South from the Carolinas and west to Louisiana. Found throughout Florida including the keys.
Dry habitats from wooded areas to sandy beaches. Often live in gopher tortoise burrows or in stumps.
This is the largest venomous snake in North America. The average length is about five and a half feet. Record length is 96 inches.
The diamonds, dark brown or black in color, outlined by a row of yellow or cream-colored scales. Ground color is olive, brown, or almost black. A dark line runs through the eyes to the back of the jaw.
Diamondbacks lurk motionless in shadows for hours (ambush predator). When they are disturbed, their warning rattle is usually loud and clear. Rattlesnakes shed their skin several times a year, gaining one new rattle segment with each shed. Contrary to popular belief, there is no correlation between the number of rattles and the age of the snake. Also, as the rattle grows, the terminal rattles tend to become old, brittle and can break off when the snake is crawling through the underbrush.
This snake has fangs that are long (up to an inch), hinged and folded back against the roof of its mouth when the mouth is closed. When the snake strikes, the mouth opens and the fangs are erected. The hemotoxic venom travels down from the gland through a duct into a small canal running the length of the fang. This hollow curved tooth has an opening at the tip, similar to a hypodermic needle, through which the venom is injected. From a standing-coiled position, they can accurately strike at least one third of their body length. Due to the amount and complexity of their venom, and the size of their fangs, the bite of this snake is considered very dangerous.
Eight to 12 venomous young are born in September. Females are viviparous (retain egg sacs internally), the young hatch and give the appearance of live birth. The young have no parental care.
In the wild, Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes prey on mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels and birds.
This animal at the CFZ:
The Central Florida Zoo bred the Eastern Diamondback 4 years in a row – this had never been recorded previously in an AZA zoo. In those 4 years, our female produced 51 young - 16 of which were amelanistic (a form of albinism).
The rattle is composed of loosely attached shed segments of skin (keratin) that strike against one another to produce a buzzing sound when the tail is vibrated rapidly they are capable of vibrating their tail up to 105 cycles per second (one cycle = left to right). A button in very young snakes represents the rattle. A new segment is added at each shedding; the segments then become progressively larger as the snake reaches adult size. The button remains at the end of the string unless it is lost through wear or breaking of the fragile rattle. When measuring a rattlesnake the length of the rattle is not included.
Rattlesnakes occur only in the New World. There are about 30 species found from southern Canada to northern Argentina and Uruguay. Rattlesnakes are found in all 48 of the contiguous states except Maine and Delaware but are most numerous, in a variety of species and subspecies, in Mexico and the southeastern United States.
Status in the Wild:
“Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America”, R. Conant and Joseph Collins