It's All in the Name!
The AIM-9 Sidewinder, an infrared air-to-air missile used by the U.S. Navy, got its name from the venomous rattlesnake 'Crotalus cerastes', commonly known as Sidewinder, which uses its infrared sensory organs to aid it to hunt for warm-blooded prey.
Heard a sudden rattling sound that has sent a chill down your spine? Well, that's a rattler. Rattlesnakes don't enthrall you just by their grace and agility, they are also famed for their fatal bites. Welcome to the world of the rattlesnakes, who along with the Coral snake, the Copperhead, and the Cottonmouth Water Moccasin, form the group of venomous snakes in US, that strike terror in everyone's hearts. They have hemotoxic venom that destroys red blood cells, attacks tissues, and dissolves the organs of their victims.
A rattlesnake bite, if not treated on time, is usually fatal. Although its poison gives us a reason to paint a negative picture of this serpent, the fact is that it spits its venom at human beings only in self defense. If we could view it devoid of its 'killing' effect, facts show that these are amazing creatures in their own right.
They get their name from the rattling noise that they produce, by making the rattles strike against each other as the tail vibrates. These rattles are hollow bead-like structures that are actually modified scales of the tail. The rattling sound acts as a warning signal for predators.
Rattlesnakes are rather drab. They do not display bright colors like some other snakes. They tend to camouflage themselves with their surroundings, and are therefore black, brown, olive, gray or tan, with diamond or band patterns on them.
They have a broad, triangular head, and eyes with vertical pupil just like cats. Their body is thick and muscular, and they can grow to an average of 3 to 4 feet in length. However, the Eastern Diamondback snake is the largest kind, and can grow up to 8 feet long.
Rattlesnakes are pit vipers. They have a hollow spot or pit between the eyes, and a nostril that is super-sensitive to heat or thermal radiation. This sensory organ helps them hunt for warm-blooded prey.
Most rattlesnakes have 8 to 10 segments, and the more the rattles, louder the noise. These rattles break off at times, only to be replaced by new ones.
These slithering beauties feed on rodents like mice, rats, small animals, and sometimes even birds. They usually wait for their prey outside their holes, and on spotting them, kill them with their venomous bite. Once the prey is bitten, the snake lets it go and follows it till it is dead. It is then that the snake devours his prey, head first.
The elliptical pupils of a rattlesnake helps it to see objects as far as 40 feet away, at night. Their forked tongue enables them to pick up air particles that give them the hint that the direction their prey is at. Every time a rattlesnake folds its tongue back into its mouth, the air particles are transferred to the Jacobson's organ that carries the scent to the brain. The brain then instructs the reptile which direction to proceed towards.
They usually prefer a temperature of 80° F to 90° F, although they can survive in freezing temperatures as well. Very high temperatures can be fatal for them.
They hibernate during the winter months in underground dens in groups. Sometimes, hundreds of them gather together for hibernation, and come back every year to the same den.
It won't be wrong to say that rattlesnakes are mostly nocturnal creatures. In the summers, adult rattlers are mostly seen hunting for prey at night.
They can climb tress and are pretty good swimmers too. In fact, there are rattlers that prefer wet, swampy areas as their habitat.
The common myth that the age of the snake can be determined by the segments in its rattles is false. The rattle is added when the snake changes its skin, which can be more than once in a year. The rattles are made of keratin, just like human nails and hair.
Although the rattlesnake doesn't have any external ears, its other sensory organs make up for it. Its body senses the vibration on the ground to pick up sounds.
They store their venom behind or below their eyes, and release them through hollow fangs. These fangs fold back when not in use.
Rattlesnakes can bite even after being beheaded. In fact, there have been fatalities in the last few years when rattlesnakes have bitten even after its head had been severed.
The baby rattlesnake is born with a prebutton, which it sheds off after it loses its skin for the first time. To replace that, a new button or rattle is added.
Rattlesnakes reproduce once every three years, and unlike other snakes, they give birth to live young ones.
The babies have venom from birth, so don't get fooled by their size. In fact, baby snakes are more dangerous, as they strike repeatedly and their venom is as poisonous as the adults.
Around 8,000 people get snakes bites every year in the US, out of which more than 10 are fatal. However, 25% of the bites are dry bites, where no venom is released.
These snakes have a number of predators like king snakes, raccoons, weasels, ravens, crows and coyotes. The rattlesnake is a part of the king snake's natural diet, as it is immune to viper venom.
Rattlers do not always inject venom when they bite. This is called a dry bite, which means no venom was released into the body while biting. It is to be noted that venom is only a tool to hunt for prey, and the snake definitely doesn't want to waste it unless it is necessary for defense.
Contrary to popular belief, rattlesnakes are not generally aggressive. They do not bite unless they feel threatened. In fact, they avoid people and prefer places where they cannot be spotted by predators.
Arizona is home to 13 species of rattlers, making it the state with the most number of venomous snakes in the US.
The Western Diamondback, which is found in rocky and desert areas, kills more people in America than any other snake.
The Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake is indeed a special type. It's a rattlesnake without a rattle! This feature helps them in a way such that they can slither noiselessly towards their prey.