Canebrake rattlesnakes, the southern variant of timber rattlesnakes, are one of our more interesting species of snake. First, because you’re less likely to come across canebrake rattlesnakes than copperheads, or even cottonmouths, they are more mysterious. Second, canebrake rattlesnakes are the only snake in North Louisiana that can have either hemotoxic or neurotoxic venom, in some cases having both or even cytotoxic venom.
Canebrake rattlesnakes (also known as timber rattlers) are one of two species of rattlesnakes in North Louisiana. The other rattlesnake is the smaller pygmy rattlesnake (ground rattler). Canebrake rattlesnakes are probably the most dangerous species of snake in the area due to their size and the potency of their venom. Canebrakes are the largest venomous snakes in North Louisiana and carry a potentially deadly venom, which may consist of hemotoxin, cytotoxin, neurotoxin, or a combination of hemo- and neurotoxin. In South Arkansas and North Louisiana, these snakes often have the hemo- and neurotoxic venom cocktail.
These snakes tend to hang out in hardwood forests where they eat mice, squirrels, rabbits, and rats, along with other small mammals. You are most likely to come across one of these in between mid spring and early fall. I’ve only run across a few, in the Tensas River WMA. The canebrakes I’ve met were at the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Area. The first was lounging next to a wooden walking trail in the Tensas River WMA. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Sounds echo in a hollow. To give the snake credit, it did try to warn me. But, I wanted the photo, so I leaned forward, toward where I thought the sound was coming from. I think the biggest mistake was slapping at the mosquitoes nearby.
That was the straw that broke the snake’s temperament. It struck the top of my boot, from the ground. That’s when I observed that rattlesnakes strike higher than copperheads and cottonmouths (both of which I’ve noticed strike around ankle level). The snake, I discovered, had been snuggled up against the plank I was standing on. The second canebrake rattlesnake I came across was crossing the road at Tensas.
The snakes are not usually aggressive, but they tend to hunt and bask near logs, tree bases, thickets, and wooden walkways. The brown and/or grey color and black patterns that help them blend with their environment to evade predators and capture prey make them difficult for people to see. They sometimes rattle to warn away larger animals like people. However, they do not always rattle, and it is important for people to watch carefully when walking near fallen logs and through thick brush. Like other snakes, canebrakes move the most during mid-spring and early fall, when they travel back and forth between hibernation and foraging sites. Despite the possible dangers of a canebrake bite, these snakes are important to the North Louisiana ecosystem. They, like most other snakes, help control rodent populations, eating rats, mice, and some squirrels.
Where to Find North Louisiana Canebrake Rattlesnakes
Your best bet for encountering a canebrake rattlesnake is the National Tensas River Wildlife Refuge in the summer or fall. However, you can find them pretty much anywhere in North Louisiana where you find hardwood forests.