Quirks & Quarks

Rare Rattlesnake Needs Forest Fires to Survive

Venomous snake is in decline because of fire control that has changed its forest habitat

Diamondback needs fire to shape its environment

Eastern Diamondback (Jennifer Fill)
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake was once common throughout the south-east United States, but may soon officially become an endangered species.

One of the reasons the snake's numbers are dwindling is that its habitat - open canopy forests or savannah - is also in decline. Dr. Jennifer Fill studied the complex relationship between the Eastern diamondback and its habitat as a student in the Department of Biological Sciences at The University of South Carolina.

The open canopy, which supports the snake's main prey items, including rabbits and raccoons, is becoming more heavily forested, due to the lack of forest fires. Fires promote the growth of the fire-resistant longleaf pine tree, which, in turn, helps maintain the open canopy ecosystem. Prescribed burns in certain areas may help maintain the savannah and support the diamondback population. 

Related Links

Paper in PLoS One
- University of South Carolina release