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Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Abhijit Naik
A majority of snakebite fatalities in the southeastern United States are attributed to the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, a pit viper species native to this region.
The eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) is one of the numerous species of venomous pit vipers found in the southeastern United States. Like other snakes belonging to the genus Crotalus, even the eastern diamondback is typically characterized by a rattle and feverish shaking of its tail, which produces the characteristic rattling sound.
This sound, which can be heard for quite some distance, is basically its last warning for the intruder to back off. Considering that it is one of the most aggressive snakes of the world, it is anytime better to stay away from it.

Facts About the Eastern Diamondback

This rattlesnake species is considered the most dangerous snake in North America. The number of snakebite fatalities attributed to it, speaks volumes about its repute. It is one of the two diamondback species found in Americas; the other being the western diamondback rattlesnake, which ranks second in terms of the total number of snakebite fatalities.
No subspecies of this snake have been recognized as of now. It is known by a range of names in different regions, including the diamond rattlesnake, common rattlesnake, southeastern diamond-backed rattler, etc.
Additionally, the fact that it is found in abundance in Florida and neighboring regions has earned it names like the Florida diamond-back or Florida rattlesnake, while its ability to swim has earned it the name, water rattlesnake.

Size and Appearance

Other than being the most venomous snake of North America, the eastern diamondback also boasts of being the largest of the 32 species of rattlesnakes found in the world. It has a rattle at the end of its tail, which is common to all the rattlesnake species.
On its skin, which is usually brownish, brownish yellow, brownish gray, or olive ground in color, there are 24 - 35 dark brown or black spots from which it derives the name 'diamondback'. While the average length of this species is 4 - 6 feet, specimen as long as 8 feet have also been recorded.
The record for the largest specimen is held by one measuring 8.25 feet, which was caught in 1936. Though not the longest, this snake does have the distinction of being the heaviest venomous snake in the continents of North America and South America.

Range and Habitat

The geographical range of this species spans the Lower Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States, extending from the southern areas of North Carolina to Louisiana. It is found in abundance in Florida and parts of southern Georgia. Owing to its ability to swim, it also thrives in Florida Keys and a few barrier islands.
As for their habitat in the wild, it spans across dry sandy areas, coastal dunes, pinewoods, wiregrass flatwoods, and edges of swamps in this region. The species is seldom seen in water, despite the fact that it is an accomplished swimmer.
Owing to human encroachment in its native habitat, the species is also found in and around human settlements now; especially in parking lots and backyards.

Food and Hunting

Being carnivorous in nature, the eastern diamondback feeds on small mammals, rodents, and ground-dwelling birds. It either resorts to foraging or ambushes its prey by hiding in the dense foliage.
The method of hunting is also quite unique as it strikes its prey, injecting venom in its body, and leaves it to die, eventually using its tongue to follow the scent trail and trace it. This rattlesnake feeds on eastern cottontails, marsh rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice, quails, wild turkeys, etc.
At times, it also feeds on the eggs of these birds and large insects that come its way. Its jaw is designed to ensure that an animal as big as eastern cottontail goes in without much difficulty.
The young ones, on the other hand, resort to lean species, like mice and lizards. Though the cases are rare, the hunter becomes the hunted when birds of prey, like eagles and hawks, swoop down on young rattlesnakes and feed on them.

Lifespan and Reproduction

On an average, the diamondback is known to live for about 10 to 20 years in the wild. In captivity, it has a relatively longer lifespan. It is an ovoviviparous species, which means it produces living young ones from eggs that hatch within its body.
The gestation period for this species spans 6 - 7 months, at the end of which the female gives birth to anywhere between 7 - 21 young ones. They are 30 - 40 inches in length and have striking resemblance to older rattlers. They are left to fend for themselves within a few hours of their birth.

Venom and Bite Treatment

Its venom contains potent hemotoxin which is capable of killing red blood cells, causing damage to the tissue, and eventually resulting in death. This species also boasts of having the longest fangs in proportion to body length. Even an adult human being can succumb to its bite after a brief period of intense pain.
Young eastern diamondbacks are more dangerous than their adult counterparts, as they are very aggressive and don't have any control over the amount of venom they deliver. Though the antivenin, which has been recently developed, has reduced the fatality count, it is still very far from low.
Like these facts, there also exist some myths about the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, which have become quite popular with time. For instance, many people believe that the rattlesnake has to make the rattling noise before it strikes, which is not necessarily the case.
A silent rattlesnake is as likely to strike you as the one which is making this noise to ward you off. Its widespread killing and loss of habitat as a result of human encroachment has affected its population. If measures are not taken soon, it won't take much time for the species to become endangered and eventually, extinct.