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All Creatures,

Episode 41: Rattling with Rattlesnakes

July 03, 2018

The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) is just 1 of 3,600 species of snake. They belong to the family of Viperidae, which is a family of venomous snakes found throughout the world except Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar, Ireland, Hawaii and other islands.  While feared, death from snake bites are extremely rare (5-6 citizens in the US) compared to other animals and other causes (car accidents). These animals are more afraid of you than you should be of them.

Eastern Diamondback Description

The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake’s subfamily is Crotalinae, which consist of the pit vipers. Pit vipers are adders, cottonmouth, copperheads, gaboon vipers, green vipers, horned vipers and rattlesnakes. These snakes are stocky with short tails, have distinct triangular heads and keeled scales (not smooth). Their coloring patterns match their environments. There are 36 known species of pit vipers and up to 70 subspecies. They range from North, Central, and South America. The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake ranges in the Southeastern United States from Louisiana up to North Carolina.

Snakes from Viperidae are said to be some of the most evolutionary adapted snakes in the world. Their venom is delivered through special hollow fangs called ‘solenoglyphous.’ These fangs are about as long as half the snakes head, and when their mouths close the fangs are retracted and fold up along the roof of the mouth. When the jaws open, the fangs snap out into a biting position. While venomous, the vipers’ venom is generally less toxic than other snakes. For example, the most toxic snake in the world is the Inland Taipan from Australia.

List of the most venomous snakes in the world

The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is one of the largest and heaviest venomous snakes in the world. While King Cobras can reach lengths of up to 18 feet (5 meters) long, the longest Eastern Diamondback measured was over 8 feet (2.5 meters) long. These snakes also can weigh up to 35 lbs (15 kg) and on average only the Gaboon Viper is heavier at an average weight of 19 lbs (8.5 kg). The average weight of an Eastern Diamondback is 10 lbs (5 kg) and usually are as long as 5.5 feet (1.7 meters).

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake Facts

All snakes play critical roles in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake helps control rodent populations and will also feed on small birds and other rodents. Usually these are ambush predators and their venom kill their prey quickly. Snakes will swallow meals headfirst to ensure the limbs fold naturally back.

The rattle of these snakes is used to warn off predators. However, many will kill and eat them such as raptors (eagles, hawks), coyotes, owls, pigs, racoons, skunks, opossum and even other snakes like the king snake. The rattle is made up of hollow segments made up of keratin and with each shedding of the skin these snakes add a new rattle. However, you can never really truly age these snakes by their rattles since they can and do fall off at the tip.

Finally, we are learning so much new information about rattlesnake behavior. Here is the link to the website and video Angie referenced in a rattlesnake mother taking care of here young.

A Day in the Life of a Rattlesnake Family

Eastern Diamondback Conservation

There are an estimated 100,000 Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes and earn a ‘least concern’ rating. However, their populations are declining and they are at risk due to habitat loss and also are hunted by people for their skins. It is estimated these snakes have lost 10% of their population in their last 3 generations.

Organizations to Support

The Rattlesnake Conservancy

Center for Snake Conservation

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