Of all the snakes in the USA, the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is arguably the most intimidating. It is among the longest and heaviest types of venomous snakes. It’s extremely dangerous due to the toxicity of the venom that passes through its fangs.
As the most venomous snake in the USA, you should give an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake a wide berth if you see one in the wild. If a Diamondback feels threatened, it will bite you. This breed is not overly aggressive towards humans, and an anti-venom is available. Provided that antivenom is administered within six hours, you’re highly likely to make a full recovery.
It’s wise to learn how to deal with getting bitten if you live in or are visiting a high-risk area. Let’s explore some of the more interesting Eastern Diamond Rattlesnake facts.
Western vs. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes
- Eastern Diamondbacks are larger than their Western counterparts. An Eastern Diamondback can reach eight feet in length, though six feet is more likely. Western Diamondbacks usually peak at closer to four feet, five feet at the maximum.
- The Eastern Diamondback will have a larger head. The skull can weigh as much as ten pounds.
- Eastern Diamondbacks tend to be olive green or dark brown, with yellow scales. Western Diamondbacks, meanwhile, are closer in color to gray, pink or blue. They also have white bands on their scales, which you won’t find on an Eastern Diamondback.
- The Eastern Diamondback tends to dwell close to the coast from Mississippi to Louisiana. This can also be found in Florida and North Carolina. The Western Diamondback is native to Texas, New Mexico, California, and Arizona.
- Eastern Diamondbacks stay in their home territory, rarely moving. The Western Diamondback, meanwhile, will migrate to warmer climes during winter.
- Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes are comparatively shy and nervous. The Western Diamondback is more aggressive, and more likely to attack a human. The latter breed is responsible for the most snakebite-related fatalities in the U.S.
- Western Diamondbacks are considerably more populous than their Eastern equivalents. This species is much more fertile and social.
Where Do Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes Live?
They are found in the southeast of the USA. This snake is quite static, and tends to stay put once it finds a home. It’s extremely rare for an Eastern Diamondback outside its natural home.
They are most likely to live in an area with some degree of moisture. This means that they prefer to live in forests and wooded areas, or marshlands.
As these snakes like to hide and burrow, they will also seek out overgrown grass. This, coupled with the coloring of the Eastern Diamondback, helps the reptile hide and remain camouflaged.
They are far too heavy and bulky to climb comfortably. They may climb a tree to hunt birds when ground food is scarce, but it’s rare.
It takes time, and while climbing, the snake cannot defend itself. This snake is a strong swimmer, but is not aquatic by nature.
Eastern Diamondbacks are native to coastal areas as they enjoy moisture, but tend to avoid water. You may find them in the ocean or a swamp on occasion, though.
They are more likely to be found crawling throughout the undergrowth. These snakes also lay claim to gopher holes, where they hibernate, digest, and give birth.
Young Diamondbacks rarely leave the underground until they reach maturity, as they are hiding from predators. When they do leave their nest, Eastern Diamondbacks bask and feed early in the day. While not entirely nocturnal, this breed does come more to life at night and dawn.
What Do They Eat?
They prefer to wait for prey rather than actively hunt. These snakes camouflage themselves and hide among their surroundings, waiting for food to come to them.
The typical diet of an Eastern Diamondback is rodents, lizards, birds and small mammals such as young rabbits and squirrels. Once this snake reaches maturity, however, it can grow a little more ambitious. An adult Diamondback could eat an adult rabbit or hare, or even a wild turkey.
An Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake detects prey using heat pits located behind their nose. Every creature that this snake encounters will give off a different heat signature. This helps them to understand whether to hunt or flee when another animal is close.
When its find prey, it will lunge and strike, injecting the animal with venom. The snake then releases its prey, and waits for it to crawl away. The toxins found in the Eastern Diamondback’s fangs are comparatively fast-acting, so the prey quickly dies.
Once this process is complete, it will follow the animal and eat its carcass.
How Do I Know if They Will Attack?
