Found throughout the North and South Americas, rattlesnakes are large and venomous snakes. The greatest concentration of rattlesnakes around found in the Southwest of the United States, and Northern Mexico. Arizona is home to the most species, with 13 different types of rattlers. The feature that all of the rattlesnake species share is: the rattle.
Anyone living in these areas has most likely heard the distinctive rattle and knows fine well that it is a warning that you are encroaching on their territory. The rattle is made up of keratin segments that fit inside one another loosely at the end of the tail. The rattle sound is produced when the rattlesnake holds the tail vertically and vibrates the rattle. When rattlesnakes shed a layer of skin they add another segment to their rattle.
Zoologists at the San Diego Zoo believe the rattlesnake to be the newest, thus most evolved, snake in the world. So it makes perfect sense that scientists consider the rattle to be the most sophisticated warning system. They also hiss, similar to how a cat does. Rattlesnakes utilize their rattle and hiss to warn people away; snakes are deaf, thus the hiss is a warning for other animals, not snakes.
Rattlesnakes range in size from as small as one foot up to 8 feet, dependent on the species. Thick bodied with ridged scales, rattlesnakes come in a variety of patterns and colors. The majority of the species feature dark diamond patterns on a lighter background. In addition to the rattle, they also have facial pits that are heat sensing, hinged fangs, triangular heads and vertical pupils (again, like a cat). Young rattlesnakes have yet to grow their rattles, however they are still as dangerous, if not more so, as the adult is. Moreover, adults can lose their rattles- so the triangular head is the indicator you could look out for.
Rattlesnakes are incredibly adaptable and can flourish in a variety of environments. However, they are mostly found in desert sands, grasslands, rocky hills and scrub brush. Additionally, in the meadows of the Northeast and the swamplands of the Southeast. They can be found at sea level, right up to 11,000 feet.
They generally create dens in rocky crevices and those dens service multiple generations of rattlesnakes. In fact, rattlesnakes can use the same den for over 100 years! They leave dens to sunbathe on rocks, or other open places, and though they aren’t nocturnal they tend to be more active in the evening during the hottest months. In addition to the hissing and rattling, they tend to exhibit other defensive behavior such as coiling their bodies and raising their heads.
They mate during the spring and summer; thus males frequently engage in combat. They carry their babies for around 3 months, give birth to live babies and then slither away immediately after the birth. They give birth every two years and generally have 10 babies. They can live for up to 25 years.
Rattlesnakes lie in wait for their prey, and their favorite foods are lizards and small rodents. They strike quickly, using their venom to paralyze their prey and then swallow them whole. They eat every around every two weeks.
If you encounter a rattlesnake it is likely that you have caught them hunting for lunch, or heading for a sunbathe. You are most likely to be bitten by a rattlesnake when stepping on them accidently. They can be fatal, however with proper medical treatment the bites are usually not serious.
The symptoms of a venomous bite include: temporary, or permanent, tissue damage, muscle damage, internal bleeding, extreme pain around the bite site, and potentially losing an extremity, or death.
However, a number of species have venom that also contains neurotoxins and those symptoms include vision problems, skeletal muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, difficulty with swallowing and speaking, and potentially respiratory failure. Still, fatal bites from rattlesnakes are rare provided medical treatment is sought immediately.
There are 29 species of rattlesnakes, so how can you avoid falling prey to these beasts?
Use the above tips to know how to identify a rattlesnake, though it should be noted that there are other poisonous snakes. So you should proceed with caution regardless. You should be aware of the area in which you are travelling, especially if you are hiking. Is the area known for rattlesnakes?
Ensure that you wear thick socks and hiking boots of good quality- this will help protect you from the rattlesnake fangs in the event of a run in. Never wear open toe shoes or sandals when you go hiking.
You should never go walking, climbing or hiking without a fully charged cell phone. Always hike with a friend. Don’t poke around rocks, or stick your hands in holes or in brush. Stay on the beaten path.
If camping, always arrive to your campsite in daylight so that you can set up in daylight and fully inspect the area before you set up.
If you have children with you ensure they know to be aware of what is going on around them, and teach them the warning signs of rattlesnakes.
Obey the warning signs- if you hear furious hissing and rattling then know you are in the area of a rattlesnake. Stop immediately and survey the area around you in order to identify the snake’s location.
Understand that rattlesnakes strike quickly, and their strike distance can be up to one half of its total length. If you have encountered a rattle snake and they are hissing and rattling then it is a good bet they are coiled, in this circumstance you will be unable to determine its length. You should remain calm, turn around and slowly walk away.
If you have been bitten keep the bite lower than the heart- elevating the bite will spread the venom more rapidly. Remove rings, as venom can cause swelling. Call 911 and wait for assistance.