Timber Rattlesnakes Show Their Tender Side

Sixty seconds is all it takes to be captivated by this reclusive animal’s motherly instincts.

By Ann M. Gallagher

National parks in and around Washington, DC, are home to fascinating animals people might never encounter. This film is about one of them—the timber rattlesnake. It came about through a collaboration between the National Park Service’s Urban Ecology Research Learning Alliance (UERLA) and American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking. The collaboration paired filmmakers with scientists to share stories through film.

The collaboration drew inspiration from Emmy-nominated videographer Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath’s unpublished research about how short films nurture curiosity. Herzfeldt-Kamprath analyzed effective ways to capture a viewer’s attention and inspire keen interest in under 60 seconds. She found that a strong short story rivets viewers’ attention better than a complex one.

The UERLA program is an exceptional opportunity” for emerging filmmakers.

For the UERLA program, 13 experienced, early-career filmmakers developed interconnected films related to natural science in national parks. Filmmaker Grace Eggleston created three rattlesnake-focused films for the program. Each film adds to the viewer’s knowledge of rattlesnakes’ behaviors and ecological contribution. Rattlesnake expert W. H. Martin and Catoctin Mountain Park ranger Conrad Provan interpret these intimate stories for the viewer. This film, Eggleston’s “Timber Rattlesnake Mothers,” celebrates the underappreciated maternal side of the iconic, misunderstood timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

Female rattlesnakes reproduce three or four times in their lives, gathering in communal nurseries. They each give birth to six to 12 young. Their maternal care helps Catoctin Mountain Park’s newborn snakes survive their first challenge: commuting to a communal den for their annual brumation. Brumation is a dormant state like hibernation that ectothermic, “cold-blooded” animals—those who rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature—undergo. Maggie Stogner, director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking, says the UERLA program is “an exceptional opportunity” for emerging filmmakers to “inspire the public to want to learn more about wildlife and science in our parks.”

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1 minute, 42 seconds

Narrated by rattlesnake expert W. H. Martin and Catoctin Mountain Park ranger Conrad Provan, this short film celebrates the timber rattlesnake's underappreciated maternal side. It was created by Grace Eggleston through a collaboration between the National Park Service's Urban Ecology Research Learning Alliance and American University's Center for Environmental Filmmaking.

Woman with brown hair, glasses, and a black shirt smiling for the photo in front of a packed bookshelf.

About the author

Ann M. Gallagher is the science education coordinator for the Urban Ecology Research Learning Alliance, a unit of the National Park Service, National Capital Region. Image courtesy of Ann M. Gallagher.

Catoctin Mountain Park

Last updated: March 13, 2024