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Rattlesnake: Key Facts

Did you know that there are many different species of rattlesnake, and that they can be found living throughout the United States? How about that they can live up to 25 years? What to do if you see one on your hiking trip? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll explore these and other rattlesnake key facts.

Quick Facts About Rattlesnakes

Scientific Name:Crotalus
Number of Species:About 32
Physical Description:Rattlesnakes are medium-sized snakes in the pit viper family. They are mottled brown, beige, and gray in color, have thick, muscular bodies, and triangular-shaped heads. They have narrow, slit-like pupils, pits behind their nostrils for sensing their prey’s body heat, and a distinctive rattle on their tails. Their retractable fangs inject a blood-destroying venom into their victims, causing internal bleeding and tissue damage. They are known for coiling up and shaking their tails when they feel threatened.
Distribution:Widely distributed throughout North America.
Habitat:Can live in a variety of habitats, including deserts, highlands, forests, grasslands, and glades.
Average Size:3 to 6 feet long; up to 8 feet depending on species.
Average Lifespan:10 to 25 years
Diet:Carnivore; food groups include:
– Small rodents
– Small reptiles
– Small amphibians
– Insects
Largest Species:Eastern diamondback
Smallest Species:Pygmy rattlesnake

What Are Rattlesnakes?

Rattlesnakes are venomous pit vipers that can be found in almost every state throughout the U.S. There are various species of rattlesnake, but all of them have similar colors and patterns and the highly-recognizable rattle on their tails.

According to National Geographic, rattlesnakes live from 10 to 20 years on average, grow about 5.5 feet long, and weigh up to five pounds. That said, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake can grow much larger–up to 8 feet long and nearly 35 pounds!

Rattlesnakes eat mostly small rodents, lizards, frogs and toads, and insects. They use their retractable fangs to inject their prey with venom which quickly destroys blood cells and kills the animal.

How Dangerous Are Rattlesnakes?

Of course, it’s safe to assume they could also use that venom on humans if they are trying to defend themselves. How dangerous is a rattlesnake bite to a human?

In most cases, rattlesnake venom won’t kill a person, though it can if the bite is left untreated.

The venom will begin causing tissue damage within six hours, and it will likely cause blood damage, numbness, pain, difficulty breathing, and other systemic symptoms much sooner. If not treated, the venom will continue to damage the body, eventually causing organ failure and potential death within a couple of days.

The venom may spread more quickly in young, old, or immunocompromised individuals.

The good news is, rattlesnakes usually try to avoid interacting with people and will only bite if they feel acutely threatened. And, with the proper medical treatment, most rattlesnake bite victims make a full recovery.

Check out this video for a firsthand account from a rattlesnake bite victim:

Conclusion

Rattlesnakes are venomous pit vipers that can be found throughout the United States. Though there are several species and subspecies, they all share the scaly rattles on the ends of their tails, which make them easy to recognize. Here’s our guide of how to distinguish a rattlesnake from a bull snake.

Read also about other forest reptiles – here are our guides about tuataras, alligators.

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