Ambush hunting is a pit viper specialty. Most of the time, the snakes wait for their prey to come to them instead of chasing it down. Why waste energy?
When a pit viper lashes out, the reptile can strike with up to half of its total body length. Some have been clocked moving their heads at 8 feet (over 2 meters) per second in the process.
That's not to say they always hit the target. Experiments involving Gloydius shedaoensis, a Chinese pit viper, show that adults strike more accurately than juveniles. Halfway around the world, kangaroo rats can use evasive maneuvers to dodge Mohave rattlesnakes in mid-strike.
Ironically, roadrunners actively goad rattlesnakes into striking. The famous birds eat small rattlers, despite having no natural resistance to their venom.
A roadrunner's first move is to pester one of these snakes until the reptile tries to strike back. Then — while the snake's body is fully extended — it'll grab the head. Before our rattler can react, its attacker bashes its skull against the ground. Red-tailed hawks employ a similar strategy.
Pit vipers are also killed by nonvenomous kingsnakes who swallow rattlers, cottonmouths and copperheads whole.
People would do well to keep their distance, though. While snake bite fatalities are rare in the United States, with only five to six human deaths occurring per year, pit viper envenomation may lead to shock, swelling, bruising, blistering, paralysis and other delightful symptoms.
We'll leave you on a rather more pleasant topic: babies. Although some pit vipers lay eggs, the majority give birth to live young. Certain rattlers can deliver as many as 25 infants per litter. Yep, old Rattlesnake Jake probably had lots of siblings ...