Rattlesnakes are venomous snakes categorized as the genus Crotalus. The name Crotalus is derived from Greek and means ‘castanet’. This is because when rattlesnakes sense danger, they make a loud, rattling sound with their tails, which sounds much like a castanet.
There are 36 species of rattlesnakes and between 65 and 70 subspecies, native to North and South America. Rattlesnakes are cause for the highest rates of snakebite injuries in North America. However, rattlesnakes rarely bite unless provoked or threatened.
Although rattlesnake bites are venomous, they do not often result in death. Rattlesnakes come in a range of colors; from shades of brown, grey and black, to tones of yellow, cream, rust, olive, and even light pink.
Each has its own unique pattern. Some have diamond shapes on their scales, others have bands or blotches, and some species have no pattern at all.
What do rattlesnakes eat?
What do rattlesnakes eat is largely determined by the range of habitats they can be found in. They are very adept at hunting and are easily able to ambush their prey due to their color and pattern, which camouflages very well with their environment.
They tuck themselves into a coil and wait for prey to approach. They then spring out suddenly to snatch the prey into their mouths. It then uses its poisonous fangs to inject its potent venom.
Then, instead of asking what do rattlesnakes eat, we should ask how do rattlesnakes eat; because after transmitting poison to their prey, rattlesnakes dislocate their entire jaws to eat the animal whole. The outline of the creature can often be made out in the body of the snake as it awaits its fate.
As different rattlesnake species vary in size, what do rattlesnakes eat can come down to how big or small they are. Bigger species tend to feed on a range of rodents, rabbits, squirrels and other small mammals. Smaller species of rattlesnake will eat lizards and small rodents.
Unlike most snakes, rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous, which means that they give birth to live young. However, they are not like mammals, as rattlesnake babies are formed inside eggs, which hatch inside of the female, so the young emerge already free from their shell.
Newborn rattlesnakes are born with the ability to hunt. After about a week after birth, they shed their first skin and begin to search for small prey. What do rattlesnakes eat is similar for both juveniles and small adult species, as they mostly feed on little lizards and small rodents.
How often do rattlesnakes have to eat?
Rattlesnakes hibernate throughout the winter, only emerging in the spring to eat during the warmer months. They eat around 40% of their body weight per annum. They also drink their entire body weight in water each year. As rattlesnakes eat their prey whole, it can take a long time to digest, so they can often go two to three weeks between meals.
Do coyotes eat rattlesnakes?
Rattlesnakes are prey for a large number of predators. Aerial predators like ravens, crows, owls, roadrunners, eagles, and hawks will all swoop down to the ground to catch rattlesnakes. Ground mammals like coyotes, foxes, skunks, weasels, possums, raccoons, and even cats, also eat them. Large snake species like the king snake and black snake has also been known to prey on rattlesnakes.