Thank you rattlesnakes!
Happy Thanksgiving TRC friends and family! In the spirit of the season, the Rattlesnake Conservancy thought it would be a perfect time to arm you all with some important knowledge about why we should be thankful for rattlesnakes. So while everyone is sitting around the kitchen table today with those closest to them, feel free to sprinkle in some hard science facts about how cool rattlesnakes are - because we both know, we can't help ourselves. And with that, let's begin with the top three reasons we should be thankful for rattlesnakes...
First on the list of fun rattlesnake facts to share over pumpkin pie: rattlesnakes save lives! That's right folks. Not only do they save the lives of people bitten by other rattlesnakes through antivenom, but their venom components are used for a variety of medicinal purposes as well. The naturally occurring proteins, peptides, and molecules found in snake venom are currently used for bleeding disorders, surgical adhesive, cardiovascular episodes, and more.
Further, more research is being conducted for potential uses. For example, Contortrostatin, a protein found in copperhead venom, has been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors, slow angiogenesis (the growth of blood vessels into the tumor that supply it with nutrients and allow the tumor to grow and spread), and also helped prevent metastasis (the spread of cancer cells to new areas of the body) in studies of mice implanted with human breast cancer cells!
One of the Rattlesnake Conservancy's favorite facts about rattlesnakes and reason number two why we should be thankful for rattlesnakes is because they are an important part of the seed dispersal of many terrestrial plants. A study completed by the University of California Berkley found that many seed eating rodents (such as mice and gophers) that store food in their cheek pouches when eaten by a rattlesnake will allow seeds to germinate in the rattlesnake's colon instead of being destroyed by the rodent's digestive system. This makes rattlesnakes a secondary seed disperser! The most common seeds found germinating in the snakes' digestive tracts were: bluestem grasses, wingnut cryptanthia, and Indian ricegrass. Additionally, many of these plant species are primarily wind pollinated. Based on a study done in South Carolina by the University of Wisconsin on seed dispersal via wind, the majority of wind dispersed seeds land about 33ft from the origin site, 20% drift 33-164ft away, and only 1% travel more than 164ft away. Therefore, if a rattlesnake travels more than 0.006 miles from the origin site, it will have distributed those seeds farther than the majority of the wind dispersed seeds. Crazy right? But wait there's more. Indian ricegrass is a highly essential grass to the prairies of the southwest United States: it is one of the earliest to sprout green shoots after a long winter and is a favorite among wild grazers like bison, elk, and mule deer. So as a result of protecting our seed dispersing rattlesnakes, we may be able to help provide an essential food source for southwestern grazers.
Last but not least, rattlesnakes indirectly help humans by removing disease vectors from the environment. Many of these disease vectors like Lyme disease are carried by small ticks that travel between small mammal populations. By consuming these mammals and keeping these populations under control, a study done by the University of Maryland found that an adult timber rattlesnake could remove about 2,500 to 4,500 ticks from the environment every year. Based on this data and the fact that a timber rattlesnake may live close to 20 years in the wild, one snake could potentially remove about 50,000 to 90,000 ticks in their life time.