Speckled Rattlesnake

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My first example of this snake I found in the daytime in Valley of Fire State Park (NV), most of the others I have encountered while roadhunting at night in Nevada and Arizona. This is a venomous species found in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

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The Speckled Rattlesnake is not a particularly large snake; most measure 2 to 3 feet in length. This species varies in color, often matching the earth tones of the rocks and soil in its habitat. Some occur in beautiful shades of orange or pink.

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Like all rattlesnakes, this reptile has heat-sensing pits on either side of its head with which it detects warm-blooded prey. The pits are located in between the nostril and the eye.

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With a scientific name of Crotalus mitchellii, it is named in honor of Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914), a medical doctor who also studied rattlesnake venom.

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The Speckled Rattlesnake eats mice, rats, lizards and birds. It uses venom injected through its long, hollow, retractable fangs to kill and begin digesting its prey.

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This is an alert, nervous species most often associated with rocky hillsides and outcrops. In older literature, this snake is known as the Faded, Bleached and Granite Rattlesnake.

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Mojave Rattlesnake

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By far the most commonly encountered venomous snake that I’ve come across on my many visits to the Mojave Desert is this one.

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This highly venomous pit viper native to deserts in the southwestern United States is perhaps best known for its potent neurotoxic/hemotoxic toxin, which is considered the world’s most potent rattlesnake venom.

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The Mojave Rattlesnake’s color varies from shades of brown to pale green. The green version has led to them being known as “Mojave greens” in some areas. Like the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, which it closely resembles, it features a dark diamond pattern along its back.

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This is not a particularly large snake – adults average about three feet in length. It lives mainly in the high desert and lower mountain slopes. Its habitat may vary from the dry desert to grasslands and scrub.

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The Mojave Rattlesnake eats Kangaroo rats and other rodents. It is primarily nocturnal, hiding under crevices or in burrows during the hot day. I’ve only encountered one in the daytime, but have seen dozens over the years crossing roads at night.

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Like other rattlesnakes, it gives live birth, averaging eight offspring. Baby rattlesnakes are born fully formed, ready to hunt, completely independent from their parents and able to defend themselves.

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The Mojave Rattlesnake is one of the world’s most venomous snakes; it’s therefore always a thrill to encounter one while exploring the southwest.

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Timber Rattlesnake

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Adaptable with a wide range, this is the only rattlesnake in most of the populous northeastern United States. This species is found in deciduous forests in rugged terrain. I have encountered them several northeast states, including southern Illinois on my trip there last month.

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Adult Timber Rattlesnakes are typically from 3 to 5 feet in length. They have a pattern of dark brown or black crossbands on a yellowish brown or grayish background. The crossbands have irregular zig-zag edges, and may be V-shaped or M-shaped. Often a rust-colored stripe down the back is present.

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This reptile is potentially one of North America’s most dangerous snakes, due to its long fangs, impressive size, and high venom yield; fortunately it tends to have a rather mild disposition. Contrary to popular belief, Timber Rattlesnakes are shy, retiring creatures that wish nothing more than to be left alone.

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These serpents eat a wide range of small birds and mammals, including rodents, moles and rabbits. When it comes to hunting, they have a specialized adaptation. Like all pit vipers, these snakes have heat-sensitive pits located on each side of the head. These sensors help them hone in on warm blooded prey.

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Timber Rattlesnakes give birth to live young in Autumn. When born, a young rattlesnake has a single “button” at the end of its tail. With each shed a new segment is added to its rattle. The segments are loosely attached and when the snake vibrates its tail they shake against one another, making the “rattle” sound.

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Rattlesnakes are found only in the Americas.

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Arizona Black Rattlesnake

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Driving through the Cerbat Mountains in Arizona on Memorial Day, I was enjoying the weather and the variety of wildflowers in bloom. Then, up ahead in the road, I noticed the unmistakable shape of a rattlesnake in the road. The snake’s presence in a high-altitude habitat and its dark coloration distinguishes it from other subspecies of the western rattlesnake.

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Like other Pit Vipers, the Arizona Black Rattlesnakes is venomous and have a broad, wedge-shaped head much wider than their neck, large, erectable fangs that it uses to inject venom into their prey or predators, and heat-sensing pit organs in front of their eyes that they use to detect warm-blooded prey like rodents and birds.

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Arizona Black Rattlesnakes were initially considered to be a subspecies of the Prairie Rattlesnake. Until recently, they were then instead considered to be a subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake. Now, after DNA analysis, Arizona Black Rattlesnakes are considered to be their own species, Crotalus cerberus.

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When threatened, a rattlesnake will often (but not always) rattle its tail, producing a loud, dry rattling sound meant to warn threats to go away. A rattlesnake may also coil up into a tight, defensive posture, puffing itself up and arching its back to make itself look more threatening.

