The coil of their powerful, sleek bodies, the dance of the keratin in their rattles and that forbidding forked tongue all strike fear in creatures around them, from mice to birds to humans.
When it comes to humans, rattlesnakes are a bit timid. If they sense danger, they first try to stay motionless or to blend into the background. But the consequences can be deadly if a human steps on one or tries to catch it.
These reptiles can be found in backyards, mountains, prairies, deserts, even beaches.
Rattlesnakes are pit vipers. The loreal pit, located between their nostril and eye, detects heat emitted by prey or potential predators. When the snakes strike, they can inject venom through hollow fangs. Rattlesnakes are the largest of the venomous snakes found in the United States. The Western Diamondback can be more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) long.
Even the babies are potent. Rattlesnake young have both fangs and venom at birth. And they're resilient: They can go months without eating, and can live more than 20 years.
Whether you are in your backyard or anywhere rattlesnakes reside, think before you sit down, or stick your hand into leaves or brush. You don't want to mess with a group of rattlesnakes, known as a rhumba.
For more information on dangerous animals, take a bite out of the links below.
More Great Links
- Andrews, Kimberly, and Willson, J.D. "Copperheads." Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.uga.edu/srelherp/snakes/agkcon.htm
- Arizona Game and Fish Dept. "Rattlesnake Facts." (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/arizona-rattlesnakes.shtml
- Barnett, Parker. Wildlife biologist. Personal interview conducted Sept. 20, 2010.
- Florida Museum of Natural History "Online Guide to Florida Snakes." (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/fl-guide/onlineguide.htm
- Lobos, Ignacio. "Buck Rogers and the amazing death stalker scorpion." Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.fhcrc.org/about/pubs/quest/articles/2007/12/scorpion.html
- Johnson, Steve. "Frequently Asked Questions About Venomous Snakes." 2007. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/venomous_snake_faqs.shtml
- Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology "Toxin Tx2-6 from the spider "Phoneutria nigriventer" improves the impaired erectile function in DOCA-Salt hypertensive rats." 2007. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/meeting_abstract/21/6/A881-c
- Morgan, Randy. Curator, Invertebrates, Reptiles & Amphibians. Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Personal interview conducted Sept. 21, 2010.
- Morgan, Randy. "Giant Tropical Bullet Ant." (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.sasionline.org/antsfiles/pages/bullet/bulletbio.html
- National Institutes of Health Medline Plus "Snake Bites." Jan. 13, 2010. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000031.htm
- North Carolina State University "North Carolina Venomous Snakes." (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/gaston/Pests/reptiles/venomousnake.htm
- Philadelphia Zoo "Meet Our Animals." (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/zoo/meet-our-animals/reptiles/lizards-and-snakes/king-cobra.htm
- Rein, Jan Ove. "Leiurus quinquestriatus." Norwegian University of Science and Technology. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.ntnu.no/ub/scorpion-files/l_quinquestriatus.php
- Saint Louis Zoo. "Bullet Ant." (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/invertebrates/insects/antsbeeswasps/bulletant.htm
- San Diego Zoo. "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Venomous." 2011. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-cobra.html
- Sheils, Andrew L. "The Northern Copperhead." Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.fish.state.pa.us/copprhe.htm
- Shisk-Saling, Teresa. Veterinary technician and herpetologist, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Science. Personal interview conducted Sept. 21, 2010.
- Jackman, John A. "Black Widow Spiders." Texas A&M University. Aug. 10, 2001. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://insects.tamu.edu/extension/youth/bug/bug160.html
- Texas Agricultural Extension Service. "Spiders." 2008. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://insects.tamu.edu/extension/bulletins/l-1787.html
- University of Massachusetts-Amherst. "Snake Mythology." 2008. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.umass.edu/nrec/snake_pit/pages/myth.html
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Venomous Snakes." (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/snakes/
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Venomous Spiders." (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/spiders/
- Zurek, Ludek. "Spiders and Scorpions." Kansas State University. July 2005. (Nov. 15, 2011) http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/library/entml2/mf771.pdf
The two words mean very different things and are often used incorrectly. We'll clear up the confusion.