Western Rattlesnake, sub-species Northern Pacific; Calif.

Western Rattlesnake, sub-species Northern Pacific; Calif.

Halloween Week brings out the scaries, but once you read about rattlesnakes, goblins might induce more fear.


Native to the Americas, rattlesnakes hunt rodents, lizards, and insects; and prefer open, rocky habitat.  Rocks offer the viper protection, and open areas offer sun basking.


As an ectothermic vertebrate, the rattlesnake relies on the sun for heat and metabolic activity.  During cold weather, they lie dormant.  More rattlesnake info (with a rattling sound byte) here.


Western Rattlesnake

Under our front steps

I live in “rattlesnake country.”  After 14 years, I have never had a dangerous encounter.  I have been rattled at, however, and readily recognize their warning.  It sounds like a shaking dry gourd.


Each year when they shed their skin, a new rattle segment is added.  Rattle growth varies depending on food supply and growth rate, and some rattles can break off; it does not reflect the snake’s age.


In our front yard

In our front yard

Each rattle segment is hollow, and made of keratin.  There are muscles in the tail that shake the tip, causing the hollow segments to reverberate against each other–they fire on average 50 times per second.


Once I had a large bundle of weeds in my arms and couldn’t see down.  I was headed for the tarp.  Another time I was on the phone, came outside for better reception, and apparently woke the master.  The rattle is loud and distinct, says nothing but “Stay away!”


Rattlesnakes are venomous, but their bites are rarely fatal to humans.  The majority of rattlesnake bites (72%) occur to intoxicated young males; and about half the bites occurred when the person noticed, but did not heed, the warning.  Obtaining antivenom treatment within two hours results in 99% recovery.


Rattlesnakes are super creatures.   Number one, they keep our mouse population under control.  Number two, how many creatures can fold their fangs back when not in use?   In addition, they gather strength from the sun, detect thermal radiation in warm-blooded organisms, and rattle unmistakable warning at their enemy.  Wish I could do all that…well, except for eating mice.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander


71 thoughts on “Rattlesnakes

  1. I’m also from rattlesnake country. They seem to be getting scarce in the Great Basin area. I used to move them off the roads, because there was a see it/kill it mentality about them. The next guy wouldn’t be so understanding.

    • yay–a hero! Many people are so afraid of them that all they know to do is kill them. I really like knowing your story, CS, thanks so much. Hope you have a great week~~ 😀

  2. How interesting their tail acquires a new segment with each skin shedding – I’m rather impressed with Mother Nature right now. For want of something far more articulate… VERY COOL! 🙂

    • Hi Joanne — there is so much about Mother Nature to be impressed by. So very glad you enjoyed the rattlesnake post today. I always appreciate your visits and comments. 😀

  3. I almost stepped on a rattlesnake a few years back down in Arizona – jumped three feet in the air and stood back while he (she?) crossed the path. I got severely rattled and hissed at but though he could have struck (he was a big one!) he didn’t.

  4. Another wonderful post. My rattle snake story stems from a time I was driving from Huston Texas to Santa Fe New Mexico. Have way my friend and I stayed with a rancher and his wife….and outside their back door were all the rattle snake skins indicating how many they had shot just outside the house! Wow….I will never forget it.:) Happy Monday. Janet.

      • It was so different….because in the UK we only have one snake – the adder….and I don’t think I have ever seen one, and so to see a whole bunch of snake skins….was indeed a new experience….and one I enjoyed. I felt like a real cowgirl:)

  5. Good information here, Jet. I like to go to the countryside, but I haven’t encountered one… I heard that they come out when they look for water, is that true?

