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Rattlesnakes are easily identifiable venomous snakes with the rattle at the end of their tail. As members of groups of rattlesnakes, rattlesnakes use their powerful venom to subdue their victims. The venom prevents blood from clotting and destroys internal tissues, quickly incapacitating the animal they bite. When there is no antivenom, humans die too. The most dangerous snake in this family is the Mojave rattlesnake, whose venom contains a potent neurotoxin.

Two-spot rattlesnakes are venomous from birth

© AZ-Animals.com

6 Diamondback Facts

  • Although their venom can seriously injure or kill humans, rattlesnakes prefer to avoid human contact.
  • These snakes can control how much venom they use when they bite, with up to 50 percent of bites being "dry," meaning no venom.
  • Scientists believe that rattlesnakes evolved later than other snakes.
  • Rattlesnakes also hiss like cats to warn predators to stay away.
  • Rattlesnakes range in size from a foot long to over eight feet long.
  • Their metabolism is very slow and they only need to eat once every two to three weeks.

scientific name

rock rattlesnake
The name "rattlesnake" comes from the Middle English verb "rattle," which is formed from the sound of loose objects hitting each other.

© Dawson/CC BY-SA 2.5 – License

Rattlesnakes are members of the class Reptiles and the family Viperidae , especially the subfamily Rattlesnidae , or rattlesnakes. The name "rattlesnake" comes from the Middle English verb "rattle," which is formed from the sound of loose objects hitting each other. The second half of the viper's name is simply the Middle English word "snake," meaning "snake-like reptile." The specific scientific name is rattlesnake.


In order to clearly understand the evolution of rattlesnakes, we must first understand how rattlesnakes in general evolve. Based on the oldest rattlesnake fossils ever found, they can be placed in the Miocene era. But the molecular phylogeny dates Viperidae back to the early Eocene, about 56-48 million years ago. They originated in Africa, Asia, and Europe and later spread to North, Central, and South America.

The researchers believe that the snake that was the ancestor of the modern day rattlesnake existed about 22 million years ago. It has a highly toxic venom composed of toxin genes that can destroy muscles, attack the nervous system, and poison the blood of its victims. Rattlesnakes arose 12-14 million years ago, but somehow shed certain neurotoxin genes so their venom became even more specialized. For example, the venom of an Eastern or Western rattlesnake can damage the muscles and blood vessels of its prey. On the other hand, the venom of the Mojave rattlesnake attacks the blood and nervous system.

So where did the rattling sound come from? One theory, based on the fact that some other snake species wag their tails to avoid predators, suggests that rattlesnakes evolved rattlesnakes as a more effective way of sending warning signals to predators. Some scientists believe that some snakes have opted for the trait of retaining a bit of extra skin at the end of their tails when they shed, which makes a sound when they shake.

types of rattlesnakes

There are more than 60 species of rattlesnakes; most of them belong to the genus Rattlesnake , and the smaller pygmy and pygmy rattlesnakes belong to the genus Rattlesnake .

Amazing Desert Animals: Rattlesnakes
The rattlesnake is a species of rattlesnake adapted to life in a desert habitat.

©Roger de Montfort/Shutterstock.com

Rattlesnakes of the genus Rattlesnakes are listed by scientific name:

  • Eastern Rattlesnake ( Crotalus adamanteus )
  • Cretaland dusky rattlesnake ( C. aquilus)
  • Western rattlesnake ( Crotalus atrox)
  • Mexican west coast rattlesnake ( C. basiliscus)
  • Santa Catalina rattlesnake ( C. catalinensis)
  • Arizona Black Rattlesnake ( C. cerberus )
  • Rattlesnake ( C. cerastes)
  • Lesser faded rattlesnake ( C. concolor )
  • Neotropical rattlesnake (C. durissus)
  • Baja rattlesnake ( C. enyo )
  • South Pacific Rattlesnake ( C. helleri )
  • Timber rattlesnake/vine brake (C. horridus)
  • Mexican Smallhead Rattlesnake ( C. intermedius )
  • Outland rattlesnake ( C. lannomi )
  • Rock Rattlesnake ( C. lepidus)
  • Spotted Rattlesnake ( C. mitchelli)
  • Black-tailed rattlesnake ( C. molossus)
  • Mexican Spearhead Rattlesnake ( C. polystictus)
  • Two-spot rattlesnake ( C. pricei)
  • There are three recognized subspecies of the red rattlesnake ( Crotalus ruber ), the Cedros Island red diamond rattlesnake ( C. r. exsul ), the San Lucan red diamond rattlesnake ( C. r. lucasensis) and the red diamond rattlesnake ( C. r. ruber) .
  • Mojave rattlesnake ( C. scutulatus )
  • Long-tailed rattlesnake ( C. stejnegeri)
  • Tiger Rattlesnake ( C. tigris)
  • Tortuga Island Rattlesnake ( C. tortugensis )
  • Cross-banded Mountain Rattlesnake ( C. transversis )
  • Aruba Rattlesnake ( C. unicolor)
  • Prairie rattlesnake (C. viridis )
  • Spinenose rattlesnake ( C. willardi )

