Snake Island: Massachusetts to Set Up Rattlesnake Reserve

Timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) were once widespread in New England, but now they're endangered in states like Massachusetts, which plans to introduce a population of the reptiles into the wild. TimVickers via Wikimedia Commons

The timber rattlesnake used to be found in abundance throughout New England, but now it's extinct in Maine and Rhode Island, and considered endangered in several other eastern states, including Massachusetts. But officials there have a plan to re-establish a small population of the animals on an island known as Mount Zion, surrounded by the waters of the Quabbin Reservoir, near Amherst.

Some people are balking at the plan to create a new population of venomous reptiles on state land—despite the fact that Mount Zion Island is off-limits to people—but the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has a legal responsibility to protect this native species. They are rather shy and don't bite unless disturbed, and have caused no human fatalities since colonial times.

Humans, on the other hand, have been harmful to timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) by developing land where they life and even killing them, causing their populations to plummet. The state describes this as the "greatest modern decline of any native reptile."

Massachusetts officials plan to release about eight young snakes onto the island in spring 2017 if all goes according to plan. The reptiles are currently being raised in the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, so that they will be large enough when released to avoid being eaten by predators such as bald eagles.

Mount Zion is ideal for the snakes because it has a sizable network of underground caverns where the snakes can safely spend the winter, as well as abundant prey like the white-footed mouse and eastern chipmunk, according to the state.