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Tag Archives: Rattlesnakes

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Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake Facts – the World’s Largest Rattler

Eastern DiamondbackToday I’d like to cover a snake that, while not suitable as a pet, stands out in the minds of many as North America’s most impressive serpent – the Eastern Diamondback (Crotalus adamanteus). In my youth, the nearby Staten Island Zoo’s Reptile House was under the direction of the legendary Carl Kauffeld.  The collection contained every known rattlesnake species but, somehow, a massive pair of Eastern Diamondbacks stood apart.  Several years ago, I was thrilled to be chosen as consultant for the renovation of this building , and Rattlesnakes, including the Eastern Diamondback, again take center stage there.


The record length of this largest of the world’s 33 rattlesnake species is 8 feet, 3 inches; most adults top out at 3-6 feet.   In the USA, only the Indigo, Bull, Gopher and Black Rat Snakes approach or, very rarely, exceed this measurement.

The background color of this heavy-bodied, venomous snake ranges from olive through brown to (rarely) near-black.  The back is patterned in white-centered dark diamonds that are sharply outlined in cream or yellow.

Captives have lived in excess of 22 years, but longevity in the wild has not been well-studied. Read More »

Rattlesnakes – an Overview of the Most Highly Evolved Serpents

The subjects of today’s article, while not suitable pets under any circumstances, still hold great interest for reptile enthusiasts. Today we’ll take a look at some of their unique characteristics.

Rattlesnake Central

Growing up in NYC, I had the distinct pleasure of easy access to the Staten Island Zoo’s Reptile House, which was lorded over by the man known worldwide for introducing a generation of aspiring herpetologists to snake keeping – Carl Kauffeld. At the time, the zoo boasted a collection containing every known Rattlesnake species. Several years ago, I was thrilled to be chosen as consultant on the Reptile House renovation, and today Rattlesnakes again take center stage there (please see photo below). Read More »

Cannibalism and Carrion-Feeding in Rattlesnakes (Genus Crotalus) and Water Moccasins (Agkistrodon piscivorus) – Research Update


Writing in the current issue of the journal Animal Behavior, researchers from the University of Grenada report that female Mexican lance-headed rattlesnakes frequently consume infertile eggs and non-living young after giving birth.  This is said to be the first documented case of cannibalism among rattlesnakes (please see below for my observations, however).  Interestingly, with a sole exception, the females did not consume young that were born alive, even though these remain inactive for several hours after birth, and appear (to us, at least!) to be dead.

Rattlesnakes bear live young, and females use up a great deal of energy and body mass during gestation (they do not feed while gravid).  It is theorized that consuming those young which are dead upon birth helps them to recover their strength.

Rattlesnake Cannibalism in another Species

While working with the comprehensive rattlesnake collection at NYC’s Staten Island Zoo, I had the opportunity to participate in breeding efforts for a number of species.  Most births occurred at night and were not filmed, so I cannot say if females of other species ever consumed non-living young.  However, newly born Neo-tropical rattlesnakes (Crotalus durissus) did consume litter-mates on two occasions.

Hog Fat and other Unusual Snake Foods

Contrary to popular belief, many snakes consume non-living prey (i.e. carrion) in the wild.  The most unusual incident I recall was a note published in the journal Herpetologica…a water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorous) was observed stripping fat from a road-killed feral hog!

Of the snakes I have worked with in the field and captivity, moccasins, indigo snakes, black racers and anacondas stand out as taking the widest variety of prey species, and each engages in cannibalism.  One particularly large moccasin I cared for consumed a northern water snake that shared its exhibit (not my idea – I had moved on by then!!).  I’m sure the same occurs in the wild, in areas where moccasins and various water snakes co-exist.

A Collection for Rattlesnake Aficionados

I had the wonderful opportunity of participating in the renovation of the Staten Island Zoo’s reptile house, former stomping ground of legendary snakeman Carl Kauffeld (known to all snake keepers as the author of Snakes, the Keeper and the Kept and Snakes and Snake Hunting).

As in former times, the zoo now boasts an impressive rattlesnake collection…please visit if you have the opportunity.  Pictured here are a few exhibits that I set up for the opening – Neo-tropical rattlesnakes, banded rock rattlesnakes and desert Massasaugas.

Further Reading

Lance-headed rattlesnake photos and natural history information are posted at:




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