Never assume that the Diamondback will shake its rattle before attacking. This is a popular myth about Rattlesnakes, and it has proved to be dangerous. It may or may not use their rattle as a final warning before striking. This reptile is just as capable of attacking in silence.
If you happen to notice an Eastern Diamondback coiling into an S-shape, you should back away. This is the attack stance of this snake, and it means they are preparing to strike.
If you encounter a Western Diamondback, a bite is more likely to take place. This breed is much more excitable and aggressive. Western Diamondbacks are less venomous, but arguably more dangerous due to their antagonistic nature.
Do They Bite Humans?
This is a nervous snake, but it doesn’t want to attract the attention of a human. Unlike the Western Diamondback, it’s not particularly aggressive and will rarely make the first antagonistic move.
As this breed spends so much time camouflaged and hiding, you could disturb one in error. Likewise, if you interrupt one while eating or digesting, they will be considerably more unfriendly. If an Eastern Diamondback does bite, you will need urgent medical attention.
Stay out of the way of Eastern Diamondbacks in the wild. Be clear you’re not a threat by putting plenty of distance between you and the snake. Diamondbacks can strike up to a third of their length, so you’ll need to be extremely cautious.
This should give the snake a chance to escape, which it will usually (but not always) take. If the Diamondback shows no signs of backing away, seek safety without making any sudden movements.
Are They Deadly to Humans?
The venom found in the fangs of an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is a hemotoxin. This means that it attacks red blood cells in humans.
This is very fast-acting venom, and it can cause damage to living tissue. Time will always of the essence if a Diamondback bites you. The longer you wait for treatment, the less likely you are to make a full recovery.
A single bite from an Easter Diamondback delivers a dose of 410 mg of dried venom. This is a potentially lethal dosage that is up to three times the level that is toxic to humans. The mortality rate (without antivenom) is as high as 1 in 5. This figure drops to 1 in 100 if antivenom is issued.
Even though adult Diamondbacks are much larger, younger snakes may be even more dangerous. This is because they are born poisonous, but have not yet mastered control of their venom. This is another reason not to rely on hearing a sound from the snake. Very young Diamondbacks do not yet have a rattle attached to their tail.
How Rattlesnake Venom Affect Humans
The bite symptoms of an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake are as follows:
- Searing, burning pain at the location of the bite.
- Profuse bleeding from the puncture wounds.
- Swelling and bruising around the affected area.
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
- Difficulty breathing and a sensation of the throat closing up.
- Loss of consciousness.
No matter how severe or mild these symptoms may appear, don’t delay. If an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake bites you, medical attention will be required to make a recovery.
What Should I Do if Bitten?
Stay calm, but seek emergency medical help. You should aim to reach in an emergency room within a few hours. This will reduce the risk of permanent and irreversible damage.
In the event of a bite, you should take the following steps:
- Remove yourself from the snake’s presence. Don’t retaliate with an attack of your own, as this will leave you open to another bite.
- Call for emergency help and explain that a Diamondback has bitten you. This relays the urgency of your predicament, and ensures that the ER has the appropriate antivenin.
- Address any bleeding from the wound site. Eastern Diamondbacks have very long fangs, which can lead to profuse bleeding. Bandage the punctures, but don’t apply a tourniquet. Remove any jewelry that may be preventing blood flow.
- Lie down, and keep the bitten area below the heart. Remain calm. The more excitable you become, the faster your heart will beat. This will distribute the venom around your body faster.
Don’t suck the venom from the wound, or apply any additional first aid. Only ab antivenin, administered by a medical professional, will be effective.
What Antivenom Is Required?
Extracting venom is called milking a snake. Despite the danger of the practice, it is a highly sought-after position. Scientists and herpetologists will extract the venom from a Diamondback’s fangs and study it. This is designed to generate and new and more effective antivenin treatments.
Crotalidae polyvalent immune fab, aka CroFab, is the antivenin used to treat Diamondback bites. This treatment was devised at the University of Arizona, and marketed by pharmaceutical company BTG.
