The pigmy rattlesnake is one of the not-so-notorious pit vipers found in the United States. That, however, doesn’t mean you can toy around with it, if it surfaces in your garden one fine day.
The pigmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius), spelled as the pygmy rattlesnake at times, is a species of pit viper native to the southeastern United States. The species is known to produce a feeble sound (buzzing sound) with its tiny rattle―a characteristic rattlesnake trait―that can only be heard from a few feet.
Pigmy Rattlesnake Facts
At 38 – 56 cm, it is smaller than the rattlesnakes belonging to genus Crotalus. It is characteristically marked by 9 large scales on top of its head. The base color of the pigmy rattlesnake can range from red to orange. Most species, however, bear a reddish tan and have a black strip that runs down from the eye to the mouth. Rows of spots are common to all pigmy subspecies.
According to latest findings, there are three subspecies of the pigmy rattle snake: the Dusky pigmy rattlesnake (S. m. barbouri), Carolina pigmy rattlesnake (S. m. miliarius) and the Western pigmy rattlesnake (S. m. Streckeri).
The Dusky pigmy rattlesnake populates regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, and are also present in Piedmont, albeit a scattered population. The Carolina pigmy rattler is found in the northeastern, northwestern, and central portion of Georgia and throughout South Carolina. And as for the western pigmy species, its range spans eastern Texas, Arkansas, southern Missouri, and north into southeastern Oklahoma.
The pigmy rattlesnake, given its petite size, can be rarely spotted. It spends most of its time hiding among leaf litter, burrows, or other hiding places. Its natural habitat spans flatwoods, creeks, streams, lakes, sandhills, mixed forests of pine and hardwoods, scrub pinewoods, marshes, swamps, floodplains, longleaf pine-wiregrass forests, and xeric uplands. Hiding in such places, the snake can ambush its prey with ease. It usually feeds on lizards, frogs, birds, small mammals, and large insects.
The venom of this snake, although hemorrhagic (which destroys red blood cells) and tissue toxic by nature, is not life-threatening. However, its bite may cause extreme pain and even cause loss of a digit, if left untreated. The venom has enough strength to immobilize a small mammal within 35 – 40 seconds. Similar to the behavior exhibited by other pit vipers, even this snake leaves its prey after having laid its fangs on it. Later, the snake tracks the scent of the injured prey and feeds on it after it dies.
This species falls under the classification of pit vipers because of its facial pits, which are situated below and between the eye and nostrils on both sides of its head. These pits are essential for the survival of this species as they serve as infrared sensors allowing the snake to locate its prey; even predators at times.
The pigmy rattlesnake is included in the list of protected animal species by the North Carolina and Tennessee law. However, in South Carolina or Georgia, it does not have any protection status. As for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it has the pigmy rattler enlisted as a Least Concerned species in its Red List of Threatened Species.