CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Among its many symbols, as of 2008, the state of West Virginia has an officially recognized reptile: the timber rattlesnake.
Found through out West Virginia, Crotalus horridus often grows to a length of about 3 feet with the occasional specimen reaching a little more than 5 feet and weighing up to 5 pounds.
With its rough-edged scales, dark bands and long, fearsome fangs, the timber rattler may be the stuff of nightmares, but Dr. Thomas Pauley, a biology professor and herpetologist (reptile expert) at Marshall University, said they're not really something to be terribly afraid of.
"We're freaked out about snakes, period," he said. "Whether it's a garter snake, a green snake or a rattlesnake."
Rattlesnakes, of course, are venomous, and the timber rattler is no exception.
"Of that, there's no doubt," Pauley said. "Could they kill you? They could. [But] there probably aren't that many deaths from timber rattler snakebites."
Not that the biology professor endorsed picking one up. Pauley would recommend leaving them alone, but he thinks the timber rattler isn't as scary as some might think.
He said, "They can certainly make you sick, and a person could die -- I'm not saying they wouldn't -- but if you check the figures, deaths by snakebite in West Virginia, there are very few."
Pauley pointed out that timber rattlers are pretty common in West Virginia; he acknowledged, though, that actual sightings are more rare. People just think they see them.
"I've been a herpetologist for 50-some years and there's hardly a week that goes by at Marshall when I don't get an email or a phone call. Someone will describe a snake or send me a picture, and they're always telling they're rattlesnakes or copperheads.
"They're usually garter snakes and black snakes and things that aren't venomous."