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Quick Facts

Genus: Crotalus adamanteus

Location: Much of North America and South America, but most prevalent in the American Southwest

The Scoop

The Scoop:

Snake, rattle and roll out of there!

Rattlesnakes get their name from their unique tail, which when shaken emits a rattling noise.

The sound and shape is very similar to a baby’s rattle, and follows the same premise. A baby often shakes its rattle to make noise and gain attention; the snake uses the sound to announce its presence to potential predators.

Unlike a baby, however, rattlesnakes aren’t playing — the rattle means they’re feeling mad or threatened! Rattling means they are ready to attack and bite. Their sharp fangs emit a venom that can be extremely dangerous. Any snake bite needs immediate medical attention, but rattlesnake bites are among the most serious. People should avoid contact with rattlesnakes whenever possible.

Rattlesnakes rarely attack humans unless they are provoked. They prefer to avoid humans and other large animals, and spend their waking hours searching for food — insects, small rodents and small birds. They prefer to live in rocky areas, which house their favorite foods and provide plenty of chances to hide from extreme weather and from potential danger.

Most rattlesnakes are gray or brown, allowing them to blend in with their preferred environment. Like many reptiles, they often are dormant in cold weather.

A few other facts about rattlesnakes:

  • Rattlesnakes are native to the Americas, found in habitats reaching from Argentina to Canada. They prefer hot temperatures — they are most common in Arizona — but can survive freezing temperatures for a short time.
  • Venomous snakebites, like those from rattlesnakes, can be extremely dangerous, but only rarely kill people. About 10 times more people die every year in the United States from lightning strikes than from venomous snakebites.
  • Rattlesnakes have a lot of enemies, from large birds like falcons and crows to larger mammals like raccoons and opossums. One of a rattlesnake’s biggest threats is actually another snake — the kingsnake, which is a constrictor.
  • Rattlesnakes are able to consume animals much larger than themselves. They are able to greatly expand their jaws and skin to fit small rodents and birds into their bodies.

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