Rattlesnake wit rattle raised


Super-sensory pit vipers


North, Central, and South America
The Americas
Endangered Status

Some Endangered


1 to 8
feet in length
Rattlesnake compared in size to a soccer ball

There are more than 30 different species of rattlesnakes. The biggest species is the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.


Rattlesnakes eat rodents, rabbits, squirrels, birds, lizards, and frogs— but only when they’re hungry. An adult can go two weeks between meals!

deserts, more
Desert habitat

You can find species of rattlesnakes in deserts, swamps, rainforests, meadows, and other habitats. They often seek shelter in rocky crevices, burrows, or leaf litter.


Close-up of a rattlesnake's rattle.

Shake it

As it grows, a rattlesnake sheds its skin. With each shed, it adds another segment to its rattle. The rattle segments interlock loosely, so when a snake wiggles its tail, they click and rattle against each other. You can’t tell the age of a rattlesnake by counting the segments, though. A snake may shed more than once a year, and sometimes segments break off. 

Rattlesnake with tongue flicked out.

On the job

A snake locates prey by scent, with the help of its tongue. The forked tongue flicks in and out, picking up odor particles. Then the snake lies in wait until its prey comes along. When prey comes close enough, the heat-sensitive pits on each side of a rattlesnake’s head enable the snake to “see” a heat image of its prey. The snake lunges and strikes, injecting venom with its fangs. 

Rattlesnake coiled in a defensive pose.

Take care

An alarmed snake usually tries to escape or hide, so be sure to stay out of its way. Rattlesnakes sometimes warn away predators by shaking their rattle. Biting is a last resort, but a snake may strike quickly if it is startled. So, be alert when you’re hiking, and move away if you see a rattlesnake. Be careful where you put your hands and feet.