Crotalus adamanteus

Crotalus adamanteus
Crotalus adamanteus
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Viperidae
Subfamily: Crotalinae
Genus: Crotalus
Species: C. adamanteus
Binomial name
Crotalus adamanteus
Palisot de Beauvois, 1799
  • Crotalus adamanteus Palisot de Beauvois, 1799
  • Crotalus rhombifer Latreille In Sonnini & Latreille, 1801
  • Crotalus rhombiferus - Brickell, 1805
  • Crotalus adamanteus var. adamanteus - Jan, 1858
  • C[audisona]. adamantea - Cope, 1867
  • Crotalus adamanteus adamanteus - Cope, 1875
  • Crotalus adamanteus pleistofloridensis Brattstrom, 1954
  • Crotalus giganteus Brattstrom, 1954
  • Crotalus adamanteus - Klauber, 1956
Common names: eastern diamondback rattlesnake,[3] eastern diamondback,[4] more.

Crotalus adamanteus is a venomous pit viper species found in the southeastern United States. It is the heaviest (though not longest) venomous snake in the Americas and the largest rattlesnake. It featured prominently in the American Revolution, specifically as the symbol of what many consider to be the first flag of the United States of America, the Gadsden flag. No subspecies are currently recognized.[5]



C. adamanteus, St. Louis zoo.

This is the largest rattlesnake species and, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the heaviest venomous snake. The heaviest known specimen, measuring 7.8 feet (2.4 m) in length, was shot in 1946 and weighed 15.4 kilograms (34 lb).[6] Maximum reported lengths are 8 feet (2.4 m)[7] and 8.25 feet (2.5 m)[8]. However, the stated maximum sizes have been called into question due to a lack of voucher specimens.[9][10]

Specimens over 7 feet (2.1 m) are rare, but well documented. Klauber (1998) includes a letter he received from E. Ross Allen in 1953, in which Allen explains how for years he offered a reward of $100, and later $200, for an 8 feet (2.4 m) specimen, dead or alive. The reward was never claimed. He did receive a number of 7-foot specimens and some 8-foot skins, but said that such skins can be taken from a 6-foot snake.[3] A 7.3 feet (2.2 m) specimen was caught and killed outside a neighborhood in St. Augustine, Florida in September 2009.[11]

The average size is much less: lengths of 3.5 to 5.5 feet (1.1 to 1.7 m)[12], and 2.75 to 6 feet (0.8 to 1.8 m) are given.[13] One study found an average length of 5.6 feet (1.7 m) based on 31 males and 43 females.[14]

The scalation includes 25-31 (usually 29) rows of dorsal scales at midbody, 165-176/170-187 ventral scales in males/females and 27-33/20-26 subcaudal scales in males/females. On the head, the rostral scale is higher than it is wide and contacts two internasal scales. There are 10-21 scales in the internasal-prefrontal region and 5-11 (usually 7-8) intersupraocular scales. Usually there are two loreal scales between preoculars and the postnasal. There are 12-17 (usually 14-15) supralabial scales, the first of which is in broad contact with the prenasal, and 15-21 (usually 17-18) sublabial scales.[10]

The color pattern consists of a brownish, brownish yellow, brownish gray or olive ground color, overlaid with a series of 24-35 dark brown to black diamonds with slightly lighter centers. Each of these diamond-shaped blotches is outlined with a row of cream or yellowish scales. Posteriorly, the diamond shapes become more like cross-bands and are followed by 5-10 bands around the tail. The belly is a yellowish or cream colored, with diffused dark mottling along the sides. The head has a dark postocular stripe that extends from behind the eye backwards and downwards to the lip; the back of the stripe touches the angle of the mouth. Anteriorly and posteriorly, the postocular stripe is bordered by distinct white or yellow stripes.[10]

Common names

Common names include eastern diamondback rattlesnake, eastern diamond-backed rattlesnake,[5] eastern diamondback,[4] diamond rattlesnake, diamond-back rattlesnake, common rattlesnake, diamond-back, diamond(-patch) rattler, eastern diamond-back (rattlesnake), eastern diamond rattlesnake, Florida diamond-back (rattlesnake), Florida rattlesnake, lozenge-spotted rattlesnake, rattler, rattlesnake, southeastern diamond-backed rattlesnake, southeastern diamond-backed rattler, southern woodland rattler, water rattle, water rattlesnake,[14] and diamondback rattlesnake.[3]