Sistrurus rattlesnakes:

  • Pygmy rattlesnake ( S. miliarius)
  • North American pygmy rattlesnake ( S. catenatus )
  • Western North American pygmy rattlesnake (S. tergeminus)

appearance and behavior

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake curled up in grass
The eastern diamondback moth can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh up to 10 pounds, making it the largest of its kind.


There are more than 60 kinds of rattlesnakes and dozens of subspecies. All are native to the Americas, from southern Canada to Argentina.

The largest rattlesnake is the one that lives in the eastern half of the United States. Timber rattlesnakes are usually 2.5 to 5 feet long, but some have been recorded as long as 7 feet. The eastern diamondback moth can grow up to 8 feet in length and weigh up to 30 pounds, making it the largest of its kind. One of the smallest rattlesnakes is the Florida pygmy. The average gnome is 1 to 1.5 feet long, about the same length as a house cat.

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Rattlesnakes have a thick body with angular scales. Their color varies by habitat. However, most have dark diamond patterns or other geometric shapes on a light background.

At the end of their tails, you can see a distinctive rattle made of hollow keratin chambers. When the rattlesnake wags its tail, the chambers bump into each other, rattling. The rattle gains a new part each time the snake sheds its skin, but rattles often break due to environmental damage from everyday life.

In addition to the rattlesnake and unique graphic design, the rattlesnake has a triangular head and articulated fangs. Their eyes have cat-like vertical pupils.

Rattlesnakes are generally not aggressive and most would rather run away than fight. They usually only attack humans when frightened or provoked, but they don't always rattle – sometimes there is no time to rattle, or the snake is young and they don't. Their defensive displays are dramatic and easy to see when they try to warn you to stay away! The rattlesnake hisses and inflates its body to appear larger while coiling its body and neck in preparation for the attack.

Diamondbacks ready to strike
Rattlesnakes can control the amount of venom they release when they bite.

©Maria Dryfhout/Shutterstock.com

Rattlesnakes and other snakes

Rattlesnakes are often confused with other snakes that live in the same habitat. Kingsnakes often live in the same habitat as rattlesnakes, but they are nonvenomous. Kingsnakes prey on rattlesnakes and use constriction to incapacitate them before they attack with a venom bite.


Of all rattlesnake habitats, the highest concentrations of these snakes are found in the southwestern US states and northern Mexico. Arizona is home to the largest variety of rattlesnakes, with 13 species calling it the U.S. state seat. There are also several species of rattlesnakes in California.

More rattlesnakes live in the desert and dry climates of the Southwest than anywhere else. But many subspecies thrive in other climates and environments. They do well in meadows, rocky hills, swamps, meadows, scrubland areas, and even at elevations up to 11,000 feet.

Rattlesnakes live in dens in rock crevices. During the winter in colder climates, they hibernate in their dens. For snakes, this rest period is called a bruise.

Generations of the same snake family often reuse their nests, sometimes for over 100 years. When away from the nest during the day, the snake will sunbathe on warm rocks or outdoors. When the summer weather gets really hot, they sometimes change their schedules for more nocturnal activities.

Snake body patterns and colors change depending on the environment. These colors and patterns act as camouflage, protecting them from predators.


western diamondback moth eats mice
Western diamondback moth rattlesnake critical for rodent control

©Audrey Snider-Bell/Shutterstock.com

Rattlesnakes eat a wide variety of small mammals. They prefer mice, rats, birds, rabbits and other small animals such as lizards and frogs. When not stalking food, they lie down and wait until attractive prey has passed close enough. These snakes require only one meal every few weeks as adults.

