They hiss, they rattle, they bite. Rattlesnakes are one of the most feared snakes in North America, and it’s easy to see why: they have a venomous bite.
Rattlesnakes can be found in both North and South America, but the greatest concentration is in the southwestern U.S. and northern parts of Mexico. Arizona alone has more than 13 different species of the rattlesnake.
Rattle and Hiss
If you live in the southwestern U.S., you know the distinct sound of a rattlesnake. And you probably grew up learning to respect and fear these slithering creatures. These pit vipers have a very distinctive rattle or buzz that warns predators to stay away.
So what makes a rattlesnake rattle? Keratin. Segments of keratin are clustered at the end of the snake’s tail. These segments fit loosely inside one another, and they knock against each other when the snake holds its tail upright and vibrates. This knocking action is what creates the buzzing sound rattlesnakes are known for.
Every time a rattlesnake sheds its snake skin, it adds another segment to its tail, or rattle. As these snakes age, parts of their rattle start to wear away and break off. That’s why some adult rattlers have no rattle.