The Rattle of the Rattlesnake
A rattlesnake is a group of venomous snakes belonging to the Crotalus and Sistrurus of the subfamily pit vipers. There are 36 known species of rattlesnakes with 65 to 70 subspecies. They are all natives to North, Central, and South America living as far north as Alberta, Canada, and as far south as Argentina, South America.
Rattlesnakes are Predators
As predators, rattlesnakes live in a variety of habitats. They hunt small animals, namely birds and rodents. More specifically, the snakes consume mice, rats, little birds, and other small animals. They lie in wait for their next meal, or they hunt for it in holes. Their catch is killed quickly with a venomous bite. If the animal is bitten but gets away, the rattlesnake will follow it by the scent. The snake then locates the head of the prey by odors coming from the mouth. It is then ingested head-first. This allows the wings and limbs to fold at the joints. This minimizes the girth of the meal. The snake is capable of digesting flesh as well as bone. If the prey was not sufficient for a meal, the snake would continue hunting for something more to eat. If it was satisfactory, the snake finds a warm, safe place where it coils up and rests until the meal has been digested.
Rattlesnakes Have Their Own Predators
When first born a rattlesnake is preyed upon by a variety of species. These include everything from ravens to crows, raccoons, possums, skunks, and other animals. Due to their early demise, only a small proportion of rattlesnakes, often as few as 20 percent, make it to their second year of life. The snake is still preyed upon as it ages by eagles, hawks, pigs, badgers, and other animals.
Seeing, Hearing, And Smelling
Rattlesnakes lack a fovea in its eye, making it impossible to define images. So, instead, it relies mostly on the perception of movement. They have an exceptionally keen sense of smell. Rattlesnakes lack external ear openings. Therefore, snakes do not have a very effective sense of hearing.
The Rattlesnake Rattle
Their rattle serves to warn predators of their presence. The contraction of special shaker muscles in the tail causes these segments to vibrate against one another. This results in the rattling noise. The muscles causing the rattle to shake are some of the fastest known. They can fire at 50 times per second for a period of up to three hours.
Rattlesnakes And Reproduction
Most of these snakes mate during the summer or fall. The female secretes a small amount of sex pheromones. This leaves a trail the males follow using their tongues as guides. Once the female is located, the male often spends several days following her around. He touches her, rubs her, and these are attempts to stimulate her. The males have sexual organs located in the base of the tail known as the hemipenes. It is held inside the body when mating is not taking place. It is similar to the human penis. The female can store semen for months. The female produces the eggs in her ovaries. They hatch inside her body and give birth to live, fully formed young. The female can have from one to 25 infants. She often remains with the newborn in nests for several weeks. It takes several years for the rattlesnake to mature. The female reproduces only once every three years.
Rattlesnakes Are Large
The diamondback rattlesnake is the largest of the species. Most rattlesnakes range in size from one to eight feet in length.
The rattle from a rattlesnake is a sound I don’t want to hear.