    • They don’t drink much water, but yes, they do come out for it. I have mostly seen the rattlesnakes come out to bask in the sun. They are super aware of vibrations and do not care to connect with humans, so seeing them in quiet places is more often where you would encounter one. Thanks so much Amy! 😀

    • I did read that in Wikipedia during my research for this, Ingrid. Here’s the quote: “In more heavily populated and trafficked areas, reports have been increasing of rattlesnakes that do not rattle. This phenomenon is commonly attributed to selective pressure by humans, who often kill the snakes when they are discovered. Non-rattling snakes are more likely to go unnoticed, so survive to reproduce offspring that, like themselves, are less likely to rattle.” Thanks Ingrid~~

      • Love the post Jet. I love snakes. I dug a little further on non-rattling because as a biologist I am a sceptic and need proof from multiple sources. Scientists are divided on the issue, reports http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/snakes/a/Rattlesnakes-Not-Rattling.htm, “What the experts do agree on,— and what readers of this article should take to heart,— is that whatever the reason, rattlesnakes don’t always sound a warning before striking. When you’re in rattlesnake country the best way to avoid an unfortunate encounter is to stay alert, keep your eyes peeled as well as your ears, and never assume these poisonous pests will announce their presence in advance.” I don’t like the word pests. We are the pests if anything is.

      • Oh, thanks so much Sherry for this info. I found it sad that we humans have terrorized the rattlesnake so much that they learned how to stifle the rattle. Your skepticism and the contrary opinion are much appreciated. Anyone who provokes and kills 57 rattlers in 6 mos.isn’t going to have too much depth of knowledge of the creature. Thanks so very much, Sherry. 😀

  6. Snakes are something I am totally unfamiliar with – seem they don’t like the cold:) They are very fascinating – I had no idea rattles can break off.

    • Traveling in the north or in Hawaii are good places to be if you don’t want to see a snake. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Inger, and as always, appreciate your visit. 😀

  7. Very interesting article about the rattlesnake. And, having them as frequent visitors keeps you on your toes. I’ve met rattle snakes on the trail before. Once the rattle was so loud I thought it was a helicopter above before I saw the rattler.

  8. Excellent write up. Most people don’t realize how advanced rattlesnakes are, how much of a benefit they are, and how little of a problem they are. I’ve rescued rattlesnakes many times. Several years ago a neighbor came over late one afternoon and asked me to look at her leg. On her calf were two puncture wounds that were slightly swollen and had slight bruising around them. After I found out that she had been out partying in the mountains the night before, and had been very drunk, I asked her if she was having numbness, nausea, or any symptoms that were out of the ordinary. She said no, she felt fine, but had noticed the marks on her leg and was puzzling over it, so she came over to ask what I thought about it. I told her it looked like she received a dry bite from a rattlesnake.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the r-snake post, Timothy, and appreciate your additional reasons for their greatness. Your story about your neighbor is astounding! She was so lucky there was no venom! Thanks so very much for stopping by. 😀

      • She was very lucky, but obviously a dry bite since she was standing there asking about it 12 to 18 hours later. Another thing people don’t realize about rattlesnake bites is that treatment starts at about $40,000 and goes up from there.

  9. Jet not only was that informative but made me laugh out loud. I’m a ‘no’ to the mouse diet myself. Just can’t get past those beady little eyes.
    I have heard the rattle on a few occasions when hiking into climbing areas. As you say just a warning but it certainly gets one’s attention.

    • I am not surprised that you’ve heard the rattle, Sue, and it was warning enough. Thanks so much, as always, for your comment and visit. Your comment made me laugh — great way to start the day. 😀 😀

  10. A great post – thank you for telling it like it is… No matter how many rattlesnakes I’ve moved from horse barns or have been been surprised by one one a trail, they still make me jump in fear, but I still love them…

  11. I love your ode to rattlesnakes, Jet. I think they are such beautiful creatures and so wonderfully designed, as your post explains so well. We don’t have that many reptiles and amphibians here in Alberta due to our very cold winters, but we do have one species of rattlesnake, the Prairie Rattler. Sadly, I’ve never encountered one in the wild as they are only found in certain areas of the province and these guys are very timid and would rather be left alone (as you know). I really appreciate your post as I think these wonderful creatures are so misunderstood and so underappreciated. Wishing you a great week ahead! :))

