The speckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii) is one of the most common types of rattlesnakes in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, but it can also be found as far north as California, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.
The speckled rattlesnake isn’t the only rattlesnake, but it’s certainly one of the most well-known. Native to the United States, this venomous snake is responsible for more bites than any other species in North America, and as such, it’s often misunderstood and even feared.
However, there are things that every person should know about the speckled rattlesnake and its unique place in our environment so that people can enjoy living alongside them instead of fearing them.
How do you identify this snake?
Though there are different subspecies of rattlesnakes that have some variations in coloration and size, all have three things in common. First, you’ll see a distinctive rattle on their tail. They shake it when they feel threatened so you’ll hear a clicking sound.
Second, you’ll notice a facial pit between each eye and nostril—this is where heat-sensing pits help them detect prey.
Third, you’ll see dark bands across their back (or blotches for subspecies) that serve as camouflage from predators. And fourth, no matter what species of rattlesnake you encounter, if it feels threatened it will try to bite! So don’t get too close! Speckled rattlesnakes typically grow to about 3 feet long, but can reach up to 4 feet.
Their body color varies based on location but is usually brown or gray with lighter coloring speckling their back. The underside of these snakes ranges from yellowish-white to light brown or pinkish gray.
These markings vary depending on age and gender, with males having more prominent markings than females do at any given time because they develop during mating season while females tend not to change after maturity.
Where does it live?
As its name suggests, rattlesnakes are found throughout much of North America. They can be found in prairies, deserts, grasslands, forests, swamps and even near water sources like streams or rivers.
The speckled rattlesnake is a mid-sized species that is common throughout its range. It prefers warm climates so it is often found on rocky hillsides in sunny areas where its prey can be found such as on top of boulders.
These snakes are also known to live in abandoned mammal burrows. When threatened, they will retreat into these burrows for protection. While most species of rattlesnakes prefer open spaces, some live in denser vegetation such as pine forests and coastal scrubland.
All rattlesnakes are carnivores, meaning they eat only meat. Their primary diet consists of small mammals such as mice and rats but may include birds, lizards, frogs and other reptiles depending on their location.
In certain regions with warmer temperatures (such as southern Florida), juvenile rattlesnakes will consume insects while adults tend to stick with larger prey items. The average lifespan of a wild adult speckled rattlesnake is 8 years but may reach up to 15 years if conditions are ideal.
What eats it?
This rattlesnake is not dangerous, but it will defend itself if disturbed or threatened. Owls, hawks, opossums, skunks, foxes and other snakes will eat speckled rattlers.
Though most snake species would consider a bite from a speckled rattler uneventful (their venom isn’t strong enough to do serious damage), humans should still avoid handling these snakes.
If you see one in your yard, call a professional wildlife removal service to remove it for you; they are used to dealing with all kinds of wild animals that find their way into homes and yards.
They know how to safely handle and transport snakes without getting bitten themselves. Once they arrive on site, they can set humane traps to capture the snake without harming it. They can then relocate it far away from your home so that you won’t have any more unwanted visitors like them.
How can you tell if it’s a juvenile/subadult rattlesnake?
Juvenile rattlesnakes are easily mistaken for non-venomous snake species, but one of their most distinguishable characteristics is their lack of rattle. If you happen upon a rattlesnake without a rattle, it’s best to get in touch with your local herpetologist before attempting any identification.
You can find your closest herpetologist here. Additionally, juvenile rattlesnakes are typically dark gray or brown in coloration with dark spots all over their bodies.
The dark coloring is due to melanin pigmentation that allows them to blend into rock crevices where they spend much of their time waiting for prey (i.e., lizards). This also makes it difficult to spot them as they move around on hot days when they will lie motionless until prey comes by or a predator gets too close.
How can you tell if it’s an adult rattlesnake?
The size of a rattlesnake is determined by measuring from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail. The length can be anywhere from 5-6 feet. Adult rattlesnakes have thick bodies, but they are not as fat as cottonmouths or water moccasins.
Even though they have strong muscles, their bodies are flexible enough for them to climb on rocks or trees if needed. Their scales are rough like sandpaper and come in a variety of colors such as gray, brown, tan, rust red, or black with white speckles all over.
They also have round pupils like humans instead of slits like other snakes. The most noticeable thing about adult rattlesnakes is that they have rattle at the end of their tails which makes a loud buzzing sound when it shakes its tail back and forth. If you hear that sound then you know there’s an adult rattlesnake nearby!
Are there similar snakes in its area?
No. The speckled rattlesnake is a species of rattlesnake that can be found in parts of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. There are no snakes with a similar appearance in these areas.
However, there are other types of venomous snakes that live in its area including copperheads and cottonmouths. These other snake species do not have a similar appearance to it either.
What does it eat?: The speckled rattlesnake will feed on small mammals such as rats, mice and squirrels. It also has been known to feed on larger animals such as rabbits, raccoons and opossums. Birds are also on their menu from time to time.
When they find their prey they will bite them then release their venom into them which kills them quickly before eating them whole or taking bites out of them depending on how big their prey is.
The mating season for speckled rattlesnakes takes place from March through May. During copulation, males insert their hemipenes into females’ cloaca for about 10 minutes. Female snakes typically store sperm until an egg-laying time in mid-summer.
Gestation lasts about a month; young are born live in August or September, after which females shed their skin for the last time. Neonates grow quickly, reaching 1 foot by October.
They remain with their mothers throughout winter before dispersing in spring when they’re between 18 and 24 inches long. Speckled rattlesnakes mate in late spring and early summer, producing litters of up to 12 live young per litter.
During a typical year, speckled rattlesnakes typically reproduce in late spring. Females give birth to 6-10 live young about 8 weeks after mating. Eggs take about 3 months for incubation before hatching.
After emerging from their eggs, neonates have bright yellow tails that darken over time as they shed their skin multiple times during growth. They reach maturity after 3-4 years and on average live 6 years in captivity or up to 25 in nature.
In most cases, males mate with multiple females per season (sometimes one female per day) and will guard them until other males force them away.
This is thought to be a strategy used by males to ensure reproductive success when competing against other males because it decreases potential exposure to predators.
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