Geographic range

C. adamanteus is found in the southeastern United States from southeastern North Carolina, south along the coastal plain through peninsular Florida to the Florida Keys, and west along the Gulf Coast through southern Mississippi to southeastern Louisiana. The original description for the species does not include a type locality, although Schmidt (1953) proposed it be restricted to "Charleston, South Carolina" (USA).[2]

Conservation status

This species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (v3.1, 2001).[15] Species are listed as such due to their wide distribution, presumed large population, or because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category. The population trend was down when assessed in 2007.[16]

This species has been declining for years due to habitat destruction, hunting and persecution. The decline of these snakes has been suggested as the cause for the rabbit population in Florida rising.


This rattlesnake inhabits upland dry pine forest, pine and palmetto flatwoods, sandhills and coastal maritime hammocks, longleaf pine/turkey oak habitats, grass-sedge marshes and swamp forest, cypress swamps, mesic hammocks, sandy mixed woodlands, xeric hammocks, and salt marshes, as well as wet prairies during dry periods. In many areas, it seems to use burrows made by gophers and gopher tortoises during the summer and winter.[10]


C. adamanteus

These snakes frequently shelter in mammal and gopher tortoise burrows, emerging in the early morning or afternoon to bask.[17]

Like most rattlesnakes, this species is terrestrial and not adept at climbing. However, they have on occasion been reported in bushes and trees, apparently in search of prey. Even large specimens have been spotted as much as 10 m above the ground.[3]

In contrast, they are well known to be excellent swimmers. Specimens have often been spotted crossing stretches of water between barrier islands and the mainland off the Georgia coast, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Florida Keys, sometimes miles from land.[3]

Individual disposition varies, with some allowing close approach while remaining silent, and others starting to rattle at a distance of 20–30 feet (6–9 m).[13] The rattle is well developed and can be heard from relatively far away. When threatened, they raise the anterior half of the body off the ground in an S-shaped coil, and can strike to a distance of at least a third of their body length.[18] Many will stand their ground and may strike repeatedly, but if given the opportunity, they will usually retreat while facing the intruder and moving backwards towards shelter, after which they disappear.[3][17][18]

One popular myth is that these snakes must rattle before striking. They are, of course quite capable of striking while remaining completely silent. In fact, according to one hypothesis, individuals that remain silent are less likely to be heard, seen and killed, and therefore more likely to pass on their genes to the next generation, leading to the idea that we are selecting for rattlesnakes that do not rattle.[19]

Hawks, eagles, and other snakes have been known to prey upon young and adolescent specimens.


These snakes forage actively or lie in ambush for small mammals, especially rabbits and rice rats (Oryzomys). Their diet also includes birds. Prey is struck and released, after which they follow the scent trail left by the dying prey.[17]

Because of their large size, the adults have no problem eating prey as large as fully-grown cottontail rabbits. As the juveniles are capable of swallowing adult mice, even they do not often resort to eating slimmer prey, such as lizards. In fact, eastern cottontails and marsh rabbits (Sylvilagus) form the bulk of their diets in most parts of Florida. Squirrels, rats, and mice are also on the menu, along with birds such as towhees and bobwhite quail. Other prey that have been reported include a king rail, a young wild turkey, and a mother woodpecker along with four of her eggs.[3] They also eat large insects.


Rattlesnakes, including C. adamanteus, are ovoviviparous. Gestation periods last six or seven months and broods average about a dozen young. However, the young only stay with the mother for a few hours (even days) before they set off on their own to hunt and find recluse, thus mortality rate is very high.

Females give birth to between seven and 21 young at a time, usually doing so between July to early October. Neonates are 12–14 inches (30–36 cm) in length[20] and are similar in appearance to the adults, except for having only a small button instead of a rattle on the tip of the tail.[18]


Eastern diamondbacks can live beyond twenty years, but life expectancy in the wild is now typically shorter because of hunting and human expansion.

