Western diamondback rattlesnake and the power of their venom



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Western diamondback rattlesnake and the power of their venom

Western diamondback rattlesnakes possess hollow, canaliculate venom teeth lined with membranous tissue, capable of injecting venom and can regulate the amount of venom when they bite. They generally inject a larger dose when they are hunting prey for food but may inject less venom or none at all during a defensive or warning attack.

However, a fearful or injured snake may not be able to exercise such control. Even the baby rattlesnake are very dangerous and must be treated with the same precautions as the adults as they are already equipped with venom sacs.

Most rattlesnake species have hemotoxic venom, destroying tissue, organs, and causing coagulopathy (inability to clot blood). Those who suffer rattlesnake bites can have permanent scars even if they have had prompt intervention and the administration of the antivenom while a delay in treating the bite can lead to the loss of entire limbs due to necrosis or death.

Bites by rattlesnake species of large size if not treated promptly are often fatal, however the antivenom serum when applied in time drastically reduces the death rate to less than 4% of cases. It is found in many states of the USA (the most desertic, the south-western regions such as Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas) and in Mexico, in the north-east.

Their life expectancy is around 20-25 years, generally less due to hunting and human expansion in their natural habitats. The rattlesnake has a solitary life except during the breeding season; it is among the more aggressive species found in North America and rarely flees when annoyed or threatened.

When annoyed, they begin to wag their tail, at the end of which is the crackle, which has the function of warning the aggressor. It seems that snakes that live near population centers have learned not to use their rattle too often to avoid being killed or captured.

During the cold season, they hibernate in caves or bury themselves underground. They are bad climbers. Adult specimens have no natural predators. Eagles, hawks, red-tailed buzzards can instead hunt young specimens. Rattlesnakes remain inactive from late October to early March, although they have occasionally been seen basking in the sun even in winter if the temperature gets high enough.