If treatment is administered within six hours, it is usually effective. It combines venom from the Eastern Diamondback with the Western Diamondback, Cottonmouth and Mojave Rattlesnake breeds. CroFab has been in common use at hospitals throughout the U.S. since 2000.
What are the Predators?
When an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is very young, they are prey to many animals. Birds of prey are the most common antagonist, but Kingsnakes also make a meal of baby Diamondbacks. Coyotes, badgers, and foxes may also eat young Rattlesnakes.
If an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake makes it to around two years, they will be fully mature. It is believed that only around 20% of Diamondbacks live this long, however. Baby Rattlesnakes remain underground in an attempt at hiding from predators.
The natural bulk and hugely potent venom of this snake means it has no wild predators. This snake often falls prey to humans, who hunt it for the breed’s visually striking hide.
Also, some larger animals fear Diamondback snakes and kill them in acts of self-preservation. Wild deer, cattle, and horses, for example, may trample a Rattlesnake if they encounter one.
How Do They Protect Themselves?
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake will always prefer to avoid a confrontation in the first place. These snakes spend much of their time hiding away, hoping not to attract the attention of predators.
Sometimes, a hostile interaction is unavoidable. If a predator corners an Eastern Diamondback, the snake may rattle its tail. This is a final warning – but it does not always happen.
If an Eastern Diamondback has no other option, it will strike and bite in self-defense. Rattlesnakes are not constrictors, so the Diamondback will not hold on after striking.
As the venom in their fangs is so potent, this will buy the snake sometime. Whether the snake flees or attacks again depends on how frightened they are.
How Long Do They Live?
A well cared for Eastern Diamond Rattlesnake can expect to live for over twenty years in captivity. Naturally, this life expectancy is much lower in the wild. As discussed, young Diamondbacks are often picked off before they reach maturity.
How Do They Reproduce?
Females don’t reach sexual maturity before the age of two, and it could take six years. As discussed, many Rattlesnakes do not live this long. Also, unlike some snakes, Diamondbacks do not mate several times per season. A female may choose to reproduce just once every four years.
Mating season for the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is during the late summer and early fall. During this time, males will become a little more social in their search for females.
If they find a willing partner, the female will mate and ovulate in the spring, post-hibernation. A pregnant Diamondback will find a hole to hide within, and gestate for around seven months.
Diamondbacks usually give birth around August, based on the schedule we have laid out above. Rattlesnake babies are born live, in quantities that could be over 30.
Typically, however, a female Diamondback will give birth to around 14 young at a time. The babies are born fully venomous, and are around 18 inches in length. They’ll typically remain with their mother until they shed their skin for the first time. This takes about a week. After this, the young Diamondbacks will leave the nest and try to survive by themselves.
Are They an Endangered Species?
This breed of snake is not officially considered endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s ‘red list’ lists it as of ‘least concern’ of extinction.
This is primarily because the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake covers a comparatively sizable area of the country. Theoretically, there will always be a breeding population somewhere.
Despite this, the numbers of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes are sharply declining. It’s believed that the current population is a mere 3% of a previous high.
The snake is extirpated in Louisiana, and possibly in North Carolina. As a result, the Eastern Diamondback is a protected species in the latter state. Destruction of the snake’s natural habitat, and hunting, are believed to be the cause.
Can You Keep Them As Pets?
You could if it’s legal in your state and you have the appropriate permits.
You’ll need a very substantial vivarium, given the weight and bulk of this breed. You’ll have to keep it very secure, as an escaped Rattlesnake causes all kinds of problems.
You won’t be able to handle the snake, as it will be nervous and potentially lethal. There is no point in attempting to domesticate a Rattlesnake.
The one exception may be an experienced snake handler encouraging breeding and mating. Alas, this then leaves the young Diamondbacks ill-equipped for the harsh reality of the wild.
If you wish to admire a Diamondback, do so from the safety of a zoo. They are undoubtedly beautiful creatures, but that doesn’t mean you should bring one into your home.