Adult wild-caught specimens are often difficult to maintain in captivity, but captive-born individuals do quite well and feed readily on killed laboratory rodents. They require a dry and well-ventilated cage with a hide-box, maintained at a temperature of 73–80 °F (23–27 °C) for normal activity.[17]


C. adamanteus showing one of its venomous fangs, Louisville Zoo, Louisville, KY.

This species has the reputation of being the most dangerous venomous snake in North America.[20] While not usually aggressive, they are large and powerful. Wright and Wright mention a mortality rate of 30%, and that some victims have died within a matter of hours, and even a matter of minutes in exceptional cases .[14]

In proportion to its length, it has the longest fangs of any rattlesnake species, with calculations leading one to expect an 8-foot (2.4 m) specimen would have fangs with a total length of over 1 inch (25 mm). For comparison, a 5-foot-3-inch (2 m) specimen had fangs measuring 23-inch (17 mm) in length.[3] It has a very high venom yield: an average of 400–450 mg, with a maximum of 858-1,000 mg.[21] Brown gives an average venom yield of 410 mg (dried venom), along with LD50 values of 1.3-2.4 mg/kg IV, 1.7-3.0 mg/kg IP and 14.5–10 mg/kg SC for toxicity.[22] The estimated human lethal dose is 100–150 mg.[21]

The venom contains a thrombin-like enzyme (TLE), called "crotalase", that is capable of clotting fibrinogen, leading to the secondary activation of plasminogen from endothelial cells. Although the venom does not activate platelets, the production of fibrin strands can result in a reduced platelet count, as well as the hemolysis of red blood cells. Even with this defibrination, however, clinically significant bleeding is uncommon (Hasiba et al., 1975). Nevertheless, the venom does exhibit high hemorrhagic activity (Minton, 1974). It also contains a low-molecular-weight basic peptide that impedes neuromuscular transmission (Lee, 1972) and can in theory lead to cardiac failure. This peptide is similar to crotamine from C. durrisus terrificus, and makes up 2-8% of the protein found in the venom. In general, the venom can be described as highly necrotizing, mildly proteolytic and containing a large phosphodiesterase fraction. It stimulates the release of bradykinin that can result in severe pain, as well as profound, transient hypotension.[21]

Klauber described one case in which the symptoms included instant pain "like two hot hypodermic needles", spontaneous bleeding from the bite site, intense internal pain, bleeding from the mouth, hypotension and a weak pulse, swelling and discoloration of the affected limb and associated severe pain. The symptoms were further described as strongly hemolytic and hemorrhagic.[3]

CroFab and Wyeth's ACP are effective antivenoms against bites from this species, although massive doses may be needed to manage severe cases of envenomation. Generally, ACP is very effective at countering the defibrination syndrome that is often seen, but may do little for low platelet counts. Wyeth's ACP is no longer being manufactured. [21]

