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Rattlesnake Facts

rattlesnake facts

Facts About Rattlesnakes

The rattlesnake is one of the most interesting and deadly snakes that exist today. Its unique tail structure is one of the most interesting parts about it. What follows are some interesting rattlesnake facts that shed some light on the origin, number of species, habits and more about this particular creature along with what to do when bitten by a rattlesnake.

Where Do Rattlesnakes Live?
Rattlesnakes are exclusive to the Americas with 32 known species that range from North America through Central America and into South America. Rattlesnakes can be found as far north as Southwestern Canada down to Central Argentina. Texas and Arizona have the most number of different rattlesnake species located in their respective states.

What is their General Habitat?
Rattlesnakes can be found in virtually every type of habitat in the Americas. Most live near open areas that have an abundance of rocks. This is because rocks offer cover from predators, and are also home to the rodents they feast on such as mice, lizards and insects. Rocks, too, provide places that rattlesnakes can bask in the sunlight to warm their bodies. Many rattlers are live in the deserts, marshes, prairies and forests as well. While most vipers prefer living in warmer climates and are mostly active between the temperature ranges of 80 to 90 degrees, rattlesnakes also adapt to their climate and can survive below freezing temperatures for a short period of time.

Facts About the Rattle
The naming of rattlesnakes is rather obvious since all the snakes in this family have a rattle on the end of their tails. The rattles themselves are actually hollow bead-type structures that are really scales that are modified on the tail. The rattlesnake uses the rattle to ward off other predators, making it one of the relatively few predator creatures to actually have a warning designed to ward off other hunter-type animals.

What Do Rattlesnakes Eat?
Rattlesnakes feast on a variety of creatures that includes rodents such as rats and mice, insects, lizards, small animals and even small birds. Farmers actually appreciate them to a certain extent because their appetites held keep the rodent population in check. Generally speaking, vipers are ambush hunters that lie in wait for their prey. Once small animals come into range, the rattlesnake will strike, biting its prey with its venomous fangs. However, unlike certain other species, rattlesnakes generally do not hold their prey until they die. It is actually common for the prey to move away before the venom overtakes their systems. The snake then follows its wounded prey, using its sense of smell, listening for sounds and flicking its tongue to detect and locate its victim.

Do Rattlesnakes Hibernate?
For rattlesnakes that live in temperate climates, they tend to hibernate during the cold winter months. They will often gather together underground in dens that may have 1,000 or more rattlesnakes inside. Interestingly enough, they tend to return to the exact same den year after year. No one really knows how they find their original dens, especially those that have to travel several miles, but it is thought that rattlesnakes follow pheromone trails and the visual topography of the landscape to make their way back.

How Often do Rattlesnakes Bite Humans?
Rattlesnake bites are the most common of all snakebites in humans in North America. Each year, approximately 8,000 people are bitten by rattlesnakes. As more and more people are out and about in snake habitat, that number increases. Sometimes humans fall victim when they try to get a close look at the snake, snap a photo, or try to kill or trap them in a panic. But usually it's because a hiker or hunter has happened along, not seeing the snake, and startles it. The creature then reacts as it would to anything that it determines as a threat. Wearing snake gaiters or snake proof boots makes sure you are protected from such unexpected encounters. Often a snake will take up residence in your backyard wood pile, under a shed or porch which is especially concerning for kids and pets who might not be aware of them.  Although most outdoorsmen and women don't think of them as anything less than vicious, rattlesnakes are relatively shy creatures compared to more aggressive snakes such as the water moccasin. 

Given that rattlesnake venom, particular that of the eastern diamondback rattlesnake is toxic enough to cause death in most people within a 48 hour period, you would assume most rattlesnake bites are fatal, but here are a few reasons why not everyone who is bitten dies:

  • Up to 20% of rattlesnake bites carry no venom at all.
  • Rattlesnakes control the amount of venom that they release.
  • Some people manage to pull away or avoid taking the full amount of venom.

Because of these reasons, the people that do succumb to rattlesnake bites tend to be children who receive more venom per body weight than adults. Others who succumb do not reach medical attention in time for a variety of reasons.

What to Do or Not Do if Bitten
There are a number of misconceptions about how people should respond to a rattlesnake bite. Here are some interesting facts that can come in handy in case you or someone you know gets bitten.

Don’t Suck Out the Venom

Thanks to westerns that have played in movie theaters for many decades, you would think the right thing to do is suck out the venom. However, the venom that is injected mixes into the blood stream within seconds, which means that even a quick reaction will not suck out the venom.

Getting Treatment is More Important Than Standing Still
While it is true that increasing the heart rate will cause the circulatory system to spread the venom throughout the body more rapidly, getting immediate medical treatment is far more important than keeping still.

Do Not Apply a Tourniquet
Tourniquets do not stop the spread of the venom, so there is no reason to apply one unless a major artery or vein has been cut.

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