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The rattler (Genus Crotalus) is one of the fastest killers in the animal world. It strikes at a speed of ten feet per second and its poison is deadly. They are the most dangerous snakes in America.

Rattlers are usually identified by the sandy color, the broad arrow shaped heat, blunt tipped-up nose, and rattles on the tail. However, color may vary and rattles can fall off. The head shape is the most reliable feature for identification. Where the rodent population is large, rattlers have been found to be as long as 7 feet. They are usually found where food, water, and protection are available such as abandoned structures, irrigation ditches, water holes, under brush, and in rock piles. The rattler’s scaly, patterned skin makes the rattlesnake hard to see when it is coiled up under a pile of leaves. In drought conditions, they may venture closer to man. In the heat of the summer, in the daytime, they will be found in the shade of trees, brush and cactus. They are also found under overhanging ledges. Some have been found sunning themselves in a newly watered lawn or atop rocks warming themselves. At night, a person walking in the desert or any area known for rattlesnakes, should carry a long walking stick, sweeping it along in front of him to avoid surprising any reptile out hunting. Rattlers do not always give warnings as depicted in Western movies, nor do they always strike if someone is close. Usually they are not aggressive and will not “chase” man. They attempt to escape from noise and commotion, or they remain quiet and hidden.

Snakes can strike through a snake-proof boot. Snakebite is rarely an accident. Ordinary cautions, looking where you are walking or putting your hands and feet, and being aware of where you are likely to find snakes and acting accordingly, will prevent most mishaps. Most victims of snakebite are children, drunks, foolish people, show-offs, and occasionally snake-wise people who have lost respect for snakes or got careless. Sometimes a person will find a snake, wake it up, tease it a bit and then decide to catch it and take it home. This is a perfect candidate for snakebite. Caution and respect are your best weapons about any snakes, especially rattlers.

Rattlers gather in groups to sleep through the winter. Sometimes up to 1,000 of them will coil up together. When temperatures begin to warm, snakes come out of hibernation. They remain near the den entrance for a few days sunning themselves, then make their way to where they will spend the summer. The rattler rarely goes more than a mile from its den. Snakes are secretive in their activities. They hunt at night and remain inactive and out of sight for days at a time during the digestive period after eating a squirrel or small rabbit. For this reason, more snakes are seen in the spring and fall migrations to and from their winter homes.

Snake poison, also called venom, is the ingredient in some medicines. To collect the venom, people who have been specially trained for the job “milk” the snakes very carefully.

Unlike most snakes, which lay eggs, rattlers give birth to live young. As soon as they are born, the mother leaves. The babies are usually about 10 inches long. They stay by the birth area for the first week, then move out. Only a few survive the first summer, as they are prime candidates for becoming part of the food chain. The youngsters grow rapidly. Every time they come out of hibernation, they shed their skin, and with each skin shedding (molting) a new rattle appears. During the rapid growth of the first few years, they may molt three times annually. Thus, the number of rattles is not a true indicator of age. Rattles can wear out or break off, so it is unusual to find an adult snake with more than 8 or 10 rattles.

Rattlers eat lizards and small rodents such as ground squirrels, small rabbits, rats, and mice. They strike them rather than attempting to hold their prey. When the hollow fangs of the rattlesnake penetrates the victim's flesh, venom is injected as though through twin hypodermic needles. The animal either is stunned immediately or moves some distance than falls dead. At this point, the rattler swallows it whole.

If someone is unfortunate enough to be bitten by a rattler, it is best to do the following:(immediately call 911)
1-Get the victim away from the snake.
2-Get the victim calm and keep him quiet
3-Put a ligature on the affected extremity between the bite and the next joint -- a ligature should be tight enough to stop the venomous blood, but not tight enough to stop the arterial blood.
4-Try to keep the affected part cooled down, to slow the absorption of the venom.
5-Get the victim to medical attention AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Of about 6,000 victims of poisonous snakebites in the United States each year, only about 12 die and many of the survivors have no first aid treatment. Since most snakebites happen to the extremities, the cut and suck method, administered incorrectly, can do great damage. For cut and suck to be effective, incisions must be made IMMEDIATELY after the snakebite. If there is any delay, the process is useless.

Antivenin is best when administered by a physician who can tell if the patient is allergic to it.

As with all poisonous creatures, the best cure for snakebite is prevention.