With their warning bells and venom, rattlesnakes are often misunderstood, even though they actively avoid humans. This article helps us better understand the many types of rattlesnakes and promote conservation efforts.
Rattlesnakes are a type of venomous snake belonging to the Viperidae family. They specifically fall under the Crotalinae subfamily, also called pit vipers, along with other venomous snakes such as copperheads and cottonmouths.
These unique snakes are distributed into two genera: Crotalus and Sistrurus. The former usually grow larger and possess slightly broad-shaped heads. Meanwhile, the latter species are typically smaller, with rounded, smooth-scaled heads.
These snakes are distributed across the Americas, from southern Canada to central Argentina. However, most species live in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
Each rattlesnake species has adapted to thrive in diverse environments such as deserts, swamