Absolute Predator

 

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

 

Eastern Diamondback

Rattlesnake

 

The Eastern Diamondback is North America’s largest venomous reptile. In the wild, the snake grows up to 8 feet in length, although individuals of 9 feet have been reported. A large specimen might have fangs as long as one inch, which inject venom like hypodermic needles. The thick reptile can weigh as much as 10 pounds.  It’s a handsome snake, with a brown, tan, or yellowish gray background and a pattern of black diamonds running the length of its back.  The body is that of a typical pit viper, with a stout body, narrow neck, and large triangular head.  The Eastern Diamondback is found in the lower section of the Southeastern United States.


Habits of the Diamondback Rattlesnake
The Eastern Diamondback can be found in sandy woodlands, marshy areas, palmetto thickets, pine forests, and uplands. They have been seen swimming in saltwater and fresh water and are occasionally discovered in suburban neighborhoods. They prefer denning in underground holes and burrows made by other animals, especially those of gopher tortoises.


 

Since the snakes are cold blooded, they are much more active on warm days. When temperatures are low, the reptiles are lethargic and tend to remain in their dens. They are not particularly aggressive toward humans and prefer escaping if possible. When threatened, the snake coils itself and vibrates its tail as a warning rattle. It can strike a distance of 2/3 its length.


Hunting
The diamondback is a stealthy hunter that preys on mice, rats, rabbits, voles, moles, large insects, and birds and their eggs. Sometimes it actively seeks its prey, while at other times it lies in wait for an ambush. Once it strikes and injects its venom, the prey animal is released. As the animal dies, it leaves a scent trail that the rattlesnake follows, then it is swallowed whole by the snake.

 

Breeding
Females can only reproduce every 2-3 years. After a gestation period of 30-34 weeks, the female gives birth in the late summer to early fall. Baby rattlesnakes are born alive, usually in groups of 7-21. The young snakes are identical in appearance to the adults except that they have no rattles, only a button. Shortly after birth, the babies leave their mother and are on their own.


Danger to Humans
Rattlesnake venom can be deadly to humans, with a 30% mortality rate. The venom causes paralysis, internal bleeding, and cardiac arrest. If a victim quickly receives antivenin, he is likely to make a full recovery.


Most cases of bites to humans are due to carelessness on the part of the person – either the human was harassing the snake or the animal was surprised and did not have a convenient escape route.

 

Conservation
The Eastern diamondback is not a federally-protected species; however, in North Carolina, it is illegal to kill or harm one of the snakes. No diamondback, however, has been reported in the state in over 10 years.


Some states, especially Georgia and Alabama, hold “rattlesnake roundups” each year, where hundreds of the snakes are collected. At the end of the day, the snakes are sold to research laboratories to extract venom used to make antivenin, and many are sold for their meat and hides.


Because of snake roundups, decreasing habitats, highway fatalities, and deadly encounters with man, Eastern diamondback numbers are declining. Many environmentalists suggest that the species will be all but eradicated in 15 years.


 

  

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