Surely, many have heard of such a reptile as a rattlesnake, named so because of the frightening rattle with which the tip of the tail is crowned. Not everyone knows that the poisonousness of this snake family is off scale, there are many deaths from rattlesnake bites. But, what is the character, lifestyle and habits of this poisonous person? Maybe, having learned about this in more detail, this reptile will no longer seem so scary and insidious?
Origin of the species and description
Rattlesnakes are poisonous creatures belonging to the viper family. They belong to the subfamily of pit snakes due to the fact that in the area located between the nostrils and eyes of reptiles there are pits that are hypersensitive to temperature conditions and infrared radiation. These devices help to sense the presence of prey precisely by the temperature of its body, which differs from the temperature of the surrounding air. Even in pitch darkness, a rattlesnake will sense the slightest change in temperature and detect potential prey.
So, one of the main features of rattlesnakes or rattlesnakes, or pit vipers, are the pit receptors described above. Then the question arises: “Why is the snake called the rattlesnake?”. The fact is that some varieties of this creeping person have a rattle at the end of the tail, consisting of movable scales, which, when shaken by the tail, produce a sound resembling crackling.
Interesting fact: Far from All rattlesnakes have a tail rattle, but those that do not have one are still classified as pit vipers.
There are two genera of reptiles that can be classified without any doubt as rattlesnakes, these are: real rattlesnakes (Crotalus) and dwarf rattlesnakes (Sistrurus).
Their closest relatives can be classified as:
- spear-headed snakes;
- temple keffis;
In general, the subfamily of pit-headed snakes includes 21 genera and 224 snake varieties. The genus of true rattlesnakes consists of 36 varieties.
Let's describe some of them:
- Texas rattlesnake is very large, its length reaches two and a half meters, and its weight is about seven kilograms. It inhabits the USA, Mexico and southern Canada;
- the monstrous rattlesnake, also of considerable size, reaching a length of two meters, registered in the west of Mexican territory;
- the rhombic rattlesnake is very beautifully painted with contrasting rhombuses, and dimensions are impressive – up to 2.4 m. The snake inhabits Florida (USA) and is fertile, producing up to 28 offspring;
- the horned rattlesnake is distinguished by skin folds located above the eyes, which are similar to horns, they prevent sand from entering the snake's eyes. This reptile is not large in size, its body length is from 50 to 80 cm;
- the striped rattlesnake lives in the southern part of the United States, it is very dangerous, its concentrated venom threatens to be bitten by death;
- rock rattlesnake does not even reach a meter (about 80 cm) in length, lives in the southern part of the States and in Mexican territory. Its poison is very potent, but its character is not aggressive, so there are not so many victims of bites.
Only a couple of species belong to the genus of dwarf rattlesnakes:
- dwarf millet the rattlesnake inhabits the southeast of the North American continent, its length is about 60 cm;
- the chain rattlesnake (massauga) has chosen Mexico, the USA and southern Canada. The length of the body of the snake is no more than 80 cm.
Appearance and Features
Snakes of the pit-headed subfamily have different sizes, depending on one or another variety, the length of their body can be from half a meter to more than three meters.
The colors also have different variations and tones, rattlesnakes can be:
- bright green;
- brownish red;
- dark brown.
Uniformity in colors is present, but is much less common, specimens with various ornaments predominate: diamond-shaped, striped, spotted. Some species generally have original patterns of various intricacies.
Of course, there are common features in rattlesnakes that are not related to one or another species and place of residence of the reptile. This is a wedge-shaped head, a pair of long poisonous fangs, sensitive locator pits and a rattle or rattle that the tail is equipped with (do not forget that some species do not have it). The ratchet is presented in the form of an outgrowth of dead skin scales, with each molt their number increases, but the age of the snake cannot be determined from them, because the outermost scales of the rattle gradually completely fly off the tail.
The reptile uses the ratchet for warning purposes , she scares large animals and humans with it, thereby saying that it is better to bypass her, so rattlesnakes show a kind of humanity.
Where does the rattlesnake live?
Judging by the research of herpetologists, one second of all rattlesnakes has chosen the American continent (approximately 106 varieties). 69 species settled in southeast Asia. Only cottonmouths inhabit both hemispheres of the Earth. Two varieties of muzzle live in our country – ordinary and eastern, they are registered in the Far East, they also live in the territory of Azerbaijan and Central Asia. Oriental can be found in the vastness of China, Korea and Japan, where the local population actively uses it for food.
The common muzzle has also chosen Afghanistan, Korea, Mongolia, Iran, China, the hook-nosed muzzle can be found in Sri Lanka and India. Smooth occupies Indochina, Java and Sumatra. It is easy to guess that the Himalayan muzzle lives in mountain ranges, climbing to a five-kilometer height.
