Say Hello To Huey, Dewey, and Louie — Baby Rattlesnakes

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At any given time my friend Sam seems to have a fair number of Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes on his property.  His yard is heavily planted and it backs up to a very large wash.  The location provides great habitat for desert life including small rodents, a main food source for rattlers. Rattlesnakes follow the food.

Last autumn I photographed “Rosie,” one of the more frequent visitors to Sam’s place, mating with another rattler.  Rattlesnakes typically give birth in August or September and so Sam had been expecting a blessed event.  About a week or ten days ago Sam observed four baby Diamondbacks.  Rosie is a mom.

I was invited over to photograph the kids.  By the time I’d arrived one had disappeared into the brush, but three remained behind, patiently waiting for me to photograph them.  Sam named them “Huey,” “Dewey,” and “Louie,” outstanding names, in my opinion.  Here they are:


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and, last but not least, Louie:

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Baby rattlers look like miniature adults except, perhaps, their eyes are a bit larger in proportion to their heads than is so with the adult snakes.  The babies lack rattles, however.  They will start growing rattle segments as they shed their skins, which can be as often as several times a year.

At this stage the kids are about 10 or 11 inches in length and, perhaps, a half inch in diameter.  Interestingly, female rattlesnakes do not lay eggs.  Unlike most reptiles they give birth to live youngsters, as many as a dozen in a brood.  The youngsters hang around their mother for the first week or so after she delivers them.  Mom doesn’t feed the kids but she does provide a certain degree of protection to her small and vulnerable offspring.  The youngsters will feed on insects and invertebrates for a while, but they quickly graduate to an adult diet of mice and other small rodents as they grow.

I find it interesting that both Huey and Dewey have some at least partially blue-green scales on their faces, with Huey’s being more prominent (Louie seems to have almost none of these scales).  I’ve never seen such pigment on a Diamondback before and I wonder if these little rattlers will lose that as they go through subsequent sheds and grow.

A baby rattlesnake comes equipped with fully functioning fangs and venom glands.  A popular and incorrect myth is that it is “better” to be bitten by an adult rattler than an infant because the infant’s venom is much more potent than is the adult’s.  That myth is false for two reasons.  First, the evidence is disputed that baby rattlesnake venom is more potent, drop for drop, than adult venom.  But, even if that were so, the quantity of venom that a baby rattlesnake can inject with a bite is a small fraction of what an adult snake can inject.  So, in fact, it’s “better” to be bitten by one of these infants.  But, in reality, it’s best not to be bitten at all.

Images made with Canon 5DS-R, 180mm f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, ISO 160, f10 @ 1/160.


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