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Home > Blog > Wildlife of the Week > The Venomous Western Diamondback Rattlesnake: Wildlife of the Week – 2022 Week 14

Posted: April 14, 2022

Our Wildlife of the Week – 2022 Week 14…

Meet the “Western Diamondback Rattlesnake”!

(Crotalus atrox)
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in White Sands National Park
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in White Sands National Park

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake Physical Description

The body length of the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is about 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) and they can weigh up to 14.7 lbs (6.7 kg). The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake has a plump body, short tail, and a broad triangular head. Like all Pit Vipers, it has a pit organ, which is situated in an indentation of the upper jaw, between the nostril and eye. The pit is about 3/16 in (5 mm) deep, with an outer and inner chamber separated by a thin membrane. The membrane senses very slight temperature differences between the snake’s inner and ambient temperatures.1

The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake also has the self-named rattle on the end of the tail. Each link of the rattle is the remnant of a molted skin. As the snake molts, the last scale loosens but does not fall off. As the snake ages, new rattles are formed with each molt, while old rattles simultaneously fall off. This species has long, tubular fangs, which are characteristic of venomous snakes.1

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in Saguaro National Park
Perhaps the most commonly seen snake in Saguaro National Park, the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) is large, and powerful. It preys mainly on rodents and is mostly nocturnal.

The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake can be a yellowish gray, pale blue, or pinkish ground color. The diamond shapes down its length are dark with pale white borders. The tail is white with jet-black rings. The head markings include a pale oblique band from nostril to upper labials, and a similar but narrower band behind the eye.1

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Western Diamondback Rattlesnake In Action

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake on Defense in White Sands National Park
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake on Defense in White Sands National Park

Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are aggressive and easily excitable. This species causes more fatalities than any other snake in the United States. They are not apt to attack offensively, but are defensive. Their rattles are used as a warning sign. Their rattles can activate at 40 to 60 cycles a second. The Western Diamondback assumes the threat posture by slightly flattening the body, rolling it together into a spiral, lifting the forebody from the ground into an S-shape, and keeping the tail raised and the rattle rattling.1

Ritualized fighting has been observed in Western Diamondback Rattlesnake males. Fighters lift their forebodies up 31.5 in (80 cm) in the air, wrap them around each other, orienting head to head. They keep moving in a surging movement back and forth until one of the males backs off. Common predators of Western Diamondback Rattlesnake include hawks, bald eagles, roadrunners, and wild turkeys.1

In the fall, Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes begin migrating to winter hibernacula (the winter quarters of a hibernating animal). In warmer habitats, these hibernacula are fairly makeshift, being found in rock crevices or convenient holes. In colder habitats, such as prairie grasslands, populations are forced to use the holes and tunnels of burrowing mammals, especially the prairie dog. Although prairie dogs may block off the Rattlesnake with an earthen plug, these animals tend to abandon burrows that have been taken over by snakes. During hibernation, populations concentrate in a den together. Rattlesnakes are known to be nocturnal hunters, and are less active diurnally (active chiefly in the daytime).1

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Where to Spot Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in Big Bend National Park
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in Big Bend National Park

The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake ranges from central and western Texas, through southern New Mexico and Arizona, and into southern California. It also extends well into central Mexico. Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes inhabit dry, rocky, shrub-covered terrain where they can conceal themselves inside crevices in the rocks or in mouse holes.1

The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake can be found in over 7 National Parks and many other National Park Service sites.2 Including:

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Western Diamondback Rattlesnake Conservation Status

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Largely due to the risk and danger of snake bites, rattlesnakes have come to instill paranoia and fear in humans. As a result, there are numerous forms of rattler control, such as bounties, poisons, traps, and the destruction of food supplies and refuges. However, Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are a highly successful and fertile species, and therefore are not currently threatened by any forms of mass destruction or species control.1

Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are good at controlling rodent problems. They also keep well in captivity, which makes it a good educational resource in zoos and snake shows. Rattlesnakes are key in Native American culture, in which their flesh, oil, and venom have been used as a food source and as a basis for medicinal preparations for a long time. Rattlesnake skins are regularly used for skin products such as shoes and belts. Rattlesnakes are also prominent on the live-snake market, where they sell for $2 to $3 per foot.1


Western Diamondback Rattlesnake and You

Have you seen a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in it’s natural environment? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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‘We got some of the above information from the following:
1: Animal Diversity Web – Crotalus Atrox – Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
2: NPSpecies – Find Parks Where a Species is Found

Check out these recent posts from Discover Our Parks:

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