What rattles in a rattlesnake

Wanted poster rattlesnake
sizeup to 2.4 m
speedNot known
Weightup to 4.5 kg
lifespanup to 30 years (in terrariums)
nutritionMice, prairie dogs, rats, rabbits
EnemiesFox, buzzard, coyote
orderScaly creepers
Scientific SurnameCrotalus
featuresTail rattle

Rattlesnakes are famous for their tail rattle, which they use to make noises when in danger. There are 29 species that live exclusively on the American continent.

How does the rattling noise come about?

The rattlesnake has very strong muscles that it uses to move its tail rattle back and forth. If she is very excited, 50-60 times in a single second and for up to 3 hours.

The creepy sound comes from the rattle's rings rubbing against each other. By the way: The rings are hollow inside, in contrast to a toy rattle, which usually has small balls inside.

What is the rattle made of?

Made of a material similar to our fingernails and our hair. The rattle gets a ring every time it sheds. It is basically nothing more than a remnant on the tip of the tail that cannot be stripped off. However, the age of a rattlesnake cannot be determined by the number of rings because they sometimes break off.

Diamond Rattlesnake - Photo: Jason Mintzer / Shutterstock

Why does the rattlesnake rattle?

As strange as it sounds: primarily to protect yourself from ungulates. The rattle warns and prevents you from accidentally stepping on the line.

Does a rattlesnake have enemies?

Yes, for example foxes, coyotes and buzzards. Even one species of snake hunts them. It is the king snake that doesn't mind the poison of the rattlesnake.

How poisonous is the rattlesnake?

The rattlesnake is one of the most venomous snakes in the world. A single gram of it can kill 3,000-5,000 mice.

Pacific Rattlesnake - Photo: Junior Braz / Shutterstock

The largest and the smallest

The largest rattlesnake is the diamond rattlesnake. It grows up to 2.4 m long and can weigh up to 4.5 kg. The Texas rattlesnake is considered the second largest. The smallest is the edged head rattlesnake. As a rule, it is no larger than 50 cm and weighs 100 g. Especially small ones are only 30 cm long.

Renewable raw materials - uh, teeth

The rattlesnake can regrow its teeth every few weeks if necessary. Sometimes it then has four teeth at the same time, but only two of them are "active".

Precision lethal injection

When a rattlesnake bites, it can control exactly how much venom it releases in the process. This also makes sense because it takes a lot of energy to produce the poison.

It would be nonsense to kill a mouse with a huge amount of poison and then have nothing left for a larger prey. Young rattlesnakes are not very good at controlling the amount of venom, so they are usually more dangerous.

Schauer Rattlesnake - Photo: Susan Schmitz / Shutterstock

Not just in the desert

Actually one suspects the rattlesnake mainly in the desert. But they also often live in marshland and can swim very well.

How does a rattlesnake track down its prey?

The rattlesnake smells with its tongue. Like all pit vipers, it also has two pits on the side of its head (hence the name of the animal family).

Inside is an organ that works like a heat sensor. It could also be called an infrared or thermal camera. The snake can recognize even the smallest temperature fluctuations. 0.2 to 0.4 degrees are enough for the snake to know that it has a (prey) animal in front of it.


Rattlesnakes are adult at around 18-24 months. In spring they mate, but do not lay eggs, but give birth to 10-20 young after about 90 days of gestation. At the beginning they don't have a rattle, this only develops when they shed their skin.

Basilisk Rattlesnake - Photo: Bernhard Richter / Shutterstock