Yes, Rattlesnakes Can Climb Trees
After hunter finds rattler in treestand seat, the possibility of a snake up a tree is on the minds of some hunters.
An item on GON.com in August created a buzz among deer hunters. The story was about Brian Murphy who was checking his Morgan County deer stands on Aug. 13. He was shocked to find a 3-foot timber rattlesnake tucked in his lock-on stand seat 20 feet up a tree.
The reaction to the story ranged from shock to disbelief. It caused some to question, “Could a rattlesnake really climb a tree?” One reader asked, “How could a 3-foot rattler get 20 feet up in a strap-on tree stand?”
The short answer is that some rattlesnakes do climb trees, and timber rattlers are better than most.
Zoologists at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. point out that timber rattlesnakes—especially young ones—are amazing climbers and have been documented in trees at heights of more than 80 feet. One study from eastern Texas documented quite a bit of tree-climbing among timber rattlesnakes, including one young timber rattler that was nearly 50 feet up a laurel oak tree.
The story on Brian Murphy’s encounter with the timber rattler caused some to question why a rattlesnake would even want to climb a tree. That’s easy, according to snake experts. Trees provide them with access to prey like squirrels and birds, or to escape a predator on the ground.
“You’ll never find an eastern diamondback in a tree, but a timber rattler in a tree is not that uncommon,” said Jason Clark, of Southeastern Reptile Rescue in Griffin. “They are not like rat snakes that climb every day, but they are good climbers. I’d say that it is rare for one to be in a deer stand. That snake didn’t climb into that stand because it caught the scent of a deer hunter. I’m guessing a squirrel was using that tree and it had left a scent trail all up and down that tree,” said Jason, who does the snake shows at the Ag-Pro GON Outdoor Blast.
“If a timber rattler is climbing a tree, it’s after some kind or prey. Most often that’s a squirrel, but they’ll climb for birds, too.”
Timber rattlesnakes are good climbers. It’s possible for them to find their way up slick 4 x4 or 6×6 porch supports to get to baby birds in nests in hanging flower baskets. They can easily climb trees with vines and a lot of limbs, but they can easily climb a tree with rough bark, too, Jason said.
Brian Murphy, the wildlife biologist who found the timber rattler in his deer stand, says the white oak tree where he found the snake was slick, void of limbs and large enough that he probably couldn’t get his arms around it. He says there’s no way the rattler climbed up that way.
“I’m about 98% confident that he climbed that tree using the climbing sticks,” he said. “I believe that is the only way he could have gotten up there.”
Brian said he has talked to numerous herpetologists that he knows, and he agrees with them that the only reason the timber rattler was that far up the tree was in search of prey.
“They say they’ll climb trees in search of squirrels and birds, but this was a small snake, and I don’t think it could handle a squirrel,” said Brian. “I don’t even know if it could handle a baby squirrel. It was a white oak tree, so it makes sense that squirrels might be in that tree, but I think one biologist gave a better explanation. He said that when there’s a big cicada hatch, timber rattlers will climb a tree and eat them. The snake was wedged in the fold-up seat, and it was at the perfect height and about 4 inches from the tree, so it could peer over the top and grab a cicada.”
Brian said he has had many personal responses to the story, but no one has questioned its validity. He laughingly said he might have questioned the story himself had he not witnessed it himself.
“I’ve been a biologist many years,” he said. “You can take a lot of these stories I hear with a grain of salt.”
Brian said he has no fear snakes. He said at the time he didn’t feel threatened, but afterward he did feel a bit lucky.
“I spent a lot of time in Texas when I was younger,” he said. “When everybody was going to the beach and chasing girls, I was catching rattlesnakes for their roundups,” he said.
Other Articles You Might Enjoy