Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) can be found, from California to West Texas, Oklahoma, the southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona and northern parts of Mexico. This species is also found in several islands in the Gulf of California.
They live up to 2100 meters above sea level and are found in arid and semi-arid terrains, like shrubby, rocky slopes, grassy plains, forested areas, river bottoms and coastal prairies.
Their colors can vary from gray, brown, olive to reddish brown. The color and pattern present in the skin are used as camouflage on the sand or rocks found in their habitat. It is designated for that reason as a cryptic coloration.
Their skin presents several shades of brown and a pattern of spots on the back that resemble diamonds in the shape. This snake has also diagonal stripes in the lateral areas of the head (1 dark and 2 light) and black and white rings involving the tail just before the rattle.
Their skin pattern is very similar to the one of the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), but the tone is more subtle, except in the rings present in the tail.
These snakes can reach a maximum length around 6,5 ft (2 meters), although on average, they don't exceed 6 ft (1.7 meters).
The sexual dimorphism is absent in the species until they reach sexual maturity, only then do males become larger than females. The species life expectancy is more than 20 years.
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake like other venomous snakes has special teeth that serve as venom inoculators, the fangs. These have internal channels connected to the snake's venom glands located in the frontal region of the upper jaw.
These special teeth are relatively long, retractable and also protected by a membrane. When they bite the venom inoculator teeth sometimes break and its retained in the victim's body being subsequently replaced by the snake.
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake typically features a rattle at the tail end, these are formed by a series of modified scales the corneal rings, they will be loosely overlapping on each skin change and produce an audible sound when colliding with each other.
It's thought that the rattle evolved as a warning sign to the larger animals found on the prairies, like the American Bison, so they didn't tread the rattlesnake. Like others of its genus, these snakes can attack without the warning of using the rattle. The western diamondback will coil and rattle fearsomely standing its ground when it feels threatened
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are ambush hunters, after the bite, the rattlesnake releases its prey and pursues it until the venom takes effect, which will normally happen soon after.
This snake species is most active at night and at dusk. They brumate or hibernate during the winter months, usually in rock cavities where they can gather sometimes with other snake species. They can swim, holding the rattle above the water to keep it dry.
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake venom consists mainly of hemolytic type enzymes, these are elements which destroy blood coagulants, causing large internal bleeding, extensive tissue damage and swelling in humans. The venom is used in the first place to kill the prey but also to aid in their digestion.
It may also be used as a defense by the snake as they also have predators (especially juvenile) like the eagle, hawk, roadrunner or a wild turkey and also other snakes like the California king snake or a whipsnake.
Like other snakes generally called "pit vipers" the western diamondback comes equipped heat-sensing pits these are in effect, infrared detectors, that guide the snake swiftly and surely to their warm-blooded prey.
The species has many other common names like the western diamond-backed rattlesnake, adobe snake, Arizona diamond rattlesnake, coon tail, desert diamond-back, desert diamond rattlesnake, fierce rattlesnake, spitting rattlesnake, Texan rattlesnake, and Texas diamondback.
Diet / Feeding
They feed on small mammals such as prairie dogs, gophers, rabbits, chipmunks, ground squirrels, mice, and rats, but also take birds, it can also capture and eat other reptiles or amphibians. After feeding they can go several weeks before feeding again.
It is an ovoviviparous snake species the eggs are kept inside the female's body during their embryonic stage. The mating season occurs in spring after their hibernation period. The males will engage in ritualized fights, in which both opponents raise the front of the body, curl up and push each other with their heads until one abandons the fight.
The offspring from 10 to 20 young is born after about 170 days of embryonic development, during the months of July and August.
The young are born with fangs and venom and are dangerous from birth, the mother abandons them upon birth.They reach sexual maturity at about 3 years of age.
Conservation / Threats
This species is not globally threatened according to the IUCN, it's a very adaptable and highly prolific snake species. However, this highly irritable and dangerous snake is the cause of most human deaths in the U.S. and is, therefore, the object of persecution.
The Rattlesnake is a key element of Native American culture. The Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes skin, meat, oil and extracted venom are used by humans for many purposes.
Did You Know?
The mozambique spitting cobra is capable of spitting it's venom to a distance of 2 or 3 meters using it's specially modified fangs.