Rattlesnakes - general information
Rattlesnakes belong to the family of the pitvipers. This group of snakes differ from other venomous snakes by having an opening between the eye and the nostril, the so-called pit. Hence the name Pitviper. With this pit the rattlesnake can detect differences in temperature of 0.003C. These heat pits are a few mm deep and contain thousands of nerve ends. This enables the snake to find prey in the dark.
Rattlesnakes are solenoglyphs. This means that they have two folding fangs in the upper jaw in the front of their mouths. These hollow teeth are folded in while the snake is in rest. During an attack the snake opens its mouth and folds out the fangs and will stab a prey animal and inject its venom. This venom is pumped by the venom glands through the fangs at high speed into the body of the prey. This will quickly spread the venom through its body, where it will immediately start to digest the prey from the inside. The venom contains a hemotoxin that will destroy the blood cells and will cause extreme pain, oedema and necrosis.
The venom is not meant as a weapon but as a tool to speed up the digestive process. By digesting its prey quickly the snake is active a lot quicker than a constricting snake. The food takes a lot longer to digest and therefore the snake is more vulnerable to predators for a longer period of time. Rattlesnakes are common in all but four states in North and South America. There are 26 species of rattlesnakes and all have their subspecies including the former Sistrurus species: miliarus, catenatus and ravus.
This snake is called a rattlesnake because of its rattle at the end of its tail. At birth snakes only have a pre-button and every time a snake sheds its skin a new rattle is formed, after two or three sheddings the rattlesnake is able to produce the typical rattle sound. The rattles of snakes in the wild are about 8-11 segments long because longer rattles always get caught in between rocks and will break off. So it is a myth that you can tell a snakes age by counting the rattles and juveniles form up to seven rattles in one year while adult snakes will only form one or two new rattles a year. Rattlesnakes in captivity can have rattles with up to 20 or more segments because of their protected environment. Rattlesnakes give birth to live young. Young snakes are born after a gestation period of 4-6 months and are able to take care of themselves as soon as they are born, while eggs with an incubation period of 2-3 months are a lot more vulnerable. An average litter consists of 5-10 young; litters of 18 young are not uncommon. Young rattlesnakes are between 15-35 cm long at birth. They are sexually mature after 3 years. The longevity in nature and in captivity is for the larger species 15-25 years and for the smaller species 9-12 years.
Rattlesnakes in captivity
Some species of the Crotalus family do well in captivity. You will always find a few species of rattlesnakes in zoos and expos. They usually are C. adamanteus, C. atrox, C. viridis and the like.
These spectacular snakes will always fascinate the public.
Let it be absolutely clear that we would like to emphasize that keeping venomous snakes brings with it great risks, despite all safety precautions. Every time you open the enclosure to feed or clean, there is always the risk of escape. When you keep the snakes in full-glass enclosures there is always the possibility of breakage. Just realize that by keeping venomous snakes in your home you have a great responsibility toward your own safety and that of your neighbors. Realize what will happen should a snake escape your home. You would have to report it to the police, a search will be started and there will be a panic in your neighborhood. Not to mention if the snake should bite a person or worse, a child. Luckily there are a lot of beautiful non-venomous snakes for the hobbyist. Keeping venomous snakes is for the experienced snake keeper who knows how to handle these snakes with the right equipment. Picking up venomous snakes with just a glove on is something you dont do!!!