I’ve visited Letchworth State Park with the kids more times than I can count since we live so close, and I’m always astounded by the variety of wildlife that calls this beautiful park home.
Some people welcome the sight of a rattlesnake, while others shy away. Should you expect these snakes at Letchworth?
Letchworth State Park has had timber rattlesnake sightings, but they’re considered rare. These are venomous snakes with fatal bites, so while you likely won’t see one at the park, you should still know what to look for and how to avoid the snakes.
This safety guide is a must-read before you and your family visit Letchworth, even if you’ve gone before.
Does Letchworth State Park Have Rattlesnakes? About Timber Rattlesnakes
Wolves, deer, bears – many creatures live among the thousands upon thousands of acres that make up Letchworth State Park.
This western New York wilderness is rich, abundant, and largely shaded, creating an ideal environment for animal hideaways.
Rattlesnakes–and snakes in general–are infrequent at Letchworth.
One newsworthy sighting of a rattlesnake occurred in 2016, and there haven’t been any repeat rumblings since.
Other snake species found at the park are garter snakes and black rat snakes.
Let’s talk more about the rattlesnake species known to appear in Letchworth on occasion, the timber rattlesnake.
Timber rattlesnakes are nicknamed banded or canebrake rattlesnakes. They live in eastern North America and are a lot more common in Pennsylvania than in New York. They reach sizes of 30 to 60 inches, so they’re not small snakes by any means.
The snakes prefer rugged environments and deciduous forests, but they’ve also been spotted in rural farming areas, mountainous regions, pine and hardwood forests, river and swamp floodplains, and cane thickets.
They’ll hide deep in the forest in the heat of the summer, except for pregnant females. They’ll be more noticeably visible along rock ledges. This is likely because female timber rattlesnakes prefer basking on knolls before they give birth.
Are Timber Rattlesnakes Venomous?
Here’s the thing about timber rattlesnakes. You don’t want to see one even if you could, because the snake is very venomous.
I can’t understate enough how dangerous this snake is. They’re considered one of the most dangerous species in North America. Timber rattlesnakes are large snakes with lengthy fangs, and those fangs are packed with plenty of potent venom.
Timber rattlesnakes can have three types of venom depending on the animal’s distribution, with Type B common in the southeast and north. This venom can cause hemorrhagic effects.
How to Spot a Timber Rattlesnake
To reiterate, you shouldn’t expect to find timber rattlesnakes at Letchworth State Park, as they’re considered rare. However, because the snake is so venomous, it’s worth discussing how to spot them.
What can make matters even more confusing is that Letchworth has occasionally had black rat snake and black racer snake sightings. Both of these types of snakes are common in central North America. They’re also both nonvenomous.
So how do you tell a black rat or racer snake apart from a timber rattlesnake? Here are some pointers.
Listen for a rattle
Rattlesnakes, including timber rattlesnakes, feature specialized scales that they can shake to create the rattling sound synonymous with their name. Non-rattlesnakes cannot do this.
Timber rattlesnakes are known to rattle a lot before attacking. That’s the snake’s warning to stay away, which is always wise to heed.
Check for pits
It can be tough to discern the presence of pits since timber rattlesnakes and black rat snakes are both dark in color. However, timber rattlesnakes have pits on either side of their face near the nostril and eye.
The pits are fascinating, if not scary, as they help timber rattlesnakes gauge their prey’s location.
You’ll recall that timber rattlesnakes are 30 to 60 inches, whereas black rat snakes are much larger. These snakes are three to five feet and can grow up to nine feet. Some gargantuan black rat snakes have been spotted at Letchworth State Park.
That should be your tipping point that you’re dealing with a black rat snake rather than a timber rattlesnake, as the latter never gets that big.
Look at patterns and coloration
Timber rattlesnakes are not exclusively black. They come in several morphs or variations based on their distribution.
For example, some timber rattlesnakes have a yellow and tan morph, others a black and gray morph, and others still a combination.
However, you’ll only see combination morphs in the south and west. The most common morph around New York is the black morph. It’s not entirely black and is instead mostly gray with black patterning.
Let’s talk more about the patterning of timber rattlesnakes. The back will feature crossbar markings in the shape of a W or V.
Black rat snakes have body patterns as juveniles for camouflage. The pattern will not be exclusively black and gray like the timber rattlesnakes around New York but will have brown and white, which should also indicate to you which snake is which.
If you see an exclusively black snake, that’s also a black rat snake. The snakes lose their patterning as they mature.
Rattlesnake Safety Tips for Your Visit to Letchworth State Park
You might be unlikely to spot a rattlesnake at Letchworth, but you can never say never. The following tips will help you and your family stay safe when planning an adventure in the state park.
Stay on the trail
Wild, bushy areas, especially with thick underbrush, are likelier to contain snakes than tall grass. Remaining on any of Letchworth’s marked trails will reduce your chances of encountering a snake.
You might also consider wearing long pants and sleeves when traversing the park. The thought of covering your skin might seem unpleasant in the heat of the New York summer, but when you wear moisture-wicking layers, you’d be surprised how comfortable you’ll feel.
This offers the added benefit of protection against mosquitoes, ticks and other biting insects.
Keep your hands out of the water
Letchworth’s biggest water attraction is its three falls, but the lower part of the Genesee River is also a popular sight. Keep your hands out when crossing any body of water, whether that river or smaller streams. Make sure you instruct the kiddos to do the same.
Rattlesnakes can swim and quite adeptly at that. You might mistake the snake for a stick or branch in the water and end up with a nasty surprise.
Never get close to a rattlesnake
This might surprise you, but rattlesnakes are generally nonaggressive creatures. Provoking the snake is one way to inspire an attack, as is threatening it. Rattlesnakes don’t like being touched or having their territory encroached on.
If you see a timber rattlesnake, give it a wide berth. The snake will not deliberately attack you if you get away unless it feels threatened. Even then, timber rattlesnakes will indicate to you they will attack.
As mentioned, the snake will begin rattling. It will also feint, which means it will lurch forward like it will attack.
Know the proper way to escape a rattlesnake
How do you get away from a rattlesnake if you have a chance encounter?
Never run! That’s the worst thing you can do, as the timber rattlesnake can perceive the rush as a threat.
Instead, as much as you might want to run, stand where you are for a moment. Your nonmovement can calm the snake down. Remembering that they’re nonaggressive, you can expect the timber rattlesnake to retreat.
Once the snake backs down, you can slowly step away from the area. The rattlesnake should not follow you.
Get immediate help if bitten
What if the worst happens and a timber rattlesnake bites you or a family member? You must act quickly, as these are highly venomous snakes.
Call 911 immediately. Take any jewelry or accessories off the bitten area, as the area will swell up. Clean it with water and soap if you can. Try to stay calm to slow the spread of the venom and immobilize the area below the heart.
Emergency medical services will immediately transport you to the hospital, where you can receive care.