Rattlesnake: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Crotalus cerastes
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Viperidae
Subfamily: Crotalinae

Crotalus Linnaeus, 1758
Sistrurus Garman, 1883

Rattlesnakes are a group of venomous snakes, genera Crotalus and Sistrurus. They belong to the subfamily of venomous snakes known as Crotalinae (pit vipers).



There are approximately thirty species of rattlesnake, with numerous subspecies. They receive their name for the rattle located at the end of their tails. The rattle is used as a warning device when threatened. The scientific name Crotalus derives from the Greek, κρόταλον, meaning "castanet". The name Sistrurus is the Latinized form of the Greek word for "tail rattler" (Σείστρουρος, Seistrouros) and shares its root with the ancient Egyptian musical instrument, the sistrum, a type of rattle. Most rattlesnakes mate in the spring. All species give live birth, rather than laying eggs. The young are self-sufficient from birth. Since they do not need their mother after birth, the mother does not remain with her young. However, at least one captive study has demonstrated that females and their neonates show some level of affinity for each other's company and will cross barriers to reunite if separated.[citation needed]

Contrary to popular myth, rattlesnakes are not deaf. In fact, the structure of their inner ears is very much like that of other reptiles. They do, however, lack external ears. Sound (whether from air or ground vibration) is transmitted to the snake's inner ear via bone and muscle.[citation needed]


Rattlesnakes consume mice, rats, small birds and other small animals[1]. They subdue their prey quickly with a venomous bite as opposed to constricting. The venom will immediately stun or kill typical prey. Rattlesnake venom can kill in 20 seconds, but a rattlesnake will follow prey that does not quickly succumb to the venom and attempts to escape. Rattlers are known to strike at distances up to two-thirds their body length.


Although many kinds of snakes are oviparous (lay eggs), rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous – the female retains the eggs in her body and they hatch as they are laid or soon afterwards; or viviparous (give birth to live young). Baby snakes are ready to go as soon as they are hatched or born. There is little to no parental care of the newborn snakes.


The rattle of a rattlesnake
Drawing of the rattle
Rattlesnake rattle

The rattle is composed of a series of nested, hollow beads which are actually modified scales from the tail tip. Each time the snake sheds its skin, a new rattle segment is added. They may shed their skins several times a year depending on food supply and growth rates. Newborn rattlesnakes (pre-button) do not have functional rattles; it is not until after they have shed their skin for the first time that they gain an additional bead, which beats against the first bead, known as the button, to create the rattling sound. Adult snakes may lose their rattles on occasion, but more appear at each molting. If the rattle absorbs enough water in wet weather, it will not make noise.

Safety and identification

Different species of rattlesnake vary significantly in size, territory, markings, and temperament. If the rattlesnake is not cornered or imminently threatened, it will usually attempt to flee from encounters with humans, but will not always do so. Bites often occur when humans startle the snake or provoke it. Those bitten while provoking rattlesnakes have usually underestimated the range (roughly two-thirds of its total length) and speed with which a coiled snake can strike (literally faster than the human eye can follow). Heavy boots and long pants reinforced with leather or canvas are recommended for hikers in areas known to harbor rattlesnakes.

Guides are available through booksellers, libraries, and local conservation and wildlife management agencies that aid hikers and campers in identifying rattlesnakes. The advice given is to avoid contact with rattlesnakes by remaining observant and not approaching the animals. Hikers are advised to be particularly careful when negotiating fallen logs or boulders and when near rocky outcroppings and ledges where rattlesnakes may be hiding or sunning themselves. However, snakes will occasionally sun themselves in the middle of a trail, so such areas are not the only places where they are encountered. When encountering a rattlesnake on a trail, hikers are advised to keep their distance and allow the snake room to retreat.


A rattlesnake warning sign

Rattlesnakes are born with fully functioning fangs capable of injecting venom and can regulate the amount of venom they inject when biting. Generally they deliver a full dose of venom to their prey, but may deliver less venom or none at all when biting defensively. A frightened or injured snake may not exercise such control. Young snakes are to be considered more dangerous, as they have less control over the amount of venom they inject.[2] A young rattlesnake will often simply inject all its venom, which might be a lethal dose, depending on the size of the bitten animal.