Finding prey is not difficult for rattlesnakes. They have very keen eyesight and a strong sense of smell, using their nostrils and flicking tongues. They also have heat-sensing pits near the tip of their noses. These pits can sense warm-blooded animals in the environment. Although these well-developed senses help them hunt their prey, rattlesnakes have terrible hearing. But they can sense vibrations in the ground, such as people or animals walking nearby.

To catch their prey, rattlesnakes attack quickly and use their large fangs and powerful jaws to inject venom into the animal. The venom paralyzes prey almost instantly. It only takes half a second for a snake to attack and immobilize its food. The snake then swallows the food whole and retreats to its den or another safe and quiet place to digest its meal. Digestion takes several days, which can make rattlesnakes sluggish.

Although approximately 8,000 rattlesnakes bite humans each year, they do not attack humans as prey. Of these, only about 5 died in a given year. Pets bitten by a rattlesnake must be given due attention.

Timber rattlesnakes coiled around the ground.
Timber rattlesnakes are highly venomous but generally not aggressive.


Predators and Threats

One of the rattlesnake's greatest predators in the wild is the kingsnake. Black snakes also attack and eat rattlesnakes. A common belief is that bull snakes eat rattlesnakes, but this is purely a myth.

Owls, hawks and falcons also prey on rattlesnakes. Predatory birds can swoop down overhead to grab the snake with their strong talons and carry it away. Feral cats, foxes, coyotes, and even turkeys also enjoy eating rattlesnake meat.

Large animals and humans tend to avoid rattlesnakes. The hissing and rattling of the snake's tail provided enough warning for the animals to move away. While hoofed animals like bison sometimes step on rattlesnakes, they prefer to avoid them. Rattlesnake venom is dangerous to humans, and untreated bites can result in death, but most snakebite deaths occur because individuals fail to seek treatment. Some diners love the taste of rattlesnake meat. Others use reptile skins to make boots, shoes, belts, handbags, and other items from the material.

Another threat to rattlesnakes is urban development. Human development has taken over snake habitat and encroached on their hunting grounds. One of the biggest killers of rattlesnakes is traffic. Many people are run over by cars every year.

Several species of rattlesnakes are listed as endangered or vulnerable in the United States, including the timber rattlesnake and the North American pygmy rattlesnake.

How to Keep Rattlesnakes Out of Their Habitat

Rattlesnakes range from Canada to Argentina, so if you enjoy the great outdoors, you'll likely come across them in the United States, and most of the Americas. If hiking, the best advice for avoiding rattlesnakes is to stay on the trails. Most rattlesnake bite encounters occur because they are frightened. If you do get close to one, avoid sudden movements and back away. Rattlesnakes are not aggressive and do not give chase.

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Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

When a baby rattlesnake begins to molt, its squeak develops and lengthens with each molt.

© William L. Farr / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Female rattlesnakes only reproduce every one to three years. This mating usually occurs in summer or autumn. But some species mate in spring or spring and fall.

In order to find a suitable mate, females secrete sex pheromones. This leaves a trail of scents that the males track using their advanced sense of smell. When a male finds a female, he stalks her for several days. During this time, he often touched or rubbed her to show his intentions.

Sometimes males fight over females by fighting each other. Male snakes perform a "fight dance" in which their bodies are entwined around each other. Larger males can easily scare smaller males away.

Rattlesnakes do not lay eggs. Instead, females lay eggs in ovaries like humans do. But they release multiple eggs in a continuous chain into their fallopian tubes. Male sperm fertilizes these eggs. The fertilized eggs usually gestate in the female for 167 days. The eggs hatch inside the female when the baby is full term. The female then gives birth to about 10 to 20 live young.

Baby rattlesnakes are not born with a bell, but are born with a "withhold". As babies begin to shed their skin, their rattling sounds develop and lengthen with each shedding. Rattlesnakes live 10 to 25 years in the wild.


Rattlesnake populations across the United States are generally healthy and are listed as "stable" in numbers. That is, for all subspecies except timber rattlesnakes. Timber rattlesnakes once lived in 31 states. It is now listed as endangered in Virginia, Connecticut, Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, New Jersey and Vermont. Snakes no longer exist in Maine and Rhode Island. According to the state of Massachusetts, there are only 200 timber rattlesnakes left in the state.

