Diamond Back Rattlesnake
Arizona has 17 species of rattlers; more than any other state. The Western Diamond Back and Mojave are probably the most common species found in Arizona where rattler specimens close to eight feet used to be encountered. Unfortunately, due to habitat destruction and slaughter, specimens five feet or more in length are now a rarity. Rattlesnakes are believed to be highly evolved from a moccasin-like ancestor.
Ready to rattle
Most rattlesnakes mate in April or May, and are born in late August through October. Rattlesnakes bear living young that develop from eggs within the female's body. The mother offers no care or protection and babies are capable of biting from the moment they are born. They are born with one segment of their rattles and grow one new section each time they shed their skin. The number of rattles cannot be used to determine a rattler's age.
Can live 25 years
Young rattlesnakes are not able to deliver as much venom as a mature snake. In many instances, a young rattler deliver "dry bites" with no venom imparted. Many young snakes fall prey to predators such as roadrunners, Harris hawks, great horned owls, coyotes, and other reptiles including the rattlesnake's archenemy, the king snake. With luck a rattlesnake can live up to 25 years.
During the summers, rattlers are usually out at night, because they have no body temperatures controlling system and cannot endure daytime heat. A young snake must feed on lizards and small rodents. When mature they feed on kangaroo rats, mice, gophers, small rabbits and birds.
Venom delivers knock-out punch
Rattlesnake mostly eat small mammals and birds, but lizards and frogs are occasionally taken. Warm blooded prey are detected by heat-sensitive pits and by vision. Usually, a rattlesnake strikes its prey once, injecting enough venom to immobilize it. After striking, the snake usually retires for a few minutes while the venom takes its effect. The snake then moves in, examines the meal with its tongue and begins the task of swallowing the victim.
Bitten people usually put themselves in harm's way
It is estimated that about 100 rattlesnake bits occur in Arizona each year. The majority of these bites are by western diamondbacks and Mojave and up to 50% of these bites are "illegitimate", that is, caused by persons who chose to handle or harass a rattlesnake and subject themselves to unnecessary risk.
Rattlers on the move
Development and 25, 50, and 100-year floods can cause snakes and other critters to leave their usual habitats and enter into neighborhoods. Increased populations of snakes may also cause them to move. Several years of "heavy" rains encourages growth of annual plants, that feed inordinately large populations of rodents for the snakes to eat, with the result that more snakes survive to reproduce. The author has had several rattlesnakes enter his yard, left alone the snakes quickly moved off.
Let them rattle on
Experts recommend that lay persons never attempt to kill or capture rattlesnakes for several reasons. First, most people who are bitten receive bites while attempting to kill or capture a snake. Second, rattlesnakes are extremely interesting, beautifully adapted, normal inhabitants of the Foothills. They should be protected and enjoyed. In fact, three species of rattlesnake are protected under Arizona law.
Copyright 1996 All