Venomous Snakes of
Florida

and Snakebite Treatment
By Greg (Snakeman) Longhurst
Photos By Bill Love

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Crotalus adamanteus


      The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is the largest rattlesnake in the world.   Sorry, Texas, but the eastern has been recorded at a foot longer than the western.   It is, therefore, at least potentially, one of the most dangerous animals in North America.   While averaging 3 to 6 feet, they have been known to hit 8 feet even.    Stories of rattlesnakes, both from here in Florida, and in Texas, of much greater length are extremely difficult to substantiate.  Diamondbacks do have a proclivity toward shrinking as they get closer to a tape measure.  Eyewitness accounts and length estimates are often very inaccurate, probably due to the amount of adrenaline involved.
     If you should hear a rattlesnake, freeze, then determine exactly where the sound emanates from, then draw a mental line from that point, through your body, turn around and follow that line.  The animal is letting you know that it is there,  frightened or ticked, and if you continue to press the issue, you could well wind up with more than you bargained for.  Left unmolested, the animal will not bite, and will eventually crawl off to a less crowded area.  Continuing to remain in the presence of, or worse yet, trying to harm the snake, makes as much sense as entering a bar that caters to an ethnic group not your own, and making ethnic slurs directed at that group.  The outcome might well turn out the same, i.e. your hospitalization, and both instances would have been caused by lack of forethought, if not stupidity.
     The diamondback in Florida is born between August and November, which is also the breeding season.  At birth, it is from 11" to 16" in length, and possesses enough venom to deliver a lethal bite to a grown man.  Young remain as a group for several days after birth, and have been known to be protected vigorously by the mother.
     One thing of importance, especially for those of you in Florida:   diamondbacks in the northern part of the state have a more toxic venom, by far, than do those in the southern part of the state.
     Their prey, strictly warm-blooded animals, is located with the aid of heat sensitive facial pits.  Prey includes mice and young rats for the juveniles, then larger rats, ground dwelling birds, and rabbits.  They have also been known to actively hunt squirrels by waiting at the base of a tree, looking up.  These snakes are primarily diurnal (active during the day) or crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk), and are seldom active at night.
     Diamondbacks are found in high, dry areas.  Three types of prime habitat are slash pine/palmetto, longleaf pine/turkey oak, and sand pine/rosemary scrub.  The presence of gopher tortoises(Gopherus polyphemus) in the area makes the habitat more likely to support diamondbacks, as they utilize the tortoise burrows as sanctuaries.
     The number of segments in the rattle do not determine the snake's age, as one segment is added at each shedding of the skin, which can vary from once or twice up to a half dozen times per year.  Also, the rattle consists of a very thin material that is readily broken.  A wet rattle will not make noise.  A rattle of about 2 inches in length will make more noise than one that is considerably shorter or longer.
     The eastern diamondback rattlesnake does not live in close proximity to man for extended periods of time.  When an area is cleared for construction, the animals either leave or are slain.  Bearing this in mind, the next time you see one of these impressive, nearly awe inspiring snakes, ask yourself whether it is in your back yard, or if you are in its.  If it is indeed you who are the trespasser, there's no real need to kill that critter.  They do help to keep rodents and rabbits in check, and they are seldom a real danger to people.