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Rattlesnake

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Rattlesnake
Snakewind.jpg
Scientific Classification
Genera and Species

Genus Crotalus

Genus Sistrurus

Rattlesnakes are any of the 33 species of pit vipers belonging to the taxonomic Genus Crotalus. Rattlesnakes live in a variety of places including deserts and mountains and are perhaps best known for the rattle on their tale that is used to warn-off threats. They are also highly feared by humans as a aggressive venomous snake that injects poisonous toxins through fangs. [2][3]

Body Design

A close-up of a Rattlesnake's head
Rattlesnake scales

They have a triangular head, with a forked tongue. One of the most well known rattlesnake characteristics is their fangs. Rattlesnakes usually have large fangs. Rattlesnakes also have vertical pupils. Rattlesnakes have scales that cover most of their body.[2]

Another very common characteristic of the rattlesnake is the rattle. Rattlesnakes are born with a portion of their rattle. Rattlesnakes use their rattle to warn organisms not to roam near it. Every time that the rattlesnake sheds its skin, a new piece is added to the existing rattle. The noise made by the rattle does not come from something shaking inside of it, but from pieces of the rattle hitting each other. The rattle is made from keratin, which also makes up human fingernails. A piece of the rattle can easily break off, so one cannot tell the age of the rattlesnake from the number of pieces on the rattle.[4]

As with most other snakes, rattlesnakes shed their skin. Once a new layer is formed underneath their old layer of skin, they rub up against another object to get their head free. Once their head is free, they can use muscle contractions to get the rest of the old layer of skin off their body. Along with their skin, rattlesnakes also shed their fangs. Sometimes, a fang will remained lodged in prey that they consume. The fangs are quickly replaced when one is lost.[5]

Rattlesnakes have heat sensing pits. These heat sensing organs allow them to sense the heat given off by other organisms enabling them to catch their prey. Since they can detect the heat, they can hunt during the night. Snakes do not have eyelids. Rattlesnakes cannot hear anything, but they can feel vibrations. Rattlesnakes also have Jacobson's organs which are located on the roof of their mouth. The Jacobson's organs allow the rattlesnake to smell with their tongue. Rattlesnakes have no way of cooling or heating themselves, so they must find cool spots during the summer, and warmer spots during the winter.[6]

Rattlesnakes have ribs and a vertebrae like other vertebrates. They also have ball-and-socket joints. Their lungs almost run the length of their entire body, so when the rattlesnakes inhale, the air puffs out their body making them look larger. When the snake exhales, it can sometimes make a hissing noise.[5]

Life Cycle

Even when baby rattlesnakes are born, they already have toxin and fangs. Not many rattlesnake mothers stay with their young. Only a few species stay with their young after they are born.[4] Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous. Female rattlesnakes lay eggs, but carry them internally for ninety days, and their offspring are then birthed live. Female rattlesnakes can carry the male's sperm around with her until she wants the eggs to become fertilized. She can carry between four to twenty-five eggs with her at one time. For rattlesnakes, it takes three years before it reaches sexual maturity. Rattlesnakes mate in the spring, right after they are done hibernating while it is cold outside. Baby rattlesnakes are about ten inches long, and most do not survive their first year due to predation. However, young rattlesnakes are still very dangerous. They possess fangs and poison, and are more defensive than adult rattlesnakes. Young rattlesnakes can grow very quickly. The lifespan of a captive rattlesnake is twenty to thirty years, and shorter in the wild because of many factors.[2] Sometimes it is hard to tell a female rattlesnakes from a male rattlesnakes. However, one way to tell the difference between male and female is to see the distance between the vent and the rattles on the tail. Even though the distance is short, the male has more distance between their vents and rattles than females do.[5]

Ecology

A tan colored rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes can live in a variety of places. Rattlesnakes are common in mountainous regions, desert areas, coastlines, and prairies. Rattlesnakes are carnivorous, which means they are meat eaters. Snakes do not chew their food. Rattlesnakes consume their prey whole. They use their venom to catch prey. Their venom stuns the prey so it is unable to move. Because the prey cannot move, the prey is easily eaten by the rattlesnake. The venom also partially digests the food for the rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes can eat a whole range of things including lizards, rodents, squirrels, rabbits, rats, and mice. Rattlesnakes play an important part in managing the rodent population. They keep the levels of the rodent populations from growing excessively. However, rattlesnakes do have some natural predators. Some of these predators include kingsnakes, roadrunners, pigs, hawks, and eagles.[2]

Rattlesnakes can strike from very close range. Rattlesnakes are very stealthy and like to attack by surprise. If they do not kill their prey on their first attempt, they usually will not attack them again. Some smarter prey know this and can use this information to their advantage. Rattlesnakes cannot spit their venom at targets, but sometimes the venom gland on the roof of the mouth will be squeezed when the rattlesnake strikes an object. This venom that is spit out is only dangerous if it gets in an open wound. The prime temperature for rattlesnakes to be out is between 77 and 89 degrees Fahrenheit. Since they are [cold-blooded], they are very slow and sluggish when it is cold outside. When it is extremely warm outside, they have to find a place to stay cool or they will die of heat stroke very quickly.[5]

Precautions Before Going Into Snake Areas

A rattlesnake can blend well with it's surroundings.


