(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE U.S. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)
The Grand Canyon is home to six species of rattlesnakes. These creatures control rodent populations in the Canyon, helping prevent the spread of disease and the over grazing of fruiting plants. Please observe these venomous predators from a distance.
The most famous physical feature is the rattle on the end of the snake’s tail. It is made of highly modified scales, and the noise it makes is used to scare way animals that may threaten the snake. By scaring away predators without a fight, rattlesnakes avoid injury and don’t waste venom that they need for hunting.
Rattlesnakes have a thick body and broad, diamond shaped head.
Rattlesnakes are part of a group of venomous snakes called pit vipers. All pit vipers are characterized by a pair of heat-sensing pits below their nostrils that help them find prey at night.
Each of the 6 rattlesnake species in the Grand Canyon has a different color pattern.
Grand Canyon Pink Rattlesnake
Crotalus oreganus abyssus
Great Basin Rattlesnake
Crotalus oreganus lutosus
Crotalus viridis nuntius
While they can be found on the Rims, rattlesnakes are primarily found inside the Canyon.
Most species prefer open, rocky areas. Rocks provide shelter from predators, and an ambush site for hunting.
Rattlesnakes are ambush predators, meaning that they wait motionless until prey moves close enough for the snake to strike.
Prey includes small mammals, birds, and other reptiles.
Rattlesnakes are hunted by hawks, eagles, and other snakes (including the kingsnake, which is immune to rattlesnake venom).
Because rattlesnakes are ectotherms (meaning that they cannot regulate their body temperature like mammals do) they must bask in the sun to warm themselves in cooler weather.
During the winter, rattlesnakes enter a state of brumation. Similar to hibernation, brumation means that the snake becomes far less active, but are not completely inactive through the winter. Rattlesnakes will stay in this dormant period until daytime temperatures consistently reach 60oF (15.5oC).
Rattlesnakes are highly venomous, but will not attack a human unless provoked. Most bites occur when people try to pick up rattlesnakes.
If you hear a rattle, move away from the noise and watch the snake from a distance of at least 15 feet (3m)