Most species of rattlesnakes have hemotoxic venom, destroying tissue, degenerating organs and causing coagulopathy (disrupted blood clotting). Some degree of permanent scarring is very likely in the event of a venomous bite, even with prompt, effective treatment, and a severe envenomation, combined with delayed or ineffective treatment, can lead to the loss of a limb or death. Thus, a rattlesnake bite is always a potentially fatal injury. Untreated rattlesnake bites, especially from larger species, are very often fatal. However, antivenom, when applied in time, reduces the death rate to less than 4%. It is estimated that between 7,000 and 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year, and about five of those die.[3] About 72% of those bitten by rattlesnakes are male.[4]

Some rattlesnakes, especially the tropical species, have neurotoxic venom. A bite from these snakes can interfere with or shut down parts of the nervous system. In the U.S. the Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) in Arizona and parts of California has a neurotoxic venom component known as Mojave Type A toxin. The current antivenom, (FDA-approved in October, 2000) known as CroFab, contains antibodies to Mojave A and B toxins as well as the toxins of most other U.S. pit vipers. Mojave A toxin has been identified present in the venoms of other species of rattlesnakes on occasion. Neurotoxins cause neurological symptoms, paralysis and could result in death due to respiratory paralysis. In the U.S., Central and South America there are another group of neurotoxic snakes known as the Coral Snakes, not related to rattlesnakes but more closely related to the cobra family of Africa and Asia. These snakes can also cause death due to respiratory paralysis if not properly treated.

The Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula), a constrictor, is famous for being largely immune to the venom of rattlesnakes and other vipers,[5] and therefore rattlesnakes form part of this snake's natural diet in the wild.

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

First aid

When a bite occurs, the amount of venom injected cannot be gauged easily. Symptoms and swelling may occur quickly, and may cause death easily but in some cases hours may pass before serious effects appear.

Experienced health workers typically gauge envenomation in stages ranging from 0, when there is no evident venom, to 5, when there is a life-threatening amount of venom present. The stages reflect the amount of bruising and swelling around the fang marks and the speed with which that bruising and swelling progresses. In more severe envenomation cases (stage 4 or 5) there may also be proximal symptoms, such as lip-tingling, dizziness, bleeding, vomiting, or shock. Difficulty breathing, paralysis, drooling, and massive haemorrhaging are also common symptoms.

Quick medical attention is critical, and treatment typically requires antivenin/antivenom to block the tissue destruction, nerve effects, and blood-clotting disorders common with rattlesnake venom. Most medical experts recommend keeping the area of the bite below the level of the heart. It is important to keep a snake bite victim calm in order to avoid elevating their heart rate and accelerating the circulation of venom within the body. Untrained individuals should not attempt to make incisions at or around bite sites, or to use tourniquets, as either treatment may be more destructive than the envenomation itself.

Any bite from a rattlesnake should be regarded as a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate hospital treatment from trained professionals.

Human consumption

Rattlesnakes are also a popular food in some southeastern and southwestern American cuisines and are sometimes sold in specialty meat shops.[6] The flavor has been characterized by one vendor as "delicate" and "resembling chicken";[7] and by journalist Alistair Cooke as "just like chicken, only tougher."[8] Others have compared the flavor to a wide range of other meats, including veal, frog, tortoise, quail, fish, rabbit, and even canned tuna.[9]


There are fairly obvious risks with private ownership of rattlesnakes. A bite can cause death or permanent disability. Even a nonfatal bite can lead to very high costs for emergency medical care.[10] Some jurisdictions outlaw the possession of venomous snakes. Where it is legal, some form of license or insurance policy may be required.[11]


