Peaceable Rattler - Wisconsin Timber Rattlesnake Field Research

In 1999, the Milwaukee County Zoo, with funding from the Zoological Society of Milwaukee, began a long-term study of timber rattlesnakes in southwestern Wisconsin. This study has allowed the Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources (DNRs), to adopt a conservation strategy that had been developed for New York state. Craig Berg, the Milwaukee County Zoo’s aquarium and reptile curator, is the Zoo’s manager of this study, which is a cooperative effort with the Wisconsin DNR and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. One of the initial goals of the study was to develop a scientifically valid database that could be used by a Wisconsin university student as the basis for graduate studies.

Several of the snakes used for his study have been “on the air” (radio-tracked) since 1999.  To date we have determined several important life-history parameters of this snake: sex-specific habitat use, growth rates, denning behaviors and information about reproductive cycles. This has resulted in seven presentations at snake-ecology conferences and one publication. This work has laid the foundation for fieldwork currently conducted by Christopher Hamilton, a graduate student at UW-Stevens Point who will be completing his thesis in 2009.  Chris is studying the effects of bluff-top development and human interactions with rattlesnakes in our study area.  It is his goal to have 20 radio-transmitters in snakes in a protected area and 20 transmitters in snakes that must traverse developed areas. The long-term plan is to continue tracking the snakes as long as they live.

The Wisconsin Rattlesnake Hotline provides Wisconsin property owners with an alternative to killing unwanted rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are moved a short distance from the capture site and released. This allows for positive interactions and educational opportunities for herpetologists (scientists who study snakes) and the general public alike. This is a cooperative project with the Wisconsin DNR.

Timber rattlesnakes obtained through the Wisconsin Rattlesnake Hotline and field surveys are implanted with radio transmitters if their den site is unknown. New den sites are located each fall. This provides the Wisconsin DNR with information that may dictate land management or acquisition decisions by the state of Wisconsin. 

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee’s contribution has been to provide materials, refurbish equipment, and fund transmitter implantation and logistical support for the project.

Adobe Acrobat PDF
Filesize: 5.20 MB
Animal(s) being conserved/studied: Timber rattlesnakes
Alive issue: Spring/Summer 2000

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