Dr. Overy's KBase: Resources for Teaching and Learning

Diamondback Rattlesnake

Article ID: 134
Last updated: 15 Dec, 2023

Well, here it was, after just completing a 10km run in Saguaro National Park.  Missed it by inches..so nice of it to warn me with its familiar rattle as I was about to tread on it! 


Now the good news is that unless you really do provoke them, not recommended under any circumstances, or you suddenly startle them, so they feel threatened, they are unlikely to attack.   After all, it is for their protection and you must always remember that it is you who is intruding, and that you are entering into their home.  They are also a protected species, so expect no sympathy from the Park Rangers and hospital staff if you start messing about.  Stop, and back off slowly, making no sudden movements.... 

The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, otherwise known as Crotalus atrox, is a member of the of the Viper family.  It has been a symbol of the American Southwest from prehistoric times.  It appears in ancient mythology, on ceramics and in rock art and, of course, in modern stories and the media. 


The snake occupies diverse habitats from desert flats to rocky hillsides, grassy plains, forested areas, river bottoms and coastal prairies.  It is a good swimmer, and it holds its rattle ablove the water to keep it dry. Its habitat range covers most of Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, and the southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona.  It is also found in the southern tip of California, and the northern zones of Mexico?s Chihuahua and Sonora. 


The Western Diamondback takes up it home among a range of communities of small mammals such as prairie dogs, rabbits, gophers, chipmunks, ground squirrels, mice and rats.  It usually hunts at night.  It ambushes victims along their trails or attacks them in their burrows, and is able to swallow an animal which can weigh more than the snake itself.  After feeding, the snake can go weeks before being in need of another meal. 

The basic colour can range from brown to grey to a pinkish colour, depending on the nature of its habitat. Its back is lined with dark diamond-shaped areas which are outlined by lighter-coloured scales.  Its head has two dark stripes, one on each side of its face, which run diagonally, from its eyes back to its jaws. Its tail has a number of alternating black and white bands. 


The Western Diamondback is armed with a deadly fang and venom system, elliptical pupils and special heat-sensing pits. These pits allow the snake to detect its prey at night, from the infra-red radiation emitted from their warm bodies.  It has a set of reserve fangs to replace any which break off .  The venom can cause extensive tissue damage, extensive bleeding and considerable amount of swelling in humans. Its rattle area grows segment by segment each year.  It can add two or three rattles each year, although it may also break off some of its rattles during the year. 

The Western Diamondback will coil, and rattle aggressively, and stand its ground when threatened.  It bites hundreds of people a year, more than any other venomous snake in the United States. 


The Western Diamondback has predators!  It needs to be aware of eagles, hawks, and roadrunners, or coyotes. It can also be trampled to death by animals which regard its presence as a threat, such as deer, antelopes, cows, and horses.  The Western Diamondback certainly is not 'top' predator in the desert

The male Western Diamondback pursues the female endlessely during mating.  The females are mature at three years old, and they bear their young live, in late summer.  The young are well developed at birth : with fangs and venom, and ready to find food almost immediately.  They need to be ready, since the mother does not offer them support after they are born.

Video : Diamondback Rattlesnake

Article ID: 134
Last updated: 15 Dec, 2023
Revision: 8
Views: 666
print  Print email  Subscribe email  Email to friend share  Share pool  Add to pool
Prev     Next
Hummingbird       Ivory-Billed Woodpecker