It’s not unusual to encounter a timber rattler in the woods, but when is the last time you saw an eastern diamondback?
The handsome – but venomous – reptile is vanishing in some regions, and now the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is trying to determine if they should be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
Georgia’s role in studies to answer that question will rely on something every hunter, hiker or angler can help with: photographs.
“We’re asking for the public to submit digital images as attachments of eastern diamondbacks,” said John Jensen, a senior wildlife biologist with Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division. “We are not interested in timber rattlesnakes.”
The request for photos, which can include live snakes or even road-killed diamondbacks, is part of a study that will run through 2015, he said, and is being conducted by the Orianne Society.
Their eastward range barely reaches Louisiana, where they are “functionally extinct,” with only one or two found per year.
“They are still found statewide in Florida, in the southern half of Georgia and southern half of South Carolina, and they barely extend to North Carolina, where they are rare,” Jensen said.
One reason diamondbacks are becoming scarcer is loss of habitat.
Timber rattlesnakes are found almost statewide, but diamondbacks are confined to southern and sandier soils and are much more restricted in range.
“Where we have the biggest problems are in uplands, where its easier to build on, plant crops in, or build roads through,” he said. “Roads are a definite issue with slow moving snakes, especially rattlesnakes.”
The Augusta area has little such habitat.
“Screven County, south of Augusta, is near the edge of their range,” Jensen said. “Burke County, above Screven, only has one record of one being found, and it was just a stone’s throw from the Screven County line.”
There is also a commercial trade for diamondback skins and some communities have historically held “rattlesnake roundups” in which large numbers of the reptiles were captured or killed.
Although dangerous if mishandled, they are also remarkable.
“The eastern diamondback is the largest rattlesnake in the world, and the largest venomous snake in the U.S.,” Jensen said. “They are very heavy-bodied, and can reach 8 feet in length.”
Compared to the timber rattler, also known as the canebrake rattler, diamondbacks have a larger head and a venom sack that can deliver larger payload, he said.
If you happen to come across one, remember to say “cheese” and snap a photo – but do it from a safe distance.
Here is how to submit a photo if you are lucky enough to get one:
E-mail digital images, along with the date observed, exact site (GPS if possible) and observer’s name to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jensen believes there are still plenty of diamondbacks in Georgia, but they may turn out to be scarcer in other parts of its range.
“Based on what I know of the population here in Georgia, it seems to be a fairly common species,” he said.
“I don’t doubt they are in decline, but I don’t know if it has reached a level of warranting federal listing,” he said. “This work we are doing will help answer that question.”
S.C. TURKEY HARVEST DOWN: About 40,000 turkey hunters take to the woods annually in South Carolina with hopes of harvesting a gobbler, and the 2013 spring turkey season was no exception. Harvest numbers, however, were down.
With an estimated harvest of 19,211 birds, the spring turkey harvest was down about 11 percent from 2012 and down 25 percent from the record harvest established in 2002, according to Charles Ruth, S.C. Department of Natural Resources Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator. This year’s decrease in harvest is likely due to decreased reproduction.