The western diamondback rattlesnake is one of North America's largest venomous snakes. An excitable and aggressive creature, it causes more deaths in the United States than any other species of snake.

This species of rattlesnake is famous all over the world for its appearance in countless cowboy films. It produces its sinister, dry rattling sound by vibrating the loose, horny rings on the end of its tail. Although this is a warning signal, the rattlesnake does not always rattle before striking.

Humans have always regarded the rattlesnake as dangerous, despite the fact that that it only bites when provoked.

Rattlesnakes are herded together each year in the Southern states of the USA during special 'round-ups'. Huge numbers of snakes are collected, and then butchered, skinned and eaten.

The snakes are brought to the round up in crates and transferred into large large pits for selection.They are often left in the crate for days.

Round-ups were originally thought of as a way of ridding public places of these potentially dangerous snakes, but collectors now travel far and wide to kill them.

Where can you find rattlesnakes?

The western diamondback rattlesnake is found in south-western North America - from California in the west to Arkansas in the east, and south into Mexico.

During the cooler parts of the year the rattlesnake is active during the day, when the sun can warm its body.

Throughout the summer the rattlesnake becomes increasingly night active, usually emerging after dusk.

When a snake is not active, it spends its time in holes in the ground, in rocky crevices or under dead cacti or large boulders. In the coldest winter weather, 30 or more snakes may hibernate together in an underground den.

Rattlesnake facts

1. Most rattlesnakes have a rattle of about 8 segments. This is generally considered to give the best sound. The rattle comprises of a number of horny segments of old skin. 

A new segment is added each time the snakes sheds its skin, and they fit over each other in a chain. This is attached to the body by a small 'button'. When the snake reaches full size, its rattle ceases to grow  as old segments tend to drop off at the same rate as new ones develop.

2. More people in the USA are bitten by the western diamondback than any other rattlesnake, but the Mojave rattlesnake is 20 times more lethal.

3. The western diamondback rattlesnake is an agile swimmer and will pursue its prey through water.

4. The rattlesnake performs a kind of dance which was thought to be a courtship ritual. It is now known to be a combat or trial of strength between rival males, although they never harm one another.

5. The western diamondback rattlesnake can reach an overall length of up to 7 feet, and can live up to 15 - 20 years in captivity.  

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