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Like others of their kind, Arizona Black Rattlesnakes produce live offspring. The babies are usually born between August and October. This was the first species of snake observed to exhibit complex social behavior, and parenting behavior reminiscent of that in mammals. Females often remain with their young in nests for several weeks, and mothers have been observed cooperatively parenting their broods.

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Northern Copperhead

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This snake averages to 24-36 inches in length and has an hourglass pattern that runs the length of its body. This reptile is well-named named, because of its distinctive feature of a copper or bronze-colored top and sides of the head.

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It’s coloration and pattern act as camouflage, as tan, brown and rust-colored bands allow the Northern Copperhead to disappear easily into dried up, fallen leaves, sticks and limbs.

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Typically, these snakes use rock outcrops or rocky areas with talus slopes for cover, feeding and as entrance ways to subterranean hibernating quarters. They have a wide range in their diet, which includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and even insects.

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Northern Copperheads give birth to live babies. Young copperheads are more grayish in color than adults and possess bright yellow or greenish yellow tail tips, which arer used to lure prey. The Northern Copperhead is a venomous snake, though is relatively mild and its bite is rarely fatal to humans.

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Like rattlesnakes and water moccasins, copperheads are pit vipers. Pit vipers have heat-sensory pits between eye and nostril on each side of head, which are able to detect minute differences in temperature, so that the snake can accurately strike the source of heat, which is often potential prey.

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It’s always a thrill to come across one of these beautiful and well-camoflauged snakes when out herping. Last weekend I saw two while visiting southern Illinois, and they were welcome finds

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Northern Pacific Rattlesnake

The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake is the most widely distributed venomous reptile in California; it is one of the nine subspecies of the western rattlesnake. The one pictured below is a baby that was born last year.

This rattlesnake is one of the most broadly tolerant of all rattlers in its choice of habitats, though they prefer areas with rocky areas and ledges. It can be found at higher elevations than any other rattlesnake – up to 9,000 feet.

The snake preys upon small mammals, birds and lizards. It uses its tongue and heat sensing pits (the holes in its face between the eyes and nostrils) to hunt.

It uses venom to kill and break down the tissue of the animal, which helps to digest the victim. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake hunts during the day on warm days, but waits until nightfall when the days become really hot.

Rattlesnakes add a rattle to their string each time their skin is shed. The rattle is composed of hardened keratin, the same material as a human’s fingernails.

Adult snakes typically reach 24-60 inches in length. They are stout and have fairly large eyes with vertical pupils and a long, dark cheek patch. Often the blotches that run down the snake’s back become bands further down, giving the snake a “raccoon tail.”

Rattlesnakes are live-bearing, and typically give birth to between 2 and 8 young in mid-September to October. Newborn rattlesnakes are fully venomous but lack a rattle; they have a small, modified scale at the tip of their tail called a “button.”

Though feared, rattlesnakes are valuable predators, and likely an important control agent for some species of small mammals.

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Western Cottonmouth

Greetings from southern Illinois. Let’s see what kind of cool stuff that can be found in the next few days. The first snake of the trip was this young Western Cottonmouth.

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The cottonmouth is a dark, stout, thick-bodied venomous snake. The name “cottonmouth” is derived from the snake’s habit of opening its mouth in a defensive posture when it feels threatened. Other names for this snake are “water moccasin” and “trap jaw.”

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This is a snake that is usually found in or around water. When swimming, the cottonmouth holds its head above water with most of its body barely touching the surface.

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The young wiggle their tails so that the yellow tip appears to be a small worm. When small frogs and lizards see the wriggling tail, they think it’s something to eat and rush forward to grab it, only to be eaten by the baby cottonmouth.

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Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Driving on a deserted dirt byway last night, I saw this up ahead in the road. The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake has such a hold on the human psyche, that it has been a symbol of the American Southwest from prehistoric into historic times. It figures in ancient mythology, ceramics and rock art and in modern story and media.

The Western Diamondback, which can exceed seven feet in length, is the king of our twenty odd species and sub-species of Southwestern desert rattlers, not only in terms of size, but also in terms of its fearsome reputation.

This reptile is equipped with a venom, elliptical pupils and heat-sensing facial pits. It has reserve fangs to replace any which break off. The pits, in effect, infrared detectors, guide the snake to warm blooded prey such as rodents, even in the total darkness. Its rattles – a distinguishing feature it shares only with other rattlesnakes – grow segment by segment, each rattle the remnant of a shed skin.

From the sheer standpoint of size, it ranks as one of the world’s largest and most dangerous snakes. They are largely defensive and tend to stand their ground if provoked.

Eventually, after taking a few photos, the snake went on its way and I went on mine. It’s always exciting to encounter one of these impressive snakes in the field.

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