Rattleless Rattlesnake - New Species or Metamorphosis?

If you live in San Diego and hike or mountain bike, most likely you've encountered a rattlesnake at some point. They are common in the back country of San Diego, especially in the mountainous and high desert areas. But have you ever heard of a rattleless rattlesnake? Man wonder if it's a new species of snake or did the rattlesnake mutate and lose the rattle?

It's new to most people to find out that rattleless rattlesnakes do exist and are common to Santa Catalina Island in the Sea of Cortez. This has been confused with Catalina Island, an island that belongs to Los Angeles County. And so far to date, Santa Catalina is the only place this rattleless species of rattlesnake is found. 

Theories Behind the Loss of the Rattle

There are many theories floating around about how the snakes lost their rattles in the first place, and several explanations exist as to why this occurred. The general assumption is that the rattle makes them more vulnerable to sudden attacks from human beings as well as from the predators. However, rattlesnakes don't always rattle, and are known to strike silently too. The snakes usually rattle strictly to warn an intruder to get back.

Studies show that rattlesnakes also respond to stress. In urban areas, where they are much closer to humans, intrusion into their habitat and living situation may elevate the snakes stress levels causing them to behave differently. Could this explain the loss of the rattle? Some believe it may be a stealthy survival adaptation designed to camouflage the snake. However, not all rattlesnakes rattle even though their rattles are intact and functioning. This would imply they have full control over the rattle and can turn it on or off to their liking.

Change of Natural Habitat

Research also shows that rattlesnakes that live in urban areas near humans, like backyards and parks, are commonly forced to deal with people and automobiles traffic. These snakes are forced to adapt in order to survive. This can even be seen in their selection of prey.

Mice and small rodents are commonly hunted by rattlesnakes, but most of these snakes have the ability to climb trees, even though they usually prefer to hunt on the ground. However, in some geographic areas, they have taken to hunting birds. In these cases, maybe it is beneficial for the snake to be rattleless.  Again, situations like this lean towards the adaptation theory previously mentioned.

Hopefully we shared something new that you didn't before know about snakes today. Happy trails!

Melissa Allen


Inspired by nature. Built for adventure.

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