If you’ve ever seen a rattlesnake in action, you might have been impressed by its ability to spring forward and attack prey or anything threatening. It may have caused you to wonder: just how far can a rattlesnake strike? And how fast can it strike? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer these and other questions about rattlesnakes and their deadly skills.
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How Far Can a Rattlesnake Strike?
Rattlesnakes are known for being able to lunge forward at impressive speeds and bite prey or unsuspecting humans. But just how far can they lunge forward when striking?
The answer depends somewhat on the type of rattlesnake but mostly depends on its size. There are many species and subspecies of rattlers, and of course, they come in a variety of sizes–from a few inches for newborn snakes up to eight feet for the largest adults.
A rattlesnake can strike anywhere from one-third to one-half its own body length. The average adult rattlesnake is between 3 and 6 feet long.
So, on average, an adult rattlesnake could lunge forward between 1 and 3 feet. Larger adults could lunge up to 4 feet, while babies and juveniles will be able to lunge significantly less.
How Far Can a Diamondback Rattler Strike?
The diamondback is the largest and heaviest of the rattlesnake species. It lives throughout various southern regions of the country.
Diamondbacks are also very strong and powerful. They can easily strike half the distance of their own body length and, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, can even strike up to two-thirds of their body length.
Diamondbacks are one of the few species that grows up to 8 feet long. Therefore, an 8-foot-long diamondback could lunge forward more than 5 feet in front of itself.
Can a Rattlesnake Strike When Not Coiled?
Most rattlesnakes twist themselves into a distinctive coil before striking. It is easier for them to lunge forward from this position, which allows them to strike the greatest distance.
That said, rattlesnakes don’t have to be coiled up in order to strike. Sometimes, particularly if they are caught off-guard or feel imminently threatened, they will strike without coiling.
In the short video below, you can see a rattlesnake lunging at a balloon without coiling itself first. Notice how, even though it doesn’t coil, it still “folds itself up,” a little like an accordion, to give itself some extra momentum when it strikes.
How Fast is A Rattlesnake Strike?
Most often, people get bitten by rattlesnakes because they were not able to move out of the way quickly enough. Rattlesnakes are not generally aggressive, but when they feel threatened, they can bite quickly and sometimes without warning.
So, just how fast can a rattlesnake strike?
A rattlesnake attacks at a speed equaling about 6.5 miles per hour. This may not sound particularly fast, but let’s remember the distance they are traveling when they strike.
At most, rattlesnakes travel about 5 feet during an attack–on average, only 1 to 3 feet. If they could travel 6.5 miles in an hour, then they could travel a few feet in the space of only a second or two.
This is why it is hard to avoid their bite once they’ve committed to the attack.
Where Do Rattlesnakes Usually Strike?
Rattlesnakes only bite humans when they feel threatened, and they are most often threatened when a person is in their territory and gets too close. In many cases, the person may accidentally step on the rattlesnake or may get too close because they didn’t see it.
For this reason, rattlesnakes usually strike a person around the feet, ankles, and lower legs up to the knee. If you’re working or hiking outside in an area known for rattlesnakes, it’s important to wear appropriate foot protection and loose-fitting pants to help protect yourself from a bite.
Sometimes, people may intentionally provoke a rattler. In these cases, they often get struck on the hands, arms, or face.
If you see a rattlesnake, get away from it immediately even if it isn’t coiled up or rattling its tail. Never taunt a rattlesnake or attempt to get closer; again, these snakes are not particularly confrontational, and they would prefer to run away when threatened; but if provoked or unable to escape, they will strike.
In general, rattlesnakes can strike anywhere between one-third and one-half their own body length, though the large and powerful diamondback rattler can strike up to two-thirds its own body length.
Rattlers don’t have to be coiled up to strike, and they don’t always give a warning before doing so. Any time you see a rattlesnake, the best thing to do is to keep your distance and avoid provoking it to attack.