha or Coopers Rock state forests and see a rattlesnake, let park employees know and they will do their best to catch that snake.”

The timber rattlesnake is West Virginia’s state reptile and the only rattlesnake species native to the Mountain State.

Because the rattlesnake population is declining in the eastern United States, state biologists have conducted surveys over the last few years to determine where snakes are located and where they are most likely to cross paths with humans.

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That research prompted Marshall students to start the translocation study, Johnson said.

During the study’s first year, about 30 rattlesnakes were outfitted with radio transmitters, and data collected by monitoring their movement was used to establish a home range.

Over the next two years, two groups of rattlesnakes will be relocated in and outside those home ranges and then studied and compared to a control group. The goal is to see if snakes, removed from their home range, will return and if relocation can harm them in any way.

“Every snake you see in your yard, in the woods or in a park fills a role in our ecosystem,” Johnson said.

“I know a lot of people are afraid of snakes, but I promise they don’t want to hurt you or your family. If you see a rattlesnake, it’s best to just leave them alone.”

To learn more about the timber rattlesnake and other wildlife research projects conducted by the DNR, visit .


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