The largest venomous snake in the U.S., the eastern diamondback rattlesnake may reach lengths of almost 8 feet. Their name comes from the distinctive series of black diamonds, outlined in white, running down their back.
PHYSICAL FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS:
As is the case in all rattlesnakes, the rattle segments accumulate with each shedding cycle of the skin. Because these are not annual events, one cannot estimate the age of the snake by counting the rattles. As pitvipers, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes also have the second set of infrared-sensitive eyes on the face in the form of two forward-facing pits that focus infrared images in the same manner as a pinhole camera, as well as the long, folding fangs used to inject venom into prey or potential predators.
LIFESTYLE AND REPRODUCTION:
These snakes may reach ages beyond 20 years of age. Unlike most snakes, the males are larger than the females. This may be a result of selection for large males that will win the arduous male–male, non-lethal wrestling contests that allow the winner to breed with a nearby female.
Females will produce a clutch of up to around 20 live-born babies that are especially large in size. The myth that baby diamondback rattlesnakes hide underground, and grow for a few years before surfacing, likely comes from the fact that few people realize that an 18-inch rattlesnake is actually a newborn. Like all other rattlesnakes yet studied, the female will stay with her young and protect them until their first shed cycle, at which time they will disperse on their own.
These snakes may usually be seen in their large habitat in the indoor gallery of Scaly Slimy Spectacular.
These historically ranged along the Coastal Plain of the southeastern U.S., from Louisiana to North Carolina, and the entire Florida Peninsula. They are now missing from parts of their historic range, with healthy populations appearing to persist only in parts of southern Georgia and Florida.
While usually associated with longleaf pine forests, these snakes also will use sandhills, pine flatwoods, coastal scrub, and other habitat types.
In the wild, these snakes eat primarily small mammals, especially cotton rats and cottontail rabbits, as well as some birds. An interesting exception appears to the Virginia opossum, an abundant mammal across their range, which immune to the venom of this rattlesnake. So, it is uncommon for opossums to fall prey to these large predators.