Nature – Rattlesnakes

Occurring only in the New World, thirty-two species of rattlesnakes are found from Canada to Argentina, with the greatest variety of species being found in the southwestern U.S. Rattlesnakes belong to the class of venomous snakes known as pit vipers which are named for the heat sensing pits they have on their face between their eyes and nostrils. Rattlesnakes range in size from the large Eastern Diamondback, which reaches 8 feet and weights of up to 10 lbs., to the tiny Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake, which only reaches 12 inches and weighs only 3 to 4 ounces. Unlike most snakes, rattlesnakes do not lay eggs but retain the eggs in their bodies until they hatch, then giving live birth.

The heat-sensing pits of a rattlesnake are very sensitive, allowing them to detect prey that is as little as a tenth of a degree warmer than their surroundings. Rattlesnakes kill their prey by injecting venom with a quick strike and bite. They defend themselves in the same manner, though they tend to inject less venom when defending themselves than when killing prey. Approximately 1/3 of all rattlesnake defensive bites are “dry,” with no venom being injected. The venom of most rattlesnakes is a hemotoxin which destroys tissue, degenerates organs, and disrupts blood clotting. Most tropical rattlesnakes and the Mojave rattlesnake of the southwestern U.S. have neurotoxic venom which affects the nervous system, interfering with the function of the heart and paralyzing the lungs. When delivering a bite, rattlesnakes can strike up to 2/3 their body length.

Rattlesnakes are most famous for their rattles, which are located at the tips of their tails. The rattle is used as a warning device when threatened with being stepped on or predated. When threatened, the snake vibrates its tail, producing a buzzing sound. The rattle is hollow and composed of interlocking rings of keratin which are actually modified scales. Each time a snake sheds it skin, a new segment is added to the rattle. The snakes can shed their skins several times a year, depending on food supply and growth rate. Older rattlesnakes tend to have longer, louder rattles unless some of them have broken off. There is one species of rattlesnake, the Santa Catalina Island Rattlesnake, which does not have a rattle.

Just as the rattlesnake’s rattle warns of danger, so the Lord, through His word, warns His church of impending dangers. “Jesus is guarding his hearers from deceptions that would endanger their souls; and he warns them to beware of false teachers, who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. He would have every one for whom his precious blood is a ransom, constantly on his guard, comparing every man’s pretentious claims with the great standard of righteousness. The question is, ‘What saith the Scriptures?’ Human lips may utter perverse things, lying doctrines that have no foundation in God’s word, and souls may be sincere in accepting these erroneous doctrines; but will their sincerity save them from the sure and disastrous result? The Bible is the standard of truth and holiness. If they were carefully and prayerfully living by this word, they would not be deceived.” Signs of the Times, October 29, 1885. “God’s Word warns us that we have manifold enemies, not open and avowed, but enemies who come with smooth words and fair speeches, and who would deceive if possible the very elect. Thus Satan comes. And again, when it suits his purpose, he goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Man’s will, unless kept in subjection to the will of God, is as often on the enemy’s side as on the Lord’s side. Therefore watch unto prayer; watch and pray always.” Review and Herald, July 7, 1910.

David Arbour writes from his home in De Queen, Arkansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: