Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
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The eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) is the largest venomous snake species in North America, as well as the largest rattlesnake species in the world. Their average size is from 3.5-5.5 feet, with some unusually large specimens reaching up to 7 feet! They are stout-bodied and have a characteristic diamond shaped pattern on their back, which is usually yellow bordered, though their pattern may vary. Their scales are keeled, which means each individual scale has a ridge down the center, and feel rough to the touch.
The eastern diamondback can be found in habitats ranging from coastal scrub to uplands and sandy woodlands. They have even been seen swimming between coastal areas and barrier islands!While rattlesnakes are most notably predators of various small mammals, they are also important prey items for many species. Eastern diamondbacks are prey of eastern indigo snakes, various kingsnake species, birds of prey, wild hogs, and large predatory mammals. As such, removing rattlesnakes from the ecosystem can have profound effects on the entire ecosystem.
Venom is extremely complicated, though it is often simplified into general categories such as neurotoxins and cytotoxins, with many subsets of classifications under each. Neurotoxic venoms are those that interfere with the normal functions of nerves, which can result in clinically significant symptoms, such as paralysis and respiratory distress. Cytotoxic venoms are those that destroy or otherwise impact body cells. Snakes do not often have exclusively one venom type and usually have a complex cocktail and the venom of eastern diamondback is no exemption. Although the primary component of their venom is a cytotoxin that can cause severe tissue damage, additional components in the venom include trace neurotoxins, which impact neuromuscular junctions, and myotoxins (causes muscle wasting) in some parts of their range.
Statistically, in the U.S. 5-6 deaths per year are due to snakebite, compared to approximately 50 per year from bee and wasp stings (Center for Disease Control 2014). The vast majority of bites in the U.S. occur when humans attempt to handle or kill a venomous snake in the wild. Out of the many snakes native to Florida, only six are venomous; with only five occurring in peninsular Florida.
Venom is important to future research into medications.
What do I do if a rattlesnake in my yard or home?
If outdoors, leave the snake alone and it will likely leave the area. If the snake is in your home, contact us, or if we are unavailable or you are outside our range, contact a nuisance wildlife trapper. Be sure to ask if they humanely relocate snakes afterwards!
What kind of snake is in my yard?
Venomous snakes are often misidentified. Use the tool below to identify the snake in your yard, but remember to be careful and keep your distance when observing wildlife!
Still unsure of the species of snake in your yard? Send us a clear photograph of the snake and our expert staff will attempt to identify it, depending on photo quality.
Venom from various snake species, such as the dusky pygmy rattlesnake, has been used in research for developing medications. Captopril, a blood pressure drug (ACE inhibitor), was derived from a south american pit viper (Bothrops jararaca)(Cushman and Ondetti 1991). Another important life saving medication called Integrillin, which is a blood thinner used during heart attacks and after open heart surgery, was developed from dusky pygmy rattlesnake venom! Most recently, southern copperhead venom has been used in medical research at University of Southern California to treat breast cancer cells! Venom is still understudied and there is much we have to learn from venom that may lead to drugs that can treat various ailments and diseases.
Conserving venomous snakes is important to our ecosystems and for future medical research. To further complicate conserving rattlesnakes, we must also focus on subpopulations. Snake venom in many species varies not only from one subspecies to another, but also in different geographic locations (Minton 1953). Sub-populations of eastern diamondbacks in north and south Florida have been shown to exhibit different venom characteristics (Marges et al. 2015). Because of this, we may still learn more about venom in different parts of a species range that may have completely different characteristics from other areas and thus potentially have new medicinal applications. If we lose just one subpopulation, we are losing any potential pharmacological application!
The Eastern Diamondback receives no federal protection, but is an important species in the southeast. Throughout their entire range, eastern diamondbacks are only state protected in North Carolina. Rapid declines in sightings has occurred over the last decade and there is no sign of the species status improving. The species decline is most likely due to severe habitat fragmentation, commercial exploitation, rattlesnake roundups, and indiscriminate killing of rattlesnakes. Poor habitat management and natural fire suppression have also presented unique threats to eastern diamondbacks and other species.
The eastern diamondback, and many other species, also depend on tree stumpholes, gopher tortoise burrows, and other refugia, for refuge from fire and extreme temperatures. Commercial harvesting of tree stumpholes for consumer goods, such as pine sap, soap, paint and linoleum have contributed to reducing their habitat. Additionally, aggressive forestry techniques that do not sustainably approach tree harvest reduce rattlesnake habitat. In Florida, silviculture (tree harvest) operations receive exemptions from gopher tortoise permitting requirements and harvesters often entomb gopher tortoises, rattlesnakes, and hundred of other species in gopher tortoise burrows.
Another major threat facing eastern diamondbacks is "gassing" (see rattlesnake roundups). Gassing is the act of pouring gasoline down gopher tortoise burrows, and other hiding places of rattlesnakes, in order to draw snakes out, kill them and use their beautiful skin for commercial gain. Gassing and rattlesnake roundups have led to decline of the eastern diamondback, the gopher tortoise, and many other species that rely on gopher tortoise burrows.
What can we do?
No matter how much research we do, or how many snakes that we breed, it is not possible for us to reverse with the rate that rattlesnakes are indiscriminately killed on a daily basis. We are often asked what people can do to help rattlesnakes, and our answer is simple: education. Education is the single most important part of our mission and is the foundation upon which all of our other programs are made possible. If we stand a chance to change the trajectory of these species, our time should be spent educating the public about why rattlesnakes are relevant and deserve a place in our backyards.
We too must change the way we think about people and how we approach those who have not yet learned about the importance of rattlesnakes. As a community, we must ask people the hard questions and give the unpopular opinion when our friends or family are showing off the picture of a big rattlesnake that was killed in their backyard. We must approach our legislators, local governments, and state fish and wildlife agencies to help them understand why we conserve rattlesnakes. Changing a culture can be a difficult task, but if you use the information found on our website and communicate with our staff, we believe that you can be an advocate for rattlesnake conservation.
Rattlesnakes may not have a voice, but we do! Together, we can transform the way people think about rattlesnakes!
Margres M.J., McGivern J.J., Seavy M., Wray K.P., Facente J., and Rokyta D.R. 2015. Contrasting Modes and Tempos of Venom Expression Evolution in Two Snake Species. GENETICS. 199(1):165-76.
Cushman D.W., and Ondetti M.A. 1991. History of the Design of Captopril and Related Inhibitors of Angiotensin Converting Enzyme. Hypertension. 17(4): 589-592.
Minton Jr S.A. 1953. Variation in Venom Samples from Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix mokeson) and Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus horridus. Copeia. 1953(4): 212-15.
Venomous Snakes. 2014. Center for Disease Control.