All kinds of kufiyas are deployed in the countries of the Eastern Hemisphere, the largest of them is a one and a half meter haba that inhabits Japan. Mountain kufi live on the Indochina peninsula and in the Himalayan mountain ranges, and bamboo – in the territories of Pakistan, India and Nepal.
So, wet jungles, high mountain ranges, and arid deserts are not alien to the pitheads. There are also aquatic varieties of these snakes. Rattlesnakes live in the crowns of trees, and on the ground, and high in the mountains. During the day, when the heat overcomes, they do not leave their shelters, located under boulders, in rocky crevices, holes of various rodents. In search of the most favorable and secluded place to rest, reptiles use all the same sensitive locator pits that do not let them down.
What does a rattlesnake eat?
The menu of pitheads is quite varied, it consists of:
- all kinds of insects;
- other small snakes.
The young growth feeds on insects and attracts lizards and frogs with its bright tip of the tail. Rattlesnakes do not take patience, they can wait a long time for a potential victim, hiding in ambush. As soon as it comes to the right distance, which is suitable for a throw, the snake neck bends and attacks the poor fellow with lightning speed. The length of the throw reaches a third of the reptile's body length.
Like all viper relatives, the pitheads do not use any suffocating techniques for the victim, but kill it with their poisonous bite. As already mentioned, in impenetrable darkness, their thermal trapping pits help them to detect prey, which instantly feel even the slightest change in temperature, thanks to which rattlesnakes see the infrared silhouette of the victim. After the venom strike has been successfully completed, the snake begins its meal, always swallowing the lifeless body from the head.
In one sitting, the rattlesnake can eat a considerable amount of food, which is half the mass of the hunter herself. This is not surprising, because rattlesnakes eat about once a week, so they go hunting, pretty hungry. It takes a lot of time to digest, which is why the breaks between meals are so long. Reptiles also need water, they get some of the moisture from the food they get, but they don’t have enough of it. Snakes drink in a peculiar way: they immerse their lower jaw in water, thus, through the capillaries of the mouth, saturating the body with the necessary fluid.
Interesting fact: Often rattlesnakes in captivity go on a hunger strike, they do not even care about rodents running past. There are cases when reptiles have not eaten for more than one year.
Character and lifestyle features
The diversity of rattlesnakes is so great that their permanent locations are completely different territories. Some species practice terrestrial existence, others – arboreal, others – aquatic, many occupy mountain ranges. Still, they can be called thermophilic, the average optimum temperature for them is from 26 to 32 degrees with a plus sign. They are also able to survive a short cold snap of up to 15 degrees.
With the advent of cold weather, snakes hibernate, all their life processes slow down very much. Many varieties of rattlesnakes form large clusters (up to 1000 pieces) to more easily survive hibernation. When they all come out of hibernation at the same time, you can observe a kind of snake invasion, this is a frightening sight. Some species hibernate alone.
Snakes love, especially those in position, to soak up the rays of the first sun. In unbearable heat, they prefer to hide in secluded shady places: under stones, in burrows, under deadwood. In such hot weather, they begin to be active at dusk, getting out of their shelter.
Interesting fact: Many varieties of rattlesnakes settle in the same den for generations, passing it down for long years. Often entire colonies of snakes live in such an ancestral property.
These reptiles do not possess an aggressive disposition; they will not attack a person or a large animal without a reason. With their ratchet, they give a warning that they are armed and dangerous, but attacks will not follow unless they are provoked. When there is nowhere to go, the rattlesnake performs its poisonous attack, which can lead to the death of the enemy. In the United States alone, 10 to 15 people die every year from rattlesnake bites. In areas where snakes are common, many people carry an antidote with them, otherwise there would be many more victims. So, the rattlesnake attacks only in extreme situations, for the purpose of self-defense, having a timid and peaceful disposition.
It should be noted that the rattlesnake's vision is not its strong point, it sees objects blurry if they are not in motion and reacts only to moving objects. Its main and very sensitive organs are sensory pits that react even to a meager temperature change near the reptile.
Social structure and reproduction
For the most part, rattlesnakes are viviparous, but there are some species that are oviparous. A sexually mature snake male is ready for annual mating games, and the female takes part in them once every three years. The wedding season can be both in spring and early autumn, it depends on the species and habitat of the snake.
When a lady is ready for courtship of gentlemen, she releases specific smelling pheromones that attract potential partners. The male begins to pursue his passion, sometimes they crawl and rub their bodies against each other for several days. It happens that more than one gentleman claims the heart of a female person, so duels take place between them, where the winner is revealed.
Interesting fact: The female can store the male's sperm until the next wedding season, i.e. she can get offspring without the participation of the male.
