National Geographic Society

  • Connect:

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Crotalus adamanteus

Photo: An eastern diamondback rattlesnake

Photo: An eastern diamondback rattlesnake (View larger version)

Photograph by Breck P. Kent/Animals Animals—Earth Scenes

Published

The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in North America. Some reach 8 feet (2.4 meters) in length and weigh up to 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms).

These stout-bodied pit vipers generally live in the dry, pine flatwoods, sandy woodlands, and coastal scrub habitats from southern North Carolina to Florida and west to Louisiana. Their pattern of yellow-bordered, light-centered black diamonds makes them among the most strikingly adorned of all North American reptiles. They are natural exterminators, surviving on such household pests as rats and mice, as well as squirrels and birds.

Feared as deadly and aggressive, diamondbacks are actually highly averse to human contact and only attack in defense. Most bites occur when humans taunt or try to capture or kill a rattlesnake. They can accurately strike at up to one-third their body length.

Diamondback venom is a potent hemotoxin that kills red blood cells and causes tissue damage. Bites are extremely painful and can be fatal to humans. However, antivenin is widely available throughout the snake's range, and bites rarely result in death.

When cornered, rattlers feverishly shake their iconic tails as a last warning to back off. Rattles are made of loosely attached, hard, hollow segments. Snakes add a new rattle segment each time they shed. However, rattles break off frequently, and snakes may shed their skin several times a year, so it is not possible to determine a snake's age by its rattle size.

The eastern diamondback is not endangered, but because of indiscriminate killing, widespread loss of habitat, and hunting, its numbers are decreasing throughout its range.

0 comments