Pauley said a timber rattler looks very different than a garter snake or a black snake, but he added that it's human nature to assume that if it's a snake it has to be poisonous. Society, in general, has a deep-rooted fear of snakes.
People don't see timber rattlers, he explained, because the snakes don't want to be seen.
"They're just so secretive," he said.
Pauley recalled a few years ago that he and a graduate student had put transmitters on a number of snakes in Randolph County to track them with a receiver. Later, they were out looking for salamanders among some large rocks when the receiver picked up a signal of a nearby snake.
"We followed the antenna right over to that rattlesnake," he said.
The snake was tightly coiled up. Pauley said it was about the size of a coffee cup saucer and lying next to a tree root.
"I tell you, I would have walked right over it," he said.
Pauley stressed that it was a pretty big snake and would have kept hidden if not for the receiver.
Timber rattlers blend in and hide, and they don't move unless they have to.
"They're part of what's called the hidden biodiversity," Pauley said. "They're hidden and stay hidden, and we just don't know they're there."
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.