How to Identify a Rattle Snake

How to Identify a Rattle Snake
If you're hiking or backpacking through rattlesnake country, it pays to know how to identify one. In fact, it's always wise to be well aware of all the dangerous animals and predators that live in the environment where you will be. Identifying rattlesnakes seems easy on the surface (loud rattling noise), but rattlesnakes don't always have or use their rattles, so it can be a bit more difficult to accurately identify them. Don't heedlessly approach an unfamiliar snake. If possible, make your observations without unduly stressing the animal. 


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Identify the rattlesnakes that occupy the wilderness where you're going. Before even heading out, know what species of rattlesnakes you may run into and research what they look like ahead of time. Some different types of rattlesnakes that live in North America include the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Western Rattlesnake and the Sidewinder. Consider purchasing a wildlife guide for your area to determine rattlesnakes and other dangerous animals you may encounter.
Step 2
Keep your ears peeled for a rattle. Rattlesnakes use their rattle as a warning to ward off threatening animals. Hearing the rattling sound is the best clue that a rattlesnake is nearby and you should proceed with caution. Don't rely on the rattle alone because rattlesnakes do not always warn with a shake of their rattles. Be aware that baby rattlesnakes, which can be even more dangerous than adults, don't yet have a rattle to use.
Step 3
Look for the rattle. If you see a snake that you're not sure is a rattlesnake or not, identifying the rattle on its tail will be the quickest way to verify that it is a rattlesnake. While babies don't have rattles, they do have a small button protruding from their tails.
Step 4
Look at the head. Rattlesnakes belong to a greater snake family known as pit vipers. Pit vipers are all poisonous, so even if it's not a rattlesnake, you can establish that it's dangerous. Pit vipers have large, triangular heads that protrude from their more-slender necks. They also have heat-sensing "pits" or holes on either side of the head.
Step 5
Look for other pit viper characteristics. In addition to the distinct head characteristics, pit vipers also have elliptical eyes, unlike other non-venomous snakes that have round eyes. Also, pit vipers have a single row of scales under their tails, whereas other snakes have a double row.

Tips & Warnings

If you are unsure, assume that the snake is poisonous and dangerous. There's no reason to disturb any snake or other creature anyway.
Rattlesnakes are as afraid of you as you may be of them. Rattling, coiling and eventual striking are all defense mechanisms. If you come up on a rattlesnake, avoid it and it will avoid you.
A very small percentage of people bitten by a rattlesnake die from the bite.
Never attempt to handle or pick up a rattlesnake.
Don't kill a rattlesnake just because you're fearful; it has as much if not more of a right to be there as you do.
Don't walk or reach in places that you can't see, as rattlesnakes could be laying there.
When traveling in rattlesnake country, know exactly what to do in the event of a bite.

Article Written By Joe Fletcher

Joe Fletcher has been a writer since 2002, starting his career in politics and legislation. He has written travel and outdoor recreation articles for a variety of print and online publications, including "Rocky Mountain Magazine" and "Bomb Snow." He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers College.

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