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See also


  1. ^ http://www.desertusa.com/may96/du_rattle.html
  2. ^ "Venomous Snakes". National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Topics. Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/snakes/. Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  3. ^ Henkel, John. "For Goodness Snakes! Treating and Preventing Venomous Bites". Reptiles. USDA / emergency response. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/emergency_response/downloads/health/Appendix%203-6-E%20Reptiles.pdf. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  4. ^ O'Neil, ME; Mack, KA; Gilchrist J; and Woznaik, EJ (2007 Winter; 18(4):281-7). "Snakebite injuries treated in United States emergency departments, 2001-2004. (Abstract)". Wilderness Environ Med.. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18076294?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=2&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  5. ^ Common Kingsnake (DesertUSA)
  6. ^ Liner, Ernest A. (2005). The Culinary Herpetologist. Bibliomania. p. 2. ISBN 9781932871067. OCLC 61458133. http://books.google.com/books?id=KuPdm0uvwV4C. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  7. ^ "What Things Taste Like". exoticmeats.com. Exotic Meats USA. http://www.exoticmeats.com/docs/ExoticMeats-What-things-taste-like.pdf. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  8. ^ Cooke, Alistair (1980). The Americans: fifty talks on our life and times. Knopf. p. 183. ISBN 9780394503646. OCLC 5311048. http://books.google.com/books?id=_ERC0phoU0QC. Retrieved 2009-05-14. "To the goggling unbeliever Texans say—as people always say about their mangier dishes—'but it's just like chicken, only tenderer.' Rattlesnake is, in fact, just like chicken, only tougher." 
  9. ^ Klauber, Laurence Monroe; Harry W. Greene (1997). Rattlesnakes: their habits, life histories, and influence on mankind. University of California Press. p. 1055. ISBN 9780520210561. OCLC 39523012. http://books.google.com/books?id=4piKSG2sMJoC. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  10. ^ http://www.venomousreptiles.org/articles/305
  11. ^ "Keeping Captive / Exotic Wildlife". Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game. http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/living/keeping_wildlife.htm. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  • Manny Rubio; Rattlesnake: A Portrait of a Predator; Smithsonian Institution Press; ISBN 1-56098-808-8 (hardcover, 1998)
  • R. Burton, MD; Emergency Medicine. Lectures on Venom and Toxins. 1989.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

RATTLESNAKE. Rattlesnakes are a small group of the sub-family of pit-vipers (Crotalinae, see Snakes; Viperidae), characterised by a tail which terminates in a chain of horny, loosely connected rings, the so-called "rattle." The "pit" by which the family is distinguished from the ordinary vipers is a deep depression in the integument of the sides of the snout, between the nostrils and the eye; its physiological function is unknown. The rattle is a complicated and highly specialized organ, developed from the simple conical scale or epidermal spine, which in the majority of snakes forms the termination of the general integument of the tail. The bone by which the root of the rattle is supported consists of the last caudal vertebrae, from three to eight in number, which are enlarged, dilated, compressed and coalesced (fig. r, a). This bone is covered z FIG. I. - Rattle of Rattlesnake (after Czermak).

I. Caudal vertebrae, the last coalesced in a single bone a. 2. End of tail (rattle removed); a, cuticular matrix covering terminal bone. 3. Side view of a rattle; c and d the oldest, a and b the youngest joints. 4.4. A rattle with joints disconnected; x fits into b and is covered by it; z into d in like manner.

with thick and vascular cutis, transversely divided by two constrictions into three portions, of which the proximal is larger than the median, and the median much larger than the distal. This cuticular portion constitutes the matrix of a horny epidermoid covering which closely fits the shape of the underlying soft part and is the beginning of the rattle, as it appears in young rattlesnakes before they have shed their skin for the first time. When the period of a renewal of the skin approaches a new covering of the extremity of the tail is formed below the old one, but the latter, instead of being cast off with the remainder of the epidermis, is retained by the posterior swelling of the end of the tail, forming now the first loose joint of the rattle. This process is repeated on succeeding moultingsthe new joints being always larger than the old ones as long as the snake grows. Perfect rattles therefore taper towards the point, but generally the oldest (terminal) joints wear away in time and are lost. As rattlesnakes shed their skins more than once every year, the number of joints of the rattle does not indicate the age of the animal but the number of exuviations which it has undergone. The largest rattle in the British Museum has twenty-one joints. The rattle consists thus of a variable number of dry, hard, horny cup-shaped joints, each of which loosely grasps a portion of the preceding, and all of which are capable of being shaken against each other. If the interspaces between the joints are filled with water, as often happens in wet weather, no noise can be produced. The motor power lies in the lateral muscles of the tail, by which a vibratory motion is communicated to the rattle, the noise produced being similar to that of a child's rattle and perceptible at a distance of from Io to 20 yds.

