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What is a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake?

By J.M. Densing
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The Western Diamondback rattlesnake is a poisonous large snake with a pattern of diamond-shaped blotches along the length of its body. It tends to bite humans if it feels threatened, and immediate medical attention is required in these cases. It is often found in southwestern North America in hot, dry habitats. It is a carnivore that usually hunts at night. Reproduction is viviparous, with young born in the late summer.

Generally the Western Diamondback rattlesnake is quite large; it can grow as long as 7 feet (2.1 m), although a length of 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 m) is the average. The Western Diamondback is the largest type of rattlesnake found in western North America. The snake has a broad, triangular head with stripes that run from the jaw to the eye on each side of the face. The base color can vary depending on location; it ranges from shades of a pinkish color to brown or grey with black or brown diamond-shaped blotches along its body.

The rattles of the Western Diamondback grow as the snake does, adding a segment each time the snake sheds its skin. There are several dark colored rings on the tail in front of the rattles which are often a lighter color than the rest of the body. When threatened, the snake stands its ground, coiling its body and rattling to warn or scare its attacker away. If this fails, it will strike quickly. The venom of the Western Diamondback rattlesnake is highly toxic, causing severe tissue damage, swelling, and bleeding. It can be deadly without immediate medical assistance, making this snake one of the most dangerous in the world.

The native area of the Western Diamondback rattlesnake is located in the North American southwest, including Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and parts of Mexico. Habitats include hot, dry areas like desert brush, mountains, rocky canyons, grasslands, and plains. In the coldest winter months the snakes hibernate in community dens. It's often seen basking in the sun, but it's mainly nocturnal and rests during the heat of the day. It is carnivorous, frequently preying on mice, rats, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, and sparrows.

The breeding season of the Western Diamondback rattlesnake is usually in the spring, and males often fight each other for the choice of female mates. After mating, the female carries the babies inside her body; these snakes are viviparous meaning they give birth to live young rather than lay eggs. The eight to 25 young snakes are usually born in late summer, each measuring about 8 to 13 inches (20 to 33 cm) long. The young are born with fangs and venom and live independently right away.

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