Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Category: Wildlife

How many poisonous snakes are there in the world? None. Snakes are venomous, not poisonous, and it can be an important distinction. Poison is a passive threat and the victim generally ingests or absorbs the toxins. Venom is more direct and is delivered to the bloodstream through spines or fangs. Provided there are no routes directly to the bloodstream, such as a stomach ulcer, venom can even be ingested with no ill effects, but the same cannot be said about poison.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Scientific & Common Names

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class - Reptilia

Order - Squamata

Suborder - Serpentes

Family – Viperidae

Subfamily - Crotalinae

Genus - Crotalus

Species - Crotalus adamanteus

Common Names - Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Diamondback, Rattler, Pit Viper, Adder, Pit Adder

Characteristics

Rattlesnakes are found only in the Americas, with no real equivalent existing anywhere. They are considered to be the most evolved snakes in the world and posses hinged fangs, the unique rattle, and heat sensitive loreal pits (found in pit vipers). Eastern diamondbacks are the largest rattlesnakes and they can reach sizes over seven feet, but average between 3-6. Their base colors tend to be various shades of brown with the namesake diamonds on their backs beings dark brown or black. They range from Florida north to the Carolinas and east to Louisiana, although they may be extinct in Louisiana. While they will inhabit almost any type of terrain, they tend to avoid areas with heavy human activity. They often use the burrows of other animals, such as gophers, for shelter.

Breeding

Like all North American venomous snakes with the exception of coral snakes, diamondbacks give live birth. Their gestation lasts about seven months and then one to three dozen young emerge, fully capable of hunting on their own. The young, born at between 12-18", stay near their mother for only a short period of time. The young do not yet have a rattle, which will develop over time, and even be replaced as it is damaged.

Behavior

It is a popular myth that rattlesnakes always rattle before striking, but that is far from the case. They rattle only as a deterrent when a threat approaches that they do not wish to confront. Silent strikes are the norm for their prey animals. Although not an arboreal or water species, they have been found climbing trees in search of prey and they are adept swimmers. Rattlesnakes use a hemotoxic venom, which can cause permanent scarring or death. They do not always inject venom with a bite and these warning strikes are called 'dry bites'. Young rattlesnakes can actually be more dangerous than adults since they lack the ability to control the amount of venom released in a bite.`

History

Snake evolution dates from the cretaceous period, where they either evolved from mosasaurs or land based lizards. The snake ancestors gradually lost their limbs, leaving fossil evidence of ancestors with vestigial legs.

The eastern diamondback is famous for being depicted on America's first flag, the 'Don't Tread on Me' Gadsden flag from 1775.

Present Status

Eastern diamondbacks are not listed as endangered or threatened except in North Carolina, where they are protected. In the rest of their range - with the omission of Louisiana - they are considered healthy, if slightly declining.

References

  1. Peterson Field Guides Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America) by Roger Conant and Joseph T. Collins

  2. Peterson Field Guides A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants: (North America North of Mexico)by Steven Foster and Roger Caras

  3. Conservation Guide to the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake by Walter W. Timmerman and William H. Martin

  4. A Guide to the Snakes of North Carolina by Michael E. Dorcas

  5. Rattlesnakes And Venomous Reptiles by Jim Bremner and Jay W. Sharp