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The habit of agitating the tail is not peculiar to the rattlesnake, but has been observed in other venomous and innocuous snakes with the ordinary tail, under the influence of fear or anger. It is significant that the tip of such snakes is sometimes rather conspicuously coloured and covered with peculiarly modified scales, notably in Acanthophis. The use of such a tail probably consists in attracting or fixing the attention of small animals, by slightly raising and vibrating the tip. The rattle no doubt acts as a warning, every snake preferring being left alone to being forced to bite. Many a man has been warned in time by the shrill sound, and this principle applies undoubtedly to other FIG. 2. - Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus s. durissus). mammals. Moreover, rattlesnakes are rather sluggish, and comparatively not vicious. First they try to slink away; when overtaken or cornered they use every means of frightening the foe by swelling up, puffing, rattling and threatening attitudes; it is as a rule not until they are touched, or provoked by a rapid movement, that they retaliate, but then they strike with fury. They are viviparous, and as destroyers of rats, mice and other small rodents they are useful. The surest way of clearing a ground of them and any other snakes is to drive in pigs, which are sure to find and to eat them, without harm to themselves. They inhabit localities to which the sun has free access, prairies, rough stony ground, &c. Specimens of 5 ft. in length are not rare. Formerly common in the eastern parts of the United States, and still so in thinly inhabited districts, rattlesnakes, like the vipers of Europe, have gradually succumbed to the persecution of man.

Rattlesnakes are confined to the New World. North-American authors distinguish a great number of different kinds, S. W. Garman ("Reptiles and Batrachians of North America," Harvard Mus. Zool. Mem., 1883, 4to) enumerating twelve species and thirteen additional varieties. E. D. Cope has split them into twenty; but all these species or varieties fall into two groups. One, Sistrurus, has the upper side of the head covered with the ordinary nine shields; only three species, of comparatively small size, in North America (Sistrurus miliarius from Florida to Sonora; S. catenatus in many of the middle states of the Union, and elsewhere, as far north as Michigan; S. ravus in Mexico).

The second group forms the genus Crotalus, in which the shields. between and behind the eyes are broken up and replaced by small scales. This genus ranges throughout the United States through Central and South America into Patagonia, but is not represented on any of the West Indian islands. C. horridus, with the tail uniformly black, from Maine to Kansas and Louisiana to Florida. C. adamanteus, tail light, with black crossbands, body with a handsome pattern of rhombs with lighter centres and yellowish edges; chiefly south-eastern states, to Arizona and Mexico; the largest of rattlers, giants of 8 ft. in length having been recorded. C. confluentus, tail with brown or indistinct bands; with a continuous. series of large brown or reddish rhomboidal spots on the back; Texas to California. C. cerastes, with a pair of horns above the eyes; the "sidewinder" of Arizona and California to Nevada. C. terrificus, easily distinguished by the possession of three pairs of symmetrical shields on the top of the muzzle, ranging from Arizona into Argentina. It is the only kind of rattlesnake in Central and South America. C. triseriatus, a small species, with a feebly developed rattle, on Mexican mountains, on the pic of Orizaba. up to 12,500 ft. (ST G. M.; H. F. G.)

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Simple English

The rattlesnake is a kind of snake, a reptile. About 50 kinds of rattlesnakes are known. They are a kind of pit viper. Men of science call the two big groups of rattlesnakes (each called a genus) either Crotalus or Sistrurus. All of them have a poison bite, but some kinds are a much greater danger than others.

The name rattlesnake is used because they have a special tail with several parts on the end that can make a loud bzzzz sound, or rattle.

Rattlesnakes live in North and South America, especially, but not always, in dry areas.

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