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What Is the Biggest Rattlesnake?

By Sandi Johnson
Updated May 21, 2024
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Rattlesnakes are members of the Crotalus genus of pit vipers. Considered the most recently evolved genus of venomous snakes, 32 known species and more than 60 subspecies of rattlesnakes are currently recognized. They are indigenous to the western hemisphere, appearing primarily in North America. Of the recognized species, diamonds or diamondbacks are the largest, so named for the characteristic diamond-shaped markings along the length of the snakes' body. Specifically, eastern diamondbacks are the biggest rattlesnake species, growing as long as 8 feet (2.4 meters) and weighing as much as 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms.)

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, also known as southeastern diamondbacks, southern woodland rattlers, or Florida diamondbacks, belong to the Crotalus adamanteus species. Characteristics include larger, wider heads than most pit vipers, with noticeably visible pits — an organ resembling nostrils on either side of the snake's head. Pits are used for hunting, allowing rattlers to identify and locate prey based on body heat. The name diamondback stems from the brown diamond-shaped markings along the snake's body, outlined in pale to bright yellow scales. Although eastern diamondbacks are the biggest rattlesnake to feature such markings, other diamondbacks have similar patterns in different colors and levels of contrast.

All diamondbacks, including the eastern diamondback, have evolved to fit perfectly into the specific ecological needs of each species' natural habitat, maintaining size and eating habits as appropriate. For example, the red diamondback rattlesnake is the biggest rattlesnake species in the San Diego, California area, surviving on mammals and amphibians native to the region. Alternatively, eastern diamondbacks are indigenous to the southeastern United States and feed exclusively on mammals such as rabbits and squirrels. More abundant and larger prey have contributed to the eastern diamondback's evolution and place as the biggest rattlesnake of all Crotalus species.

In terms of habitats, eastern diamondbacks will occupy abandoned burrows, holes left by fallen trees, and other covered areas where nests can be protected. Preferring drier habitats, eastern diamondbacks typically avoid nesting in immediate areas surrounding lakes, streams, or swamps, but frequent these areas to hunt. Some have even been known to swim across bodies of water to reach preferred hunting grounds. Like most rattlesnakes, diamondbacks prefer thick vegetation when hunting, to better aid ambushing prey.

Unlike other snakes, diamondbacks do not lay eggs in the nest, instead giving birth to live young once every two to three years. Known as ovoviviparous snakes, diamondbacks mate in spring or fall, with females carrying eggs internally for a few months before giving birth to several young. Within hours, young rattlers leave the nest to pursue prey and establish a separate domicile. It can take several years for a young eastern diamondback to reach its full weight and length.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the biggest species of rattlesnake?

The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) holds the title for the largest rattlesnake species. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, these formidable serpents can grow up to 8 feet in length, although the average size is closer to 3 to 6 feet. They are known for their distinctive diamond-shaped patterns and potent venom.

How much can the largest rattlesnake weigh?

An Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake can weigh up to 10 pounds, with some exceptional individuals exceeding this average. The heaviest recorded Eastern Diamondback, according to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, weighed a massive 15 pounds, showcasing the impressive size these snakes can achieve.

Where can the largest rattlesnakes be found?

The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is native to the southeastern United States. They are commonly found in states like Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, inhabiting dry, sandy areas, pine forests, and coastal scrub habitats. Their range extends from North Carolina down to Florida and west to Louisiana.

What do the largest rattlesnakes eat?

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes are carnivorous predators that primarily feed on small mammals, such as rabbits and rodents. They are ambush hunters, using their camouflage to surprise prey, delivering a venomous bite to subdue it before consumption. Birds and other small animals also form part of their diet.

How dangerous is the venom of the largest rattlesnake?

The venom of the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is highly toxic and can be fatal to humans if not treated promptly with antivenom. It contains hemotoxins that can cause tissue damage, hemorrhaging, and disrupt blood clotting. However, fatalities are rare due to the availability of medical treatment and the snake's general avoidance of humans.

Are the largest rattlesnakes protected or endangered?

While not currently listed as endangered, the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake faces threats from habitat loss, vehicle strikes, and intentional killing. Conservation efforts are in place to protect their habitats and educate the public about these snakes. The IUCN lists them as "Least Concern," but their populations are declining in some areas.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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