The Only Snake that Rattles

Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are Dangerous When Threatened

The Western Diamondback rattlesnake, (crotalus atrox) is the only snake that actually rattles. These rattlesnakes are considered “generalists,” which means they are not picky about their habitat. They can be found throughout southwestern United States and Mexico in deserts, grassy plains, forests, rocky hillsides, and areas along the coast.

Diamondback rattlesnakes look similar to lizards, but they do not have legs or arms. They have long bodies and triangular shaped heads all made up of a protein called keratin, the same protein human fingernails are made of. Their tails have black and white bands just above the rattles.

Western Diamondbacks are pit vipers, meaning they can sense heat using their noses. Their tough, almost waterproof skin helps protect them from the hot desert sun. Although the snakes love the desert, they often spend the daytime coiled in shade for hours. This species weighs up to 15 pounds and can grow up to seven inches in length. Female diamondbacks give birth every two years, and they live approximately 15-20 years in captivity.

The Diamondback kills its prey by biting them in the neck with a full dose of venom. Their diet includes mice, voles, ground squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs, small birds, and frogs. It takes a week for them to digest their food.

Diamondbacks have many predators, but some animals also see them as a threat. For instance, animals such as deer, antelopes, cows and horses may try to trample or stomp the snake because of fear. This fear is well grounded. Western Diamondback rattlesnakes can be dangerous creatures if they are disturbed. If you ever see one, watch out!

[Sources: Wildlife Explorer; Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum]

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