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Diamondback Rattlesnakes

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Have you ever walked out to your back yard to see a rattlesnake sunning itself, only to kill it because you thought it dangerous? The diamondback rattlesnake is a fearsome pit viper with sharp fangs and powerful venom. Both the Western and Eastern diamondback pose serious threats to human life, with the Eastern diamondback being the most dangerous snake found in North America. While most people that receive a diamondback bite will live to tell the tale, snakes are still responsible for around 10 deaths per year in the United States.

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Knowing the symptoms of a diamondback bite will help you with treatment and care. I have worked with and studied these fascinating creatures for many years now. They are two of the most diverse venomous reptiles that we have in the United States. Both of these reptiles are widely used in venom extraction programs around the world. Eastern and Western diamondback rattlesnakes have many similarities and differences related to habitat, behavior and venom composition.

The habitat of the eastern diamondback rattlesnake is slowly but steadily on the decline.

People need places to live and build further into their habitat every year. These reptiles like the humid swamps of the everglades and coastal region of the southeast. The eastern diamondback has started seeking new habitat on the northern most islands of the Florida Keys. How do they get there, they swim. The more people encroach on their habitat the more of these reptiles get pushed out. As a result of this, the population of the animals is also on the decline. Some areas host “rattlesnake roundups” where large numbers of these snakes are caught and slaughtered.

Despite the disappearance of the diamondback rattlesnakes, there are no laws protecting them. Since 1996, over 200,000 pounds of rattlesnakes have been killed through these roundups. The range of the eastern diamondback extends from South Carolina down into Florida and as far west as Oklahoma. The western diamondback rattlesnake is a reptile that likes the dry arid climate of the south western states, because of this there is no worry of loss of habitat for these animals. These reptiles can survive on little to no intake of fresh water. The water that they need comes from the prey that they eat.

The habitat of the eastern and western diamondback rattlesnakes slightly overlaps in the state of Oklahoma. Western diamondbacks can be found in Kansas, south into Mexico and west to California. They are a very widespread population with amazing numbers on their side. The eastern and western diamondbacks vary in behavior to the extent of being totally opposites. The eastern species has a flight before fight attitude and will try to get away at the first sign of trouble. An eastern diamondback will lie perfectly still in the leaves or grass and a person or prey item will never know that it is there.

The eastern diamondback may try to get away from you but if cornered, they will fight. You would not want to take a bite from the eastern species because they can deliver a very nasty one. The eastern diamondback loves to be in the water, this is the most common spot to locate one in the wild. They have been spotted swimming in the ocean miles from shore. Both the eastern and western diamondback rattlesnakes brumate or hibernate in the winter months. They move to den sites that can be anything from deep holes to caves where they go dormant for about 5 months of the year.

The western species is one of those snakes that you do not want to walk up on while out hiking. The attitude of the western diamondback is a fight before flight, they will move toward the person that disturbed it. I have witnessed a western in action while hiking in Texas a few years ago. It was sunning itself beside a large rock. When I walked up to it, the snake started rattling and moving toward me. It was not the least bit afraid of me. The western species lives in the dry arid climate of the southwest states. They can survive on little to no water because they get there water intake from the prey that they feed on.

You can generally find the western diamondback around logs, rocks or in heavy brush. The western and eastern diamondbacks of the U. S. Southwest/Mexico and Southeast, respectively, are the largest rattlesnakes in the world: the eastern may reach nearly eight feet. While they tend to avoid humans and bite only in self-defense, they can deliver a serious, sometimes fatal, quantity of venom. Diamondback rattlesnakes in general have primarily proteolytic, hemotoxic venom, which means it damages tissues and destroys red blood cells.

Enzymatic proteins in the venom sabotage clotting mechanisms; enzymes called hemorrhagins promote uncontrolled bleeding. For the snake, the venom has digestive as well as toxic properties. While the major effects in humans of diamondback venom involve blood and blood vessels, it may also induce neurotoxic effects, which impair the nervous system. The symptoms of a diamondback rattlesnake bite include severe pain, blistering, nausea, headaches, tingling of the head and extremities, skin discoloration and swelling. Blood may appear at the gums, lips, nails and in the stool and urine.

Antivenin is an effective treatment for diamondback bites. However, if medical aid is delayed death is possible. While their venom is not as potent as that of some of the smaller species of rattlesnakes, diamondbacks’ size and their long fangs mean they can inject large quantities. Western diamondbacks may kill more people in the United States than any other snake, and the mortality rate from the eastern diamondback bites may be as high as 40 percent. A myth about venomous snake says that babies have a worse bite than the adults because they cannot control the amount that they inject.

This is very untrue; they are equipped with fangs and the muscles to control them at birth. Since we are on the subject of rattlesnake venom, I feel it is important to discuss their fangs in greater detail. As I had mentioned earlier, rattlesnake fangs are nature’s answer to the hypodermic needle. In fact, I cannot remember for sure, but I believe that the original creators of the hypodermic needle used a snake fang as a reference. Like the hypodermic needle, snake fangs have an open cavity running down its length.

Venom from the snake’s glands then enters the fang through the venom duct and travels down the hollow canal before it is pushed into the snakes prey or enemy from the incredibly sharp, pointed fang. The size of these openings in the fangs has an impact on the degree of deadliness of a venomous snake. The size of the reptile’s venom gland, the venom composition and the size of the opening are all factors that separate deadliness among the many different species of venomous reptiles.

The numbers of diamondback rattlesnakes has been steadily on the decline over the last few years. I have seen this for myself as I have studied these mazing creatures. The eastern and western diamondback rattlesnakes are some of the most feared creatures in the U. S. One can see that the differences are far greater than the similarities of these two species. They are by far the most interesting reptile that I have ever studied, and will always be my personal favorites. We as humans need to be aware of our surroundings, and realize that the more of these creatures we kill, the more rodents that will take their place. If you decide to go looking for these creatures, walk lightly but be sure of your steps. They can both have a very nasty bite.

Cite this Diamondback Rattlesnakes

Diamondback Rattlesnakes. (2016, Oct 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/diamondback-rattlesnakes/

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