How to Tell the Age of a Rattlesnake

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Rattlesnakes are fascinating to some and feared by others.
Rattlesnakes are fascinating to some and feared by others. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Despite common myths that you can tell the age of rattlesnakes by the number of segments on their rattles, there is no way to tell the exact age of a rattlesnake just by looking at it. The only accurate way to determine the age of a rattlesnake is by observation. Only by observing the birth and growth of rattlesnakes can you tell the exact age of a specific snake, but you can sometimes determine the approximate age range of some rattlesnake species by size or color.

Things You'll Need

  • Videocamera
  • Notebook
  • Pen
  • Tags or markers for Snakes
  • Camera

Exact Age

Inquire at your local conservation commission, zoo, or at exotic pet stores about observing rattlesnakes in captivity during breeding and reproduction. Rattlesnakes are viviparous and give birth to live young, so you will need to observe a live birth to know the exact age of a rattlesnake.

Communicate your interest in observing a live birth and monitoring the age of an individual group of newborn rattlesnakes. Get any necessary permits or permission required.

Request permission to continuously film the area with the pregnant rattlesnakes so there's no chance of you missing the big moment. Set your videocamera to mark the date and time.

Record when rattlesnakes are born. Isolate, mark or tag the group to distinguish them from rattlesnakes born earlier or later after obtaining permission from owners or supervisors where you are observing the rattlesnakes. Once the rattlesnakes are tagged, if their tag or mark is recorded with the date of their birth, you can look up their date of birth in the future to tell the age of the snake.

Approximate Age

Correctly identify the species of rattlesnake in question. If the rattlesnake you are identifying is outside in the wild, keep your distance.

Take lots of photos with your camera and try to get a good idea of what size it is. Another clue to what kind of rattlesnake you're observing is the habitat you find it in. Snap shots of the surrounding area, and record where you were.

Compare your photos to shots of rattlesnakes known to occur in your area and confirm that the habitat you found the snake in is typical.

Research the average size of the young and mature rattlesnakes of the species in question. For example, newborn timber rattlesnakes are 10-to-17 inches long, whereas mature adults can measure 36-to-40 inches.

Match the approximate size of the snake with the approximate age for the species of rattlesnake in question.

Focus on the color of rattlesnakes as well. Some species, like the timber rattlesnake, change colors as they age. Doing your research on the changing qualities and lifespan of a species of rattlesnake helps you to estimate its approximate age.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always get permission before filming rattlesnakes in a zoo, conservation commission or pet store.
  • Don't get too close to or aggressively approach rattlesnakes; rattlesnake venom is very dangerous, and rattlesnake bites are potentially deadly.
  • Don't use the flash when photographing or filming rattlesnakes in the wild.
  • Baby rattlesnakes can be more dangerous than adults, because they may have less control over the venom they inject when biting.

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