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:

Nature – Hognose Defense Strategy

Hognose snakes are stout-bodied, sluggish, rear-fanged snakes. Their venom is mild and not dangerous to humans and their most distinguishing feature is their upturned snout for which they are named. This upturned snout aids them in digging in the loose sandy soil habitats in which they live. There are three species in North America: the Eastern Hognose, Western Hognose, and Southern Hognose. The Eastern Hognose is found in a wide range of habitats throughout the east, the Western Hognose occurs in deserts and plains of the west, and the small Southern Hognose is found in mature pine forests of the southeast. Hognose snakes are diurnal predators which prey on lizards, rodents, birds, amphibians, eggs, and insects. The Eastern Hognose preys mostly on toads which have very toxic poisons in their skin. To deal with this, the hognose has huge adrenal glands in its body that secrete antidotes that neutralize the poisons or the snake would die.

Coming in a wide range of colors and patterns, Eastern Hognose are often confused with poisonous snakes such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and young cottonmouths. To further heighten the confusion is its strange defensive behavior. When first encountered by a potential predator, the hognose lies perfectly still, hoping that its coloration will make it inconspicuous. If that doesn’t work, it frantically tries to escape. If this fails it goes into a feigned aggression by rising up and flattening its head and neck like a cobra and making a loud hissing noise. This behavior has given it the nickname of spreading adder. At this time the mouth can be either open or closed. Often it will try to hide its head under the coils of its body and extend its tail up to distract from its vulnerable head. If this doesn’t work the snake will start aggressively striking out with its mouth closed, but it will not bite. Finally if the snake is attacked or touched, it will start writhing with its mouth open, discharging foul-smelling fecal material and strong scented musk from glands at the base of its tail. If it has eaten recently, it will also vomit. The writhing results in the snake covering its body in the foul smelling secretions. Sometimes the tissues in the open mouth will bleed copiously. While all this is going on the snake turns belly up.When the writhing finally ceases, with a twitch it goes limp and still, with tongue hanging out, feigning death. From this position of apparent death it waits for its would be predator to leave. During this time it can be picked up, all the while remaining limp and unmoving unless it is turned right side up, which will result in it rolling upside down again.

Like the hognose snakes we have an enemy, but he is too smart for us to defend ourselves without help. “Now is the time when we are to confess and forsake our sins, that they may go beforehand to judgment and be blotted out. Now is the time to ‘cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (II Corinthians 7:1). It is dangerous to delay this work. Satan is even now seeking by disasters upon sea and land to seal the fate of as many as possible. What is the defense of the people of God at this time? It is a living connection with heaven. If we would dwell in safety from the noisome pestilence, if we would be preserved from dangers seen and unseen, we must hide in God; we must secure the protecting care of Jesus and holy angels.” In Heavenly Places, 348.

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