See also


  1. ^ G.A Hammerson (2007). "Crotalus adamanteus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  2. ^ a b McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré T. 1999. Snake Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, vol. 1. Herpetologists' League. 511 pp. ISBN 1-893777-00-6 (series). ISBN 1-893777-01-4 (volume).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Klauber, LM (1997) [First published 1956]. Rattlesnakes: Their Habitats, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind (Second ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0520210565. 
  4. ^ a b Fichter, GS (1982). Poisonous Snakes: A First Book. Franklin Watts. ISBN 0531043495. 
  5. ^ a b "Crotalus adamanteus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 28 November 2006. 
  6. ^ Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9. 
  7. ^ Klauber, LM (1972). Rattlesnakes: Their habits, life histories, and influence on mankind. (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 
  8. ^ Ditmars, RL (1936). The reptiles of North America: A review of the crocodilians, lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises inhabiting the United States and northern Mexico. Garden City, New York: Doubelday, Doran & Co.. 
  9. ^ Jones, A (1997). "Big reptiles, big lies.". Reptile and Amphibian Magazine 51: 22–27. 
  10. ^ a b c d Campbell, JA; Lamar, WW (2004). The Venomous Reptiles of the Western Hemisphere. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca and London. ISBN 0801441412. 
  11. ^ "Huge Rattlesnake Found in St. Augustine". WOFL Fox 35 News. 2 October 2009. Retrieved July 2, 2011. 
  12. ^ U.S. Navy. 1991. Poisonous Snakes of the World. US Govt. New York: Dover Publications Inc. 204 pp. ISBN 0-486-26629-X.
  13. ^ a b Conant R. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Second Edition. First published in 1958. Houghton Mifflin Company Boston. 429 pp. 48 plates. ISBN 0-395-19979-4. ISBN 0-395-19979-8 (pbk.).
  14. ^ a b c Wright AH, Wright AA. 1957. Handbook of Snakes. Comstock Publishing Associates. (7th printing, 1985). 1105 pp. ISBN 0-8014-0463-0.
  15. ^ Crotalus adamanteus at the IUCN Red List. Accessed 13 September 2007.
  16. ^ 2001 Categories & Criteria (version 3.1) at the IUCN Red List. Accessed 13 September 2007.
  17. ^ a b c d Mehrtens JM. 1987. Living Snakes of the World in Color. New York: Sterling Publishers. 480 pp. ISBN 0-8069-6460-X.
  18. ^ a b c Ashton RE Jr, Sawyer-Ashton P. 1981. Handbooks of Reptiles and Amphibians of Florida, Part 1, The Snakes. Windward Publishing Inc. 176 pp. LCCCN 81-51066. ISBN 0-89317-033-X.
  19. ^ Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake at Florida Museum of Natural History. Accessed 2 July 2008.
  20. ^ a b Behler JL, King FW. 1979. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 743 pp. LCCCN 79-2217. ISBN 0-394-50824-6.
  21. ^ a b c d Norris R. 2004. Venom Poisoning in North American Reptiles. In Campbell JA, Lamar WW. 2004. The Venomous Reptiles of the Western Hemisphere. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca and London. 870 pp. 1500 plates. ISBN 0-8014-4141-2.
  22. ^ Brown JH. 1973. Toxicology and Pharmacology of Venoms from Poisonous Snakes. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas. 184 pp. LCCCN 73-229. ISBN 0-398-02808-7.

Further reading

  • Brattstrom BH. 1954. The fossil pit-vipers (Reptilia: Crotalidae) of North America. Transactions of the San Diego Society of Natural History. 12:31-46[35].
  • Brickell J. 1805. Miscellaneous chemical and medical facts, observations and conjectures. Philadelphia Med. and Phys. Jour., 2:164[164].
  • Cope ED. 1867. On the Reptilia and Batrachia of the Sonoran province of the Nearctic region. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Science of Philadelphia 18:300-314[307].
  • Cope ED. 1875. Check-list of North American Batrachia and Reptiles with a systematic list of higher groups, and an essay on geographical distribution based on specimens contained in the United States National Museum. GPO, Washington, D.C. 104 pp.
  • Ditmars RL. 1936. The reptiles of North America. A review of the crocodilians, lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises inhabiting the United States and northern Mexico. Garden City, New York, Doubelday, Doran & Co.: i-xvi, 1-476.
  • Hasiba U, Rosenbach LM, Rockwell D, Lewis JH. 1975. DIC-like syndrome after envenomation by the snake Crotalus horridus horridus. New England Journal of Medicine. 292:505-507.
  • Jan G. 1858. Plan d'une iconographie descriptive des ophidiens et description sommaire de nouvelles espèces des serpents. Rev. Mag. Zool. Paris (2)10:148-157[153].
  • Jones A. 1997. Big reptiles, big lies. Reptile and Amphibian Magazine 51:22-27.
  • Klauber LM. 1956. Rattlesnakes. Their habits, life histories and influence on mankind. 1st edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. University of California Press. 1:708 pp.[29, fig. 2.11].
  • Klauber LM. 1972. Rattlesnakes: Their habits, life histories, and influence on mankind. 2nd edition. 2 Vols. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Lee CY. 1972. Chemistry and pharmacology of polypeptide toxins in Snake venoms. Annual Review of Pharmacology 12:265-286.
  • Minton SA. 1974. Venom diseases. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield Ill. 235 pp.
  • Palisot de Beauvois AMFJ. 1799. Memoir on Amphibia. Serpents. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 4:362-381[368].
  • Schmidt KP. 1953. A check list of North American amphibians and reptiles, 6th ed. American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, Chicago. 280 pp.
  • Sonnini CS, Latreille PA. 1801. Histoire naturelle des reptiles, avec figures dissinees dápres nature. 4 Vols. Paris (for a discussion of the publication date, see F. Harper, 1940, Amer. Midl. Nat. 23: 692-723).

External links

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