Ovoviviparous snakes do not lay eggs, they develop in utero . Usually 6 to 14 babies are born. Oviparous rattlesnakes in a brood can have from 2 to 86 eggs (usually 9 – 12 pieces), which they tirelessly protect from any encroachment.
At about ten days of age, the first molt occurs in babies, as a result of which a rattle is already beginning to form. The tails of young animals are often very brightly colored, standing out sharply against the background of the entire body. Snakes, moving these bright tips, lure lizards and frogs to them to have a snack. On average, the life of rattlesnakes in natural conditions lasts from 10 to 12 years, there are specimens that live up to twenty. In captivity, rattlesnakes can live up to thirty years.
Rattlesnakes' natural enemies
Although pit-headed individuals are poisonous , have a frightening ratchet on their tail, many ill-wishers themselves hunt them to feast on reptiles.
Rattlers can become victims of:
- red-tailed hawks;
- large snakes;
- California running cuckoos;
- martens ;
Most often, inexperienced young animals suffer and die from the attacks of the above enemies . Snake venom either has no effect on opponents of rattlesnakes, or has a very weak effect, so attacking animals and birds are not very afraid of it.
Interesting fact: A case was shown on television when a fisherman caught a large trout, in the stomach of which there was a swallowed rattlesnake more than half a meter long.
It is always sad to realize that a person has a detrimental effect on many representatives of the fauna. Rattlesnakes are no exception to this list and also often die as a result of human interference. People destroy reptiles, both directly, hunting them in order to obtain a beautiful snake skin, and indirectly, through their various activities that interfere with the normal life of rattlesnakes.
In addition to all the enemies mentioned, snake individuals are greatly influenced by climatic conditions, which, at times, are very unfavorable and harsh. Especially young animals often do not survive cold times.
Population and species status
Unfortunately, the population of rattlesnakes is gradually decreasing. And the main reason for this situation is the human factor. People invade the territories where these reptiles have always lived and displace them, mastering more and more open spaces. Deforestation, draining of wetlands, large-scale plowing of land for agricultural purposes, urban sprawl, construction of new highways, environmental degradation, impoverishment of the food supply lead to a reduction in rattlesnakes. In some areas where they used to be common, they are now practically non-existent. All this suggests that the situation there for reptiles is unfavorable.
A person harms rattlesnakes not only with his barbaric actions, but also directly when he hunts snakes purposefully. Hunting is carried out in pursuit of beautiful snake skin, from which expensive shoes are made, bags and purses are sewn. In many countries (especially Asian), rattlesnake meat is eaten, preparing a wide variety of dishes from it.
Surprisingly, common domestic pigs are immune to the venomous bites of rattlesnakes, apparently due to the fact that they are very thick-skinned. They are happy to feast on rattlesnakes if they manage to catch them. For this purpose, farmers often release entire herds of pigs into the fields, because of which the reptiles also die. The decline in the rattlesnake population is constantly observed, as a result of which some of their species are very rare and considered endangered, which cannot but worry.
As already mentioned, some species of rattlesnakes are on the verge of extinction. One of the rarest rattlesnakes in the world is the one-color rattlesnake that lives on the exotic island of Aruba. It has been placed on the IUCN Red List as a critically ill species. Scientists believe that there are no more than 250 individuals left, the number continues to fall. The main reason is the lack of territory, which is almost completely occupied by people. The protective actions to save this species are as follows: the authorities banned the export of the reptile from the island, the Arikok National Park was established, the area of u200bu200bwhich is about 35 square kilometers. And at present, scientific research is being carried out aimed at preserving this species of rattlesnake, on this account the authorities are conducting explanatory work among tourists and the indigenous population.
The rattlesnake of Santa Catalina Island, which belongs to Mexico, is also considered endangered. It is endemic, the uniqueness of the reptile is manifested in the fact that nature did not endow it with a rattle. Wild cats living on the island cause great damage to the population of these rattlesnakes. In addition, the deer hamster, which was considered the main source of food for these snakes, has become a rarity. In order to preserve these unique reptiles, the island is running a program to reduce the number of wild cats.
The Steinger Rattlesnake, named after the herpetologist Leonard Steinger, is considered a very rare species. She lives in the mountains in the west of the Mexican state. Rare varieties also include a small-sized striated rattlesnake that inhabits the central part of Mexico. It remains only to prevent further deterioration of the life of these rare rattlesnakes and hope that protective measures will bear fruit. If it is not possible to achieve an increase in their population, then at least it remains stable.
Summarizing, I would like to note that rattlesnakes in all their diversity are not so scary, harsh and ruthless, as they are many argue. It turns out that their disposition is meek, and their character is calm. The main thing is not to act as an aggressor when meeting with this amazing snake person, so as not to force her to start defending herself. A rattlesnake will not attack first for no reason, it will humanely warn the ill-wisher with its unique rattle.