There are several precautions and actions that will decrease someone's chance of being bitten by a snake. One major thing that someone can do to prevent a bite is to always wear shoes when going places where snakes are present. Sometimes, you cannot even see where you are stepping, especially when hiking or camping out in the wilderness. Another precaution to take when in snake country is to wear loose clothing because snakes fangs do not go through loose clothing as easily as tighter fitting clothes. While hiking, stay on the trails because there are fewer areas for snakes to hide on open trails. Another precaution is to bring someone else with you when you go hiking. If something were to happen, the other person would be able to help you, potentially saving you from a serious injury. Also, one should never handle a dead rattlesnake because their venom is still poisonous even though the snake is dead.[7]

There are several more things to prevent a snakebite from a rattlesnake. Do not step over snakes because they are able to lunge and bite. Also, never reach your hands into dark or confined places because a rattlesnake could be hiding there. It is probably not a good idea to mess with rattlesnakes. One very important thing that someone can do before going hiking or camping is to learn which snakes are dangerous in that specific area, and be on the lookout for them while enjoying the outdoors. If you know which snakes are dangerous in your area and know where they like to hide, you will reduce your chance of being bitten.[8]

Recent Studies

Two rattlesnakes entwined together

New information has recently come out regarding rattlesnakes. One of these new finds is that rattlesnakes might share family bonds. In the past, rattlesnakes were thought to have no family affiliations once they were born. However, a study came out several years ago that suggests that adult rattlesnakes can identify siblings, even though they went their separate ways at birth. Sometimes snakes live in large groups with other snakes. This is due to lack of other places to stay, but this is not always the case.[9] Female sibling rattlesnakes showed more affection towards each other than non-sibling females. The siblings slept closer together and entwined themselves more often than non-sibling females. However, male siblings or non-siblings rarely touched and never entwined during the study.[10] Another study has to do with snake breeding. According to this new study, snakes do not cross roads, which keep them isolated with the same snakes. The snakes keep on breeding with the same snakes, which can cause interbreeding. Because the snakes do not cross the roads that separates them from other rattlesnakes, mixing does not occur as frequently. However, snakes that do not have a road that separate them from other rattlesnakes, have less of a chance of interbreeding because of the mixing that occurs between snakes. Also, roads may not be the only reason why the snakes have separation of populations. Topography might also play a key role in why snakes have separation of populations. Snakes might not be able to reach another group of snakes.[11]

Why Rattlesnakes are Dangerous to People

There are a few reasons why rattlesnakes are dangerous to people. One of the most obvious reasons is that rattlesnakes are poisonous, and can injure or even kill people. Another reason they can be dangerous to humans is that they carry large quantities of toxic venom with them. Also, rattlesnakes can live very close to people. Rattlesnakes also can be dangerous to humans because of their great numbers. Rattlesnakes sometimes defend themselves viciously, which can be dangerous to someone who appears as a threat to them. Rattlesnakes are very fast and quick, so people have to be careful around them because of how swiftly they can attack. Also, keeping rattlesnakes as pets can be very dangerous. The owner might become careless around the snake because they are comfortable around it all the time, and that is when they will be bitten. Also, there is always the possibility of the snake escaping the cage, which could end disastrously. Snakebites can be even more dangerous to man if the medical treatment in the area is poor or far away. Another reason why rattlesnakes are dangerous is because they can inflict a deep wound. Rattlesnakes can blend in well with their environment, which makes them nearly invisible. If one cannot see the rattlesnake, it makes the rattlesnake that much more dangerous. One more reason that rattlesnakes can be dangerous to man is that they both can be active at the same time. However, rattlesnakes will try to avoid humans. Most cases of snakebites are from people being in rattlesnake territory, not rattlesnakes in human territory. Most rattlesnake bites are not deadly. In fact, less than 1% of rattlesnake bites result in death. More people die from bee stings than from rattlesnake bites. However, venom is not always injected into a victim when a rattlesnake bites. Rattlesnakes are very important to man because they act as pest control. They eat many rodents that can be even more of a problem to man than the rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes also control the disease spread by rodents. The diseases that rodents can carry around can be very dangerous to man, and rattlesnakes help keep it in check. [3]

References

  1. Crotalus. Wikispecies. Accessed December 8, 2011. Unknown author.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Rattlesnakes Desert USA. Web. January 19, 2012 (accessed). Author Unknown.
  3. 3.0 3.1 How Dangerous Are Rattlesnakes American International Rattlesnake Museum. Web. January 28, 2012 (accessed). Author Unknown
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ivanyi,CraigRattlesnakes. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Web. January 19, 2012 (accessed)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Rattlesnakes Animal Control Products. Web. January 28, 2012 (accessed). Author Unknown
  6. Rattlesnakes. Worsely School .Web. January 19, 2012 (accessed) Author Unknown.
  7. Rattlesnakes in California California Department of Fish and Game. Web. (accessed) January 26, 2012. Author Unknown
  8. Snakebite American International Rattlesnake Museum. Web.(accessed) January 26, 2012. Author Unknown
  9. Owen, James.Rattlesnakes Show Strong Family Bonds, Study Says National Geographic. Web. February 23, 2004
  10. Owen, James.Rattlesnakes Show Strong Family Bonds, Study Says National Geographic. Web. February 23, 2004
  11. Marshall, Jessica.Rattlesnakes, Avoiding Roads, Become Inbred Discovery News. Web. April 29, 2010