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
The Eastern Diamondback is found in
the lower section of the Southeastern United
Habits of the Diamondback Rattlesnake
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.
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.
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
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
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.