Are Baby Rattlesnakes More Poisonous? (Myths vs facts)


There is a myth that says baby rattlesnakes are more dangerous than adults. This idea comes from the notion that baby rattlesnakes cannot control how much venom they use. But are baby rattlesnakes more poisonous?

Here’s what I know:

As a general rule, baby rattlesnakes are not more poisonous than adults. Additionally, adult rattlesnakes are far more dangerous than baby rattlesnakes as they are bigger, more aggressive, and can strike further. 

The myth about baby rattlesnakes being more poisonous is wrong.

Be wary of false information and whenever possible check to see where the sources are coming from. Myths are simply myths and spread by word of mouth instead of being tested and/or studied. It is still recommended that a bite from a baby rattlesnake should be checked out at the poison center at (800) 222-1222.

Down below are more useful facts about rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnake Venom

Envenomation is the act of a snake or spider injecting venom. There are a variety of factors that cause different degrees of harm to us humans.

The size of the snake, how much venom is injected, how quick the medical response team is to reach the victim, the victim’s medical history, where on the body the snake bite was, and the effective treatment done for the victim.

This is why it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you find a bite mark that looks like the picture below, call the poison center at (800) 222-1222.

“There is a significant body of compelling research indicating that the size of the rattlesnake, and therefore the quantity of venom injected, is the most important determining factor of the severity of an envenomation. Bigger snakes tend to cause worse envenomation.” (Snake Bite Foundation)

Snakes have venom to immobilize their prey and regulate their digestive systems. Rattlesnake’s venom consists of hemotoxins and neurotoxins. Hemotoxins attack the bloodstream and destroy red blood cells while neurotoxins destroy the nervous system. Both of which cause really nasty, disastrous effects.

In most rattlesnakes, their venom glands look a lot like our cheekbones.

This is where they store their venom, and when striking prey or anything threatening, the venom shoots through their hollow teeth called fangs. Treatment is possible, it is called antivenom.

Antivenom is effective at preventing death from bites; however, antivenoms frequently have side effects. Side effects from antivenom can include rash, itching, wheezing, fever, rapid heart rate, and body aches.

The type of antivenom needed depends on the type of snake involved. So whenever possible, take a picture of the snake to identify which snake was involved to make sure the victim receives the right treatment.

Here is a video of a baby diamond rattlesnake that is a few weeks old being found in the wild and returned to its natural habitat.

Baby Rattlesnake is Small but Deadly!

 Safety Precautions Around Rattlesnakes

The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center recommend knowing these five things if you were to come across a rattlesnake:

  1. Baby rattlesnakes can’t make a rattle sound until they first shed their skins, so there will be no warning sound coming from their rattle before they strike.
  2. Babies are still dangerous, and still, have enough venom to hurt a human
  3. Adult rattlesnakes do not always rattle before striking
  4. Baby rattlesnakes are around 6-12 inches in length. They typically hide in the grass and brush
  5. If you get bit, call the poison center at (800) 222-1222 or 911

Do not try to handle a wild snake and take caution when handling other poisonous snakes as well.

When traveling through the wild, look where you are stepping. Keep an ear out for hissing or rattling. Most rattlesnakes will scurry away as long as you do not provoke them. Provoking them will then lead them to take their defensive position.

Rattlesnake Habitat

“[Rattlesnakes] live in a variety of habitats, including forest, grasslands, scrub brush, swamps, and deserts, and they are also capable swimmers” (The National Wildlife Federation).

In the United States, most species of snakes are found in the southwest but they can be found throughout the whole continent. Snakes enter a state called brumation during the winter. It is a dormant state of being for cold-blooded reptiles. So typically you will not have to worry about stepping on a reptile when there is snow on the ground. April through October is when most bites from rattlesnakes occur.

Rattlesnake Birth Facts

Few reptiles exhibit parental care of their young. However, there are notable exceptions. Dr. Harry Greene of the University of California, Berkeley, has found that female black-tailed rattlesnakes stay with their young until they complete their first shed, which takes a few weeks.

Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous reptiles.

Female rattlesnakes give birth around late summer early fall. Reproduction occurs every 2 or 3 years. She carries her fertilized eggs inside herself for around 90 days. Instead of birthing the eggs, the eggs hatch inside her body and she gives live birth to her young.

A female rattlesnake may carry up to 25 eggs, however, less than 10 are born alive.

The newly hatched rattlesnakes called snakelets are usually around ten inches in length. When they are born they have a small button on the end of the tail. This button does not rattle until later in their development.

They are born with fangs and venom. Baby rattlesnakes are venomous so be sure to use the proper equipment when handling them or any venomous snakes.

Sadly, most baby rattlesnakes do not survive the cold winter months. If they do somehow make it through the winter, they will shed their skin and keep growing that rattler of theirs.

Different Species of Rattlesnakes

There are 36 known species of rattlesnakes with between 65 and 70 subspecies, all native to the Americas.

Specifically in the United States, there is the Timber Rattlesnake which is found in the eastern United States. The Prairie Rattlesnake is in the western United States. In the eastern and western are the diamondbacks. These particular species are some of the largest rattlers and are all dangerously venomous right as they are born.

Arizona is home to 13 species of rattler, more than any other state. The most distinctive feature that these species share is the rattle.

