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Prairie rattlesnake

Scientific name: Crotalus viridis viridis

CLASS: Reptilia
ORDER: Squamata
FAMILY: Viperidae

STATISTICS: Weight: 400-800 g; Length: 35-45 inches

The prairie rattlesnake ranges in color from green to brown to pink to red. It has an easily recognizable pattern of brown spots or blotches down the back and white or yellowish lines on the head. The lines on the head run from in front of the forehead back along the mouth on the upper jaw and from the rear of the eye to in front and to the top of the mouth. Each snake possesses a rattle on its tail and hinged fangs in the mouth.

South Alberta and south Saskatchewan Canada, down through North and South Dakota, through Nebraska and west Iowa, central and western Kansas, central Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, west and central Texas and in the very eastern parts of Arizona.

Temperate forest, shrub lands, grasslands, both hot and temperate deserts, and rocky to mountainous terrain.

Prairie rattlesnakes are extremely anti-social creatures. Both male and female prefer to spend time alone hunting for food when not in mating season. Prairie rattlesnakes always prefer to escape if given the opportunity rather than using their hinge-like fangs. However, when the snake does use its fangs, it pushes out over half the content of its two sizeable venom sacks through hypodermic –needle-like fangs.

The rattle on each snake grows with each shedding and is used to warn off enemies or threats like humans intruding on the snake’s personal space. The prairie rattlesnake’s blotchy brown pattern suits it well for blending into its extremely wide range of habitats. From underground homes in abandoned burrows to rocky cliffs, grasslands, and deserts (and on rare occasion in trees), the camouflage is very proficient. As in all snakes, its tongue is used as a sensory organ. The snake can “taste” the air around it and use the information to hunt or hide.

Prairie rattlesnakes mate between the months of March and May. They use internal fertilization. The female gives birth to between four and 21 live young after a three to four month gestation period. The babies are 8.5-11 inches long at birth, and are fully autonomous and venomous as well. Sexual maturity takes about three years in both males and females. As a snake grows, it will shed its skin several times. Males compete over females but body size is not a factor in determining the winner of these contests. The males will not likely fight over females in areas where the population of females is sufficient. Instead, it will travel and look for a suitable mate elsewhere.

Prey to people, hawks, eagles, coyotes, and ravens.
Predator to mice, rodents, ground squirrels, rabbits, other snakes, and insects

Small mammals, ground nesting birds, amphibians, other snakes

Population currently stable.


  • The wild population is too elusive and numerous to count accurately. However, due to rattlesnake roundups and loss of habitat, losses are estimated to reach up to 8-10 percent in non-protected areas each year. The number one enemy of the prairie rattlesnake is humans.
  • The prairie rattlesnake is a sub-species of the western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis).
  • A popular misconception is that rattlesnakes are aggressive and vicious, but given the chance the snake will leave the area as it prefers escape rather than confrontation. This belief may be one of the reasons for man’s fear and aggression toward the species.


  1. National Geographic
  2. Ernst, Carl R. Venomous Reptiles of North America. Washington and London, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992. P. 154-172.
  3. CITES. June 2008
  4. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. June 2008.
  5. Conant, Roger/Collins, Joseph. Reptiles and Amphibians. Eastern/Central North America. Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston, New York. 1991. P. 236.

Published: April 2009

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