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about the author

Abby Parks is the author of novels, plays, short stories, poems and lyrics. She has recorded two albums of her original songs and is a multi-instrumentalist. She manages a folk music website and writes about singer-songwriters, folk bands, and other music-related articles. She is also a radio DJ for folk music shows. As well as being a pet parent to rabbits, birds, dogs and cats, Abby enjoys hunting for animals in the wild and has witnessed some of the more exotic ones such as Puffins in the Farne Islands, Puffins in Chiloe Southern Pudu (Chile), penguins in the wild, and countless wildlife of the Rocky Mountains (bighorn sheep, goats, moose, elk, marmots, beavers).

Rattlesnake FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How do rattlesnakes compare to other longer snakes like the whip snake?

The main difference between rattlesnakes and whip snakes is their appearance and the fact that rattlesnakes are venomous. Rattlesnakes are thicker and heavier than horsewhips, although both species can grow to roughly the same length.

What snake looks like a rattlesnake?

Other snakes that are often mistaken for rattlesnakes include:

  • gopher snake
  • Eastern Indigo Snake
  • cotton caterpillar
  • Copperhead
  • hognose snake
  • northern water snake
  • Oriental Milk Snake
  • rat snake

Do rattlesnakes come out at night?

Rattlesnakes have heat-sensing organs that allow them to hunt prey in a variety of environments. So rattlesnakes come out at night, but they also hunt during the day. Rattlesnake species are generally not nocturnal or diurnal.

Can rattlesnakes swim?

Rattlesnakes are not as aquatic as cottonmouths, but they can still swim. In fact, all snakes can swim! However, some are found in much higher amounts in water. Rattlesnakes primarily swim to get from point A to point B, unlike other snakes that hunt in aquatic environments.

rattlesnake and cat

Pet owners in rattlesnake-infested areas are often concerned about their cats. Since rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes are common in many states, this is not a misguided fear. In fact, cats are pretty good against rattlesnakes, which generally prefer smaller prey. However, if you are concerned that your cat has encountered or been bitten by a rattlesnake, you should take him immediately to a veterinarian who can treat the cat with antivenom.

Rattlesnake vs Gopher Snake

Rattlesnakes are venomous, while gopher snakes are non-venomous. However, gopher snakes are more aggressive.

Are rattlesnakes carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Rattlesnakes are carnivores. They eat small mammals. Favorite foods include lizards, frogs, birds, mice and rabbits. They use their fangs to inject venom into their prey. The venom immediately paralyzes the animal. The rattlesnake then swallows the prey whole and slips into its den or other quiet place to digest it. Digestion takes a few days. The snake will not need to eat again for two to three weeks.

Can a rattlesnake kill you?

Rattlesnakes rarely kill, but their venom can be deadly. Today, doctors prescribe antivenom, also known as antivenom, when someone is bitten by a rattlesnake. People sometimes lose limbs or suffer organ damage from rattlesnake bites. But of the 7,000 to 8,000 people who are bitten each year in the United States, only about 5 die. Children are most likely to be bitten by rattlesnakes because of their smaller size in which the venom circulates.

What would you do if you saw a rattlesnake?

If you see a rattlesnake, freeze it in place first. This can keep the snake away if it chooses to do so. Rattlesnakes do not want human contact and will usually slip away if given the chance. If the snake holds its ground and starts rattling or hissing, slowly back away from it. If you are bitten by a snake, you must go to a hospital emergency room immediately for antivenom.

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What does a rattlesnake sound like?

The rattlesnake gets its name from the rattling sound it makes with its tail. The tail has a multi-chambered rattle made of keratin. These chambers are hollow and collide with each other when the snake twitches its tail. The sound is very much like a baby's toy rattle. Meanwhile, rattlesnakes often hiss like house cats. This hissing sound comes from the snake's throat. Rattlesnakes lead a silent life unless threatened and used or hissing.

To which kingdom do rattlesnakes belong?

Rattlesnakes belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do rattlesnakes belong to?

Rattlesnakes belong to the phylum Chordate.

Which category do rattlesnakes belong to?

Rattlesnakes belong to the class of reptiles.

What family do rattlesnakes belong to?

Rattlesnakes belong to the family Viperidae.

What order do rattlesnakes belong to?

Rattlesnakes belong to the order Squamata.

What genus do rattlesnakes belong to?

Rattlesnakes belong to the genus Rattlesnake.

Any interesting facts about rattlesnakes?

Rattlesnake venom digests its prey before it even swallows it!