Rattlesnakes can range from 1 to 8 feet, depending on the species. They are thick-bodied snakes with ridged scales in a variety of colors and patterns. Most of the species have patterns consisting of hexagons, dark diamonds, or rhombuses.

Often you can find these various species basking in the sunlight on rocks, logs, or any other locations.

Timber Rattlesnake

Timber rattlesnakes are about 3 to 4 feet in length. In rare cases, they have been documented to be 6 feet in length. Males get larger than females in this particular species. Babies are miniatures of the adults but are usually a lighter gray. They are also known as canebrake rattlesnakes in the southeast coastal plains.

Timber rattlesnakes come in a variety of different colorations.

They are gray, sometimes with a pinkish hue, and have a stripe down their back. This stripe is orange, yellow, or pinkish in some timber rattlesnakes, while others have a brown or black stripe.

Their young will typically be born at around 8 inches in length and take about 4 years to reach sexual maturity so it is really important to not remove any giant snakes from the population, or else their nesting numbers will severely decrease.

Prairie Rattlesnake

Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) - Photo Public Domain by Beth Waterbury, Idaho Fish and Game

Prairie Rattlesnakes adults have a triangular head, blunt nose, narrow neck, and stout body. Skin colors can be anywhere from pale green to brown. Their bodies are covered in dark blotches, gradually turn into rings nearing the tail.

Prairie rattlesnakes prefer open grasslands and prairies, but will also navigate to forested areas.

They have the largest geographical area than any other rattlesnake species in the United States, living beyond the states to Canada and down to Mexico. Prairie rattlesnakes are known for grouping together in dens and/or caves.

Typically the longest they get is 3 feet in length. People might guess their first line of defense is their rattler or even their fangs, but it is actually their camouflage that protects them first.

Eastern & Western Diamondback

Diamondback rattlesnakes are the biggest know rattlesnakes in the world.

They grow to be 3-7 feet long. However, it is harder to find ones that reach 7 feet. They have a triangular-shaped head with two dark diagonal lines on each side of their face running from their eyes to their jaws. Their name comes from the diamond-shaped patterns found along its back.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are found in the coastal southwest plains. Despite living in the coastal regions, they prefer to live in sandy areas according to U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. Western diamondback rattlesnakes occupy the following areas: southern New Mexico, central and western Texas, Arizona, and southern California.

It occupies diverse habitats anywhere from sea level to 7,000 feet. It lives in desert flats habitats, grasslands, rocky hillsides, forests, coastal prairies, and river bottoms. Sometimes, this snake will attack and eat animals that weigh more than itself! Now that is crazy.

In order to tell the difference between the western and eastern diamondback species is that western diamondbacks have black and white banding while eastern diamondbacks have black and tan banding.

Rattlesnake Food

Rattlesnakes are natural-born predators. They are also pit vipers and so they have heat-sensing organs in their eyes allowing them to sense the heat coming from their prey. They also typically hunt during the night, but one can definitely see them eating their prey during daylight hours.

They also use their sense of smell to find food.

Adults usually eat birds, small mammals like squirrels, lizards, and rabbits. Young rattlesnakes eat mice and have also been known to eat insects. When eating prey they usually eat them headfirst and swallow the entire prey, bones and all. They usually inject venom into the prey before swallowing, which that venom will kick-start the digestive system.

Snakes can digest bones so they do not discard the bones. They also drink water.

Rattlesnake Rattles

Rattlesnakes are equipped with three powerful shaker muscles at the base of their spine.

These muscles contract very fast, up to 90 times a second, making the infamous rattling noise. Believe it or not, the rattle is entirely hollow. Sound waves vibrate between the scales as they shake, kind of like sounds echoing in a cave.

Rattlesnake’s rattlers grow each time they shed their skin.

Rattlesnakes shed their skin periodically each year so it will take time for baby rattlesnake’s rattler to develop. Even then, adult rattlesnakes do not always rattle before striking to defend themselves. Especially when they are shedding, giving birth, or mating. Be on your guard if you hear a rattle or a hiss. It is a warning defensive mechanism that rattlesnakes all share.

Rattlesnakes’ Tongues

Rattlesnakes are known for picking up scent trails.

They do this by using their tongue! Rattlesnakes have a forked tongue that flicks up and down. It can pick up microscopic airborne particles and gases from the atmosphere. When the tongue slips back into its mouth, it touches a sensitive spot on the roof of the mouth called the vomeronasal organ.

Once it reaches the organ it sends messages to the snake’s brain identifying the scent as food, mate, enemy, or other substance.

Living with Rattlesnakes

Rattlesnakes may seem scary to people.

However, they play a very important role in their ecosystems by controlling small mammal populations. According to Zoo Atlanta, a member of the World association of zoos and aquariums states that “despite their large size and the medical importance of the rare accidental bite to a human, these are quiet and reclusive snakes that do very little harm unless harassed or restrained.”

Please be aware they are predators and will attack humans to defend themselves.

So if you do not want to get bit, be aware of your surroundings and do not aggravate them. It is in the best interest of the people to take care of the versatile animals we come across. Please be aware of everything around you, including yourself. Take care of the planet and the planet will take care of you.

Ellis Garvin

Ellis Garvin was raised in central Texas; home to rattlers, coral snakes, copperheads, and more. But now he lives in the foothills of Grass Valley, California, and has encountered hundreds of rattlesnakes in his lifetime, learning about their behavior, habitats, and how to safely remove them without killing them.

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