    • Hi Jeannie! With all the adventuring you & your partner do, I imagine there will be a time when you get to observe one in the wild. I hope so. They are not as prevalent as they used to be, because so many people kill them; and it’s as you said, out of misunderstanding and underappreciation. I am buoyed, however, by many of the positive remarks I’ve had on this post. Thanks so very much, my friend. 😀

  12. I came across a timber rattlesnake while rock climbing at Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin.
    Well, meeting a rattler on the hiking trail is one thing, you can sidestep it. Meeting it thirty feet up while climbing to the top of a rock face gives one a reason to pause the ascent.
    It was a cool, but sunny day, and it was sunning on an outcropping that I had hoped to use as a foothold. It gave me ample warning that it was there and I chose (wisely, I think) to detour around it.
    As exciting and mentally invigorating as rock climbing is, it was taken to a new level that day.
    All in all, I guess that while climbing, I would rather meet a rattler sunning itself, that will let you know it is there, than a wasp or a bee that is sunning itself, and will extract it’s revenge to whatever part of your body disturbs it, without any warning at all.

    • Great story T! That was definitely a tricky situation! I once saw a baby rattler on a cold day & it was absolutely helpless without the sun (frozen in place), so it is no wonder how much they like those sunny outcroppings. Great decision to detour! Thanks so much. 😀

    • What a great and informative post, Jet! I have “met” many snakes in the wild, but not yet a rattlesnake. We don’t have them on this island, but I hike on other islands in this region that have sizable populations. No luck as yet 🙂

      • I find them startling to meet, but I love to watch them from afar with my binoculars. I hope you have that pleasure one day, Tiny ~~ thanks so very much my friend! 😀

  13. You are a great snake-charmer,dear Jet!You know how to approach them with confidence and “disarm” them.I am sure they can sense when you are uneasy and this makes them uneasy too.They are very misunderstood creatures as they usually evoke fear in most people.It’s sad though.Isn’t it?Interesting all the details in your post and fabulous the photos!Can’t believe you have such beautiful visitors in your garden.It must be amazing to hear them rattling their tails!Have a nice & creative week,dear friend 🙂

    • Hi Doda — how nice to have you visit today! I’m happy you enjoyed the rattlesnake post. Snake charming is all about respect — and how sweet that you call me a snake charmer. It is amazing to hear the rattle, and there’s usually a hiss too. They hold the rattle up in the air — quite a startling display. Effective too. I hope you are doing well, dear Doda — I so appreciate your visit and terrific comment, as always. 😀 😀

    • We learn how to be safe, like not lifting rocks or rolling logs, staying out of tall grass; but there can always be a surprise. I can imagine how frightening and odd they must seem to you, TR, having never lived with them. And watching a snake move is fascinating, they are really so very unique. Really appreciate your comment and visit! 😀

  14. I’ll take a rattler over a copperhead any day. Ours just coil up and blend in, hoping you won’t step on them, and if you get unknowingly too close, WHAM. You’ve been bit. Cottonmouths will literally chase you down. They can be very aggressive if you’re near a nesting area.

    No matter how venomous or scary they may seem, NEVER kill a snake!! They are nature’s best pest control.

  15. Esp. enjoyed the statistic on intoxicated young males getting so many of the rattlesnake bites. I wonder in what other categories they lead the way… Your research is amazing, Jet!

    • I found that fact interesting too, Nan…lol. Thanks so very much, I am happy you enjoyed the rattlesnake post. I always appreciate your visits and comments so much. 🙂 😀

  16. I love this post, so much information I didn’t know, and your photographs are simply stunning! I have been looking for a rattle snake wherever we travel, and have never heard one. I don’t give up! 🙂

  17. Wow! Thanks for telling me about your close encounters of the rattlesnake kind. 😯 I couldn’t resisit listening to the ‘rattle’. Now I know what one sounds like, I’ll keep an ear out when I step into my garden.

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