The rattlesnake is one of the most easily recognizable snakes in the world due to the unmistakable “rattle” found at the end of its tail. Commonly referred to as a rattler, there are 32 known species.
Danger to Humans:
All rattlesnakes, regardless of species, should be treated as potentially dangerous because every species is considered venomous, or poisonous. A single bite could cause deadly poison to go into the body.
However, a rattlesnake bite does not generally result in death as long as the human gets immediate medical help. Rattlesnakes generally only strike when they are surprised or disturbed by humans. They can only strike from a coiled position on the ground.
Rattlesnakes are found on the continents of North and South America. They are usually associated with arid, or dry, habitats, such as deserts. However, they also can be found in forests, grasslands, and even swamps. They survive in wet areas due to their surprising ability to swim quite well.
Rattlesnakes, like all other reptiles, are ectothermic. This means they are naturally cold-blooded and must get their body heat from outside sources like the sun or hot surfaces. You can often find a rattlesnake catching some rays on a warm rock!
Rattlesnakes prefer temperatures from 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit but can also survive freezing temperatures. Rattlesnakes cannot be active in cold weather because they cannot draw enough heat. Instead, they hibernate in large dens with many other rattlesnakes.
The species of rattlesnakes differ greatly in size. The smallest rattlesnake is only 1 foot long, while the longest rattlesnake can be 6-8 times as long!
Rattlesnakes are not very colorful because they like to be camouflaged, or hidden, in their surroundings. Most rattlers are black, brown, olive, or gray or can be a combination of these colors.
The most distinct part of the rattlesnake’s anatomy is, of course, its rattle. A rattlesnake uses its rattle as a warning system when it feels threatened. Surprisingly, the rattle is made of keratin, a type of protein. Humans also have keratin ~ it is what fingernails are made of!
Although it is very noisy, the rattle is actually hollow! Its sound results from each rattle link hitting the link right next to it when the snake contracts its tail.
As the rattlesnake grows, it outgrows its skin, so it sheds the old one and makes a new one. Like the skin, the rattlesnake’s rattle is continually growing.
Each time the rattlesnake sheds, another new rattle is grown to add to the existing collection. Some people say you can tell how old a rattlesnake is just by counting its rattles!
However, this method is not very accurate because rattles can break off or a snake can grow more than one rattle a year.
Rattlesnakes are carnivores or meat-eaters. They eat small mammals, such as rats, along with insects and even other reptiles. Unlike an adult human, a grown rattlesnake only needs to eat once every couple of weeks!
Rattlesnakes are part of a special type of snake called pit vipers. This means it possesses an organ that helps them detect heat. If a mouse ventures close by the rattlesnake, it can “see” the mouse and accurately strike. This would be similar to humans using night goggles at night to see objects!
- Special Adaptations: Rattlesnakes inject their venom, or poison, in their victims through the use of long, hollow fangs. One of the special things about rattlesnake fangs is that they can grow as many as they need! Humans only have two sets of teeth ~ baby and permanent teeth. So, if a permanent tooth is lost, a trip to the dentist is in order. Rattlesnakes, however, can grow as many fangs as they need! If they happen to break one off when eating, they simply grow another one!
- Reproduction: Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous, which means the eggs are carried inside the female rattlesnake before she gives birth to live young. She only carries the eggs for about three months! Baby rattlesnakes cannot rattle. Young rattlesnakes are considered even more dangerous than adult rattlesnakes. This is because their venom is very strong at the time of their birth. As the rattlesnake grows older, the venom becomes less concentrated.
- Conservation Status: Rattlesnake populations decrease due to habitat loss, road accidents, and other encounters with humans. Many humans simply kill a rattlesnake if they see one. However, only about 3 species are listed as threatened or endangered.
Striking Statements of Fact:
- King snakes are immune to the venom of rattlesnakes, so they are known as one of the main predators of this species.
- Rattlesnakes can see things up to 40 feet away!