The eastern diamondback snake is the largest venomous snake in Florida and North America. As adults, this rattlesnake grows up to 8 feet in length and weighs approximately 15 pounds. Eastern diamondbacks are considered one of the United States' most dangerous snakes due to the high level of venom in its fangs. These rattlesnakes live throughout the Sunshine State, including the mainland peninsula and Florida Keys.
Habitat and Range
Aside from Florida, the eastern diamondback's range includes much of the southeastern United States. Most of these rattlesnakes are found in coniferous and deciduous woodlands. Other habitats for the eastern diamondback are coastal plains and sandy coastal regions. When hiding from humans or predators, eastern diamondbacks take advantage of pre-existing burrows, which were usually created by small mammals or tortoises. Due to human encroachment on its habitat, the eastern diamondback are also seen in urban areas such as backyards and city parks.
Like all rattlesnakes, eastern diamondbacks have rattles attached to the tips of their tails. Theoretically, humans should be able to determine an eastern diamondback's age by the number of segments on the snake's rattle. Every time an eastern diamondback sheds its skin, it creates a new rattle segment. Eastern diamondbacks often lose rattle segments, though, due to evading predators. These snakes shake their rattles when they feel threatened or annoyed. Rattle shaking is an eastern diamondback's warning to ward off opponents.
Eastern diamondbacks are carnivorous, meaning they are strictly meat eaters. Adult eastern diamondbacks prey on small and medium-sized mammals -- rodents, squirrels and rabbits -- and birds. A juvenile rattlesnake's diet is limited to small mammals and birds. Eastern diamondbacks use venom from their fangs to paralyze their prey. Paralysis prevents its prey from struggling while the snake feeds.
These rattlesnakes are members of the crotalus family of snakes, which makes them pit vipers. Eastern diamondbacks receive this nickname from the facial pits between their eyes and nostrils. Pit vipers possess sensory organs in these pits. The sensory organs allow pit vipers to sense the heat from warm-blooded prey in the dark. This is helpful to eastern diamondbacks because they are nocturnal hunters.
While eastern diamondbacks are not listed as threatened or endangered, they have a declining population in Florida. The primary causes for this snakes decline is habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, which means roads and urban development separate rattlesnake populations. Hunting is a problem because many hunters kill for the skin trade. People also collect eastern diamondbacks as pets. Florida prohibits gassing gopher tortoise burrows to kill eastern diamondbacks. Otherwise, this snake does not have any state or federal protection.
- North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension: Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
- Florida Museum of Natural History: Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
- National Geographic: Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
- Western Connecticut State University: Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
- Denver Zoo: Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
- IUCN Red List: Crotalus Adamanteus
- Photo Credit Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images