Crotalus adamanteus Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Diamondbacks are the largest venomous snake in the United States and the most dangerous snake in Florida. They are named for the distinctive segmented rattle on the end of their tail. The rattle consists of loosely connected, dry horny scales that produce a characteristic buzz when the tail tip is rapidly vibrated. Each time the snake sheds its skin, a new segment is added to the base of the rattle, but the number of segments in a rattle cannot be used to age a snake because rattlesnakes shed their skin several times a year, and segments break off.
Diamondback rattlesnakes are large, heavy-bodied snakes with a broad triangular head that is much larger than the neck. They are rough scaled, and gray to dark brown in color, patterned with pale-bordered diamond-shaped dark markings.
Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Diamondbacks can grow to a maximum length of 8 feet (2.4 m), but it is rare to see one more than 5 feet long. However, when you do see a live diamondback, it is not the length of the snake that is most impressive but the girth. A five-foot long rattlesnake is not the slender sinuous shape one usually associates with a snake, but can look almost as stout as a human leg
Diamondbacks have a striking range of 3 feet and their bite can deliver a large quantity of hemotoxic venom. They hunt by both actively foraging, and using sit-and-wait ambush techniques, preying on rabbits, squirrels, rodents and birds. They often lie in wait for prey beside logs, in dense stands of palmettos and among the roots of fallen trees. Once bitten, the prey is released and allowed to crawl off and die. The snake then follows the scent trail and swallows the victim, usually headfirst. In Florida rattlesnakes are active for most of the year, but in cold weather they hibernate in tortoise burrows, hollow logs or stumps and under the leaning trunks of saw palmettos.
Diamondback rattlesnakes bear live young. Females reproduce only every third or fourth year – it is thought that they need more than a year to rebuild their stores of body fat to a level at which they can breed.
Driving around Florida in the summer time, if you see a large snake kill at the side of the road it will almost certainly be a rattlesnake. Drivers seem to go out of their way to run them over.
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