Rattlesnake, Canebrake


Crotalus horridus atricaudatus  


It’s length ranges from 35 to 75 inches. The northern variation of color is yellow-brown or gray to black with cross-bands. The southern variation has a yellow-brown or pink-gray background with tan or red-brown cross-bands. They all have a dark stripe behind the eye and keeled scales of 23 -25 rows. 

Family

Viperidae

Order

Squamata

Class

Reptilia

Range

Canebrake rattlesnakes range from New Hampshire and Lake Champlain, south to northern Florida, and west to southeastern Minnesota and central Texas.

Habitat

This particular rattlesnake lives in uninhabited rocky highlands, wooded hillsides in the North. In the South, it lives in and near swamps and canebrake thickets.

Life Expectancy

The record longevity in captivity is 29 years.

Sexual Maturity

The female rattlesnake matures in three to four years, and the reproductive to non- reproductive female ratio is 6-1.

Diet

In the wild, they eat birds, small mammals, reptiles, and insects. In the Zoo, they are fed, rats and mice.

Status

IUCN - Least Concern

Behaviors

The canebrake rattlesnake is a mild tempered, venomous pit viper. To warn any animal or human that stumbles upon or corners it, this rattlesnake will first try to escape. If it cannot escape, it may vibrate its rattle (at the end of the tail) and strike repeatedly with its mouth either opened or closed. If neither of these techniques works, the rattlesnake may resort to biting. The strike of a rattlesnake is lightning quick. The attack stance of rattlers is well known. They rise vertically with head and neck forming an S, then thrust forward with fangs exposed. Another common behavior of rattlers is ritualized fighting among the males. It often occurs just before mating season. They lift their bodies and wrap themselves around each other, moving back and forth in a swaying motion, trying to pin each other down. In warmer months, timber rattlesnakes are lone predators. During summer, they are migratory. They roam several miles from their winter den and do not have a permanent home. In winter, they hibernate up to 7 months, returning to the same den each year. These dens are often in rocky crevices and usually accommodate 15-60 snakes. Canebrake rattlesnakes mate in autumn and shortly after hibernation. Females usually give birth in late August to early October every two to three years. Five to seventeen young, each 10 to 13 inches long, are produced. The majority of their diet consists of mammals, which make up 94% of the diet. Mice, rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks are most common in their diet.

Adaptions

The canebrake rattlesnake is a pit viper, which means it senses heat radiation from openings near the nostrils. The canebrake rattlesnake punctures the skin with two fangs that fold back up into the roof of its mouth when closed. The venom of the snake enters through a groove in each tooth. The venom is made of complex proteins that enters the bloodstream and destroys blood cells and tissues.

Special Interests

The canebrake rattlesnake is also called the timber rattlesnake. It was once considered a separate species from the timber rattlesnake but is now just considered to be another color phase of the timber rattlesnake. Crotalus actually translates from the Greek word krotalon, which means a “rattle.” Horridus is the Latin word for “standing on end.” Together they describe the rattler’s stalking pose. The regularity with which people kill a snake first and ask questions later might lead you to believe that the world is overrun with venomous snakes. In fact, venomous snakes only make up approximately 10% of snake species worldwide.

Folklore

The power of killing with a gaze was attributed to American snakes, especially the rattlesnake. Cotton Mather even reported an incident in which somebody hit a rattlesnake with a stick and the venom passed up through the weapon, causing his hand to swell. The event is nearly identical with the account of a man who attacked a basilisk with a spear. Similar occurrences were reported by many explorers and found their way into highly respected books of natural history. The power of the rattlesnake to kill with a gaze was known as “charming” or “fascination.” The snake, explorers reported, used a sort of hypnosis, compelling birds and rodents to approach against their wills. The victim would either move straight into the jaws of the rattler or, often, simply drop dead of fear. The belief that the rattlesnake could kill with a glance is, in fact, a variant of an ancient and very widespread folk belief known as the “evil eye,” the capacity to cause ill luck or even death with a gaze. Legends usually ascribe this ability to people, more rarely to snakes and other animals. The very word, “fascination,” that refers to the conquests by a rattlesnake, is also common in describing spells cast by people with the evil eye. Snakebites often occur when people attempt to pick up a snake. One US tale tells of a young girl who was trudging along a mountain path, trying to reach her grandmother’s house. It was bitter cold, and the wind cut like a knife. When she was within sight of her destination, she heard a rustle at her feet. Looking down, she saw a snake. Before she could move, the snake spoke to her. He said, “I am about to die. It is too cold for me up here, and I am freezing. There is no food in these mountains, and I am starving. Please put me under your coat and take me with you.”

Conservation

Canebrake rattlesnakes are disappearing from most of their range. The canebrake rattlesnake has suffered a great deal from human persecution, exacerbated by a widespread, but mistaken, belief that they are a significant threat to people and livestock. Fear of snakes is pervasive in our society, learned at an early age from folklore and adult attitudes toward snakes, as well as from persistent negative images of snakes in religion and the entertainment industry. Canebrake rattlesnakes are harassed and killed on a routine basis, both out of fear and ignorance, and by commercial hunters, who sell body parts for leather, meat and trinkets. History is filled with stories of rattlesnake dens being dynamited or filled with concrete. The canebrake rattlesnake is a species of concern. Populations of timber rattlesnakes are rapidly being depleted across the species’ range. The main causes are habitat destruction, snake hunting, and commercial collection for the pet trade. Several states have passed laws protecting the timber rattlesnake, but it is not on the threatened species list in many states. The species is not in serious danger but is headed in that direction unless efforts are made to protect it.

Jacksonville Zoo History

It is not known for certain that the canebrake rattlesnake was in the Zoo’s animal collection prior to February 5, 1966, when the first records of this species appear. Some unnamed rattlesnakes were in the collection as early as 1915.

Exhibit

Wild Florida