How do rattlesnakes give birth?

Rattlesnakes lay eggs.

Roadrunners vs Diamondbacks: Who will win the battle?

The Roadrunners would win the fight against the Rattlesnakes. In fact, roadrunners are one of the few animals that regularly attacks and kills rattlesnakes. Roadrunners must be careful when attacking rattlesnakes, as they can die if bitten.

What is the difference between a rattlesnake and a cottonmouth?

The main difference between cottonmouth and rattlesnake is their preferred habitat and appearance. Cottonmouths have white mouths and rattlesnakes have rattles at the end of their tails.

What is the difference between a rattlesnake and a copperhead?

The main difference between copperhead and rattlesnake is the presence or absence of rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are vocal and live in more places than copperheads.

What is the difference between a rattlesnake and a king cobra?

There are many differences between king cobras and rattlesnakes, including their habitats. King cobras have a distinctive hood to ward off predators, while rattlesnakes use rattles.

What is the difference between a rattlesnake and a garter snake?

There are many differences between garter snakes and rattlesnakes, including their venom levels. Garter snakes have round heads and pupils, while rattlesnakes have triangular heads and rattles on their tails.

When is the Rattlesnake coming out?

Rattlesnakes appear in early spring and remain active until early fall.

Will mongooses beat rattlesnakes?

Meerkats are found in most of Africa, Spain and parts of Asia, while rattlesnakes are found in the Americas, so the two species don't meet in the wild unless they're introduced to new habitats. That being said, the mongoose will likely emerge victorious in the fight against the rattlesnake. In the wild, mongooses are very effective snake hunters and have shown some resistance to venom.

Who would win a fight between the Black Mamba and the Rattlesnake?

Due to its length and powerful venom, the black mamba would win a battle against a rattlesnake. The battle between these two will depend on being able to deliver the first strike and make it deadly.

Who would win a fight between a rattlesnake and an alligator?

The alligator would win the fight with the rattlesnake.

Alligators are superior to rattlesnakes in size, speed and defense. Their protective body coating makes it extremely difficult for rattlesnakes to deliver the venom they need to win a fight. The crocodile's sheer size and speed capabilities will be important factors in defeating these venomous snakes. They have been known to eat venomous rattlesnakes such as rattlesnakes, and are apparently resistant to any ill effects of the venom.

Which is more venomous, a rattlesnake or a black mamba?

Black mambas are more venomous than rattlesnakes.

What is the difference between a rattlesnake and a viper?

The main differences between rattlesnakes and puff vipers are classification, size, range, and habitat.

Let's explore these differences here.

What is the difference between a rattlesnake and a python?

The main differences between rattlesnakes and pythons are classification, size, habitat, range and appearance. They both possess venom, but one is more likely to reach humans than the others.

The differences are explained here.

What is the Difference Between Vipers and Rattlesnakes?

The main differences between vipers and rattlesnakes are location, size, appearance, reproduction, behavior and venom potency.

Which is more venomous, a king cobra or a rattlesnake?

King cobras are more venomous than rattlesnakes. Their venom is both potent and profuse. However, king cobra bites are rare, much rarer than rattlesnake bites. So, pound for pound, king cobras are more venomous than rattlesnakes, but rattlesnakes are more of a threat to humans.

What is the difference between a rattlesnake and a Gabon viper?

The biggest difference between Gabon vipers and rattlesnakes is their morphology and location.

The Gabon viper is a venomous snake native to sub-Saharan Africa, known for its broad, leaf-shaped head, horns between the nostrils, and stocky body. The rattlesnake is endemic to the Americas, with a triangular head, a stout body, and a distinct sound at the end of the tail, which is used as a defensive warning.

Who will eat whom: tarantula vs rattlesnake?

The tarantula will win the battle against the rattlesnake.

Although the rattlesnake is larger and faster, the hunting skills of the tarantula more than offset the fact that it is slower than the rattlesnake. The hunting technique of the tarantula is a distinct advantage. It can quickly ambush a rattlesnake and bite its head. In turn, the Diamondbacks were powerless.

Which is more venomous: rattlesnakes or vipers?

Considering the venom of these two species, it is safe to say that rattlesnakes are no more venomous than venomous snakes . Also, since rattlesnakes belong to the Viper family, if they were the most dangerous venomous snakes, they would be called the most venomous rattlesnakes and the most venomous adders.

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