A white-footed mouse that exchanged the forests of Lake George for a cozy lakeshore camp found itself not only in a mouse trap but inside the belly of a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).
According to Dr. William S. Brown, the biologist whose primary field of study has been the timber rattlesnakes of the Lake George area, the camp’s owners awoke one Labor Day weekend to find one less trap and one timber rattler coiled beneath the woodstove.
“Accustomed to Timber Rattlesnakes, the owners used snake-handling tools to capture the snake; they immediately noticed a large, rectangular bulge in the snake. Suspecting it was the missing mousetrap, the owners then contacted my colleague, Mathew G. Simon, who retrieved the snake,” said Brown.
According to Simon, the medium-sized female Timber Rattlesnake was seven to eight years old and weighed about 400 grams.
She also appeared to have done something Brown had never witnessed in his four decades of studying Timber Rattlesnakes – she had swallowed a mousetrap, mouse included.
“We surmised that the ingested mousetrap would eventually prove fatal, but, rather than sacrificing the snake and removing her from our study area, we sought out veterinary help to remove the trap,” Brown and Simon state in a forthcoming paper.
They continue: “We contacted a veterinarian experienced in inserting radio-transmitters in Copperheads and Timber Rattlesnakes, who told us that if we waited much longer, tissue damage might compromise the snake’s survival chances. We realized that we were dealing with an emergency situation.”
After anesthetizing the snake, “the skilled veterinarian began a 2-hour operation. Through externally attached electrodes, the snake’s heartbeat was monitored. A lateral incision in the snake’s skin and external body musculature directly opposite the bulging mousetrap, and an internal incision in the stomach wall at the mousetrap’s position, allowed the trap—containing the partially digested remnants of a mouse—to be carefully removed. Both incisions were skillfully sutured. As the snake regained consciousness, she was injected with a pain-killer and an antibiotic,” the researchers write.
After a year in captivity to recover, Brown and Simon released her (now bearing a name – Minnie) into her native habitat in the Lake George Wild Forest.
Bearing a rattle-attached transmitter, she has been tracked by Matt Simon throughout the 2023 summer.
According to an email from Dr. Brown, “Minnie’s movements in July and August have been impressive.”
Brown said Minnie has traveled about 1.5 miles and as of September 23, she has been located by Matt Simon roughly 80 meters from her den. She is expected to go into hibernation within the next few weeks.
Brown planned to give a talk about Minnie at a meeting of herpetologists scheduled for September 28-30 in Cornwall, NY.
“Everyone who has heard this story – including audiences at two talks I gave this past summer – is amazed that we would go to such lengths to save one rattlesnake,” said Brown.