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.
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.
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