Matt Wilson knows firsthand what a rattlesnake bite feels like.
In 2003, a timber rattlesnake managed to get its fangs through a seam on a protective glove the Smethport man was wearing while researching the animal.
Wilson, a Pennsylvania Timber Rattlesnake Den Site Assessment Project field specialist for the state's Fish and Boat Commission, spent five days in intensive care and received 20 vials of antivenom.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
A sign along the Allegheny Portage Railroad Trace Trail asks walkers to help protect the land.
Today, he is still one of their biggest advocates.
"I really respect these animals," he said, adding that it was his fault he got bit and not the other way around.
There is seemingly no one to fault for a recent encounter between a German shepherd and a timber rattlesnake along the Allegheny Portage Railroad Trace Trail this week.
Shawn Reeseman of Altoona said he had not wanted to kill the snake that bit his dog while on a walk with his family. Him doing so was reactionary, the family said.
Chief Ranger Tom Stinedurf of the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site said the historic site is planning to put out more cautionary information to the public following the rare incident, and the bite is still under investigation.
Wildlife is protected in national parks, and it is forbidden for anyone to remove or kill an animal found inside the park, he said.
Coming across a timber rattlesnake is very rare, but they are native to Pennsylvania, Stinedurf said.
The timber rattlesnake is not an endangered species yet but is classified as a candidate species, which means it is on the path to extinction, Wilson said.
"Most people don't realize they are protected [statewide]," he said, adding that the other venomous snake found in the area, copperheads, is also protected.
The timber rattlesnake can be legally harvested from the second Saturday in June to the last day in July, Wilson said.
According to the Fish and Boat Commission's website, a person can only harvest one a year and it has to meet certain criteria such as being at least 42 inches in length. The law concerning its length protects the female timber rattlesnake, which is typically no more than 40 inches long, Wilson said.
The animal even protects people from illness because their prey carry sickness such as Lyme disease and Hantavirus, Wilson said.
Wilson and Stinedurf advise people to walk away from a snake when they encounter it.
"People just need to be cautious when hiking of any snakes they may come across," Stinedurf said, adding that they should take caution, watch their footing and move away from the reptile.
"This is the time of year they're moving around," he said.
Wilson wants to clear up the misconception people have about the timber rattlesnake.
"Most snakes are timid animals," he said. "They just want to get away."
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Clegg is at 949-7030.