Because I’m doing Inktober, I’m drawing at least one thing every day. Some drawings are quite simple, and don’t take me too long, but others take me a few hours, which doesn’t leave me with much time to do other art. So for the next few weeks I’m going to cheat a little and use my Inktober drawings for blog posts. Which means today’s animals are rattlesnakes, as I drew rattlesnake fangs for day three, which had the theme poison!

Rattlesnakes belong to the subfamily Crotalinae, which contains 36 species. They are found in the Americas, with species living from southern Canada to central Argentina. As a group, rattlesnakes are able to survive in a wide range of habitats, such as prairies, marshes, deserts and forests. However some species can only live in very specific areas, as they are only found in certain altitudes where specific plants grow. The majority of rattlesnake species live in open, rocky areas, and are found in the southwest US and Mexico.

In colder climates, rattlesnakes enter into a hibernation-like state called brumation. Oftentimes the snakes will gather together in dens, sometimes in numbers as large as 1000 snakes. Snakes generally return to the same dens year after year, though how they find their way back to the den is unknown. In hotter areas, rattlesnakes enter a similar state called aestivation during the hot months, to conserve energy and lower water requirements.

Most rattlesnakes have brown coloured skin, with various complex patterns that help them blend in with their environment. Rattlesnake skin is very sensitive, and helps guide the snakes to sunny basking spots to warm them up. Each scale is connected to the others by creased patched of skin, so when the snakes eat a huge meal, the skin can expand. It may look like the skin at this point is stretched tightly, but actually the creases simply smooth out and there is very little tension at all.

A rattle from a rattlesnake. A new segment is added each time a rattlesnake sheds its skin, but end segments are often broken off. Image by Jud McCranie, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rattlesnakes are named for the rattles that they carry at the end of their tails. A number of hollow keratin segments make up the rattle, which produces a rattling sound when the segments are vibrated together. The snakes rattle their rattles using a series of muscles in their tails, which fire at a rate of 50 times per second. These are among the fastest contracting muscles known, and the snakes can maintain this for up to three hours.

So what is the purpose of these strange rattles? They are used as signals to predators, to try and warn them away. Rattlesnakes are venomous, and can be deadly to predators that are looking to make a meal of an adult rattlesnake. Coyotes, eagles, hawks, owls, flacons, pigs, badgers and other snakes have all been known to prey on rattlesnakes, and one way to try and deter predators is for rattlesnakes to wave their rattles as a warning to stay away. This doesn’t always work, especially against kingsnakes. Kingsnakes are immune to rattlesnake venom, and specialize in hunting them.

Rattlesnake venom does work on their prey, which includes mice, rats, and small birds. They either lie in wait for prey to come by, or go hunting for victims by searching burrows and other holes that animals might live in. The prey is bitten and injected with venom, and dies shortly thereafter. Rattlesnakes swallow their meals whole, to stop wings or limbs from jutting out at awkward angles while the snake is swallowing.

Two males participating in a combat dance. Image by Dawn Endico, Menlo Park, California, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Mating in rattlesnakes generally happens in the summer and fall. Females attract males by leaving a trail of pheromones, which the males follow, sometimes for days. Some species compete for females, by intertwining their bodies with their heads and necks held up. Females can store semen for months, and give birth to live young. Some species of rattlesnakes provide parental care after the young are born, but most do not.

I’ve always found snakes to be super interesting, even venomous ones. And you have to give rattlesnakes credit, at least they warn you before biting! Rattlesnake venom can be deadly to humans, but antivenins exist that are extremely effective if given to the victim promptly. So don’t hate rattlesnakes, just remember to move away if your hear an ominous rattling sound.

Cover image by Clinton & Charles Robertson from Del Rio, Texas & San Marcos, TX, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons