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Canadian Herpetological Society

Société d'herpétologie du Canada

Crotalus viridis
Prairie Rattlesnake / Crotale des prairies

Prairie Rattlesnake

The Prairie Rattlesnake is a moderately large, heavy-bodied snake with a distinctly triangular head and a rattle at the end of the tail. The eyes have vertical pupils. It is a tan or brownish snake with large brownish irregular blotches down the back and smaller blotches along the sides. The blotches are often lighter in the centre, dark at the edges but surrounded with a light border. Maximum adult size is over 1.6 m.

Confusing Species
Although there are no other species of rattlesnake in Prairie Canada, there are other blotched snakes which are commonly mistaken for rattlesnakes. Bullsnakes tend to have a more regular checkered pattern to the blotches. Western Hog-nosed Snakes have a distinctly upturned snout and large blotches on the belly. Neither of these species has the typical triangular head and rattle of a rattlesnake.

Prairie Rattlesnakes are found in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. They are widely distributed in the southern US reaching down into Mexico.

The Prairie Rattlesnake is found in desert, short grass prairie and dry open scrubland. It is often seen near rock piles or boulders in areas with sandy soil but may also be found near farms and fields. This snake may also be found on rocky outcrops and talus slopes and in association with Prairie Dog towns.

Females begin breeding at an age of 6-8 years and probably do not breed every year. They are live bearing and produce 4-21 young up to 30 cm long. Young are born in late summer or fall.

Natural History
Rattlesnakes have heat sensing facial pits which allow them to locate warm blooded prey such as small mammals and birds. Farmers value them in reducing pests. They also eat reptiles and amphibians. They often hibernate communally in rock crevices or caves or individually in mammal burrows. In spring they may be seen basking at the entrance to a communal hibernaculum. They are an aggressive snake and when disturbed will coil, vibrate the rattle and strike. Although bites are rarely fatal Prairie Rattlesnakes are venomous and should be treated with caution.

Conservation Concerns
Their communal denning habit makes this snake particularly vulnerable to persecution by people.