Until I started doing research about snakes, I thought ‘the only good snake was a dead snake!’ However, I found that snakes are important in keeping nature balanced.
The Rattler’s Habitat
The rattler evolved in hot and dry locations and that is where he prefers to stay. Only the Massassauga (Sistrurus catenatus) rattler tolerates moist places.
Rattlesnakes live in desert regions, agricultural fields and they often migrate to high, dry woods for summer.
Their rattle would not function well if the rattlesnake had to swim, burrow or climb. The rattles are of the same substance as your fingernails.
Why Rattlers are Called Pit Vipers
Rattlers, and their close cousins, are pit vipers. This refers to the pits situated on either side of their faces.
These facial pits are actually sense organs that detect heat. That means that they can detect objects that are warmer than their surroundings — which usually means another animal.
These pits are so sensitive that they can figure out the exact location of their prey by comparing the differences in messages coming to each pit (somewhat like triangulating their prey’s position)!
The rattler’s pits can detect warm and cold-blooded prey! They also help the rattler find the best place to sink their fangs; they rarely miss the chest region of their prey!
The facial pits of rattlers limit their choice of habitat — they would not work well in water, while burrowing into sand or while climbing!
A Rattler’s Dining Options
Because of those ‘heat-seeking’ pits, it isn’t surprising that rattlers eat warm-blooded mammals. In fact, about 85% of their dining selections are mammals.
Certainly, what rattlers eat depends on the size of the snake and its situation. It is most likely that the rattler is indifferent to seeking out specific mammals.
Biologists show that rattlers will eat whatever is available — and what will fit in their mouths!
Maintaining Ecological Balance
Rattlers control populations of squirrels, rodents, rabbits, hares, ground-nesting birds, lizards and other snakes.
They help farmers by controlling the numbers of rodents and other small animals that would spoil or decimate agricultural products.
Soon: The Rattlesnake’s Tongue & Jacobson’s Organ
‘Mojave Rattlesnake’ used by permission of Vantage Point Graphics
This blog is a companion to my website: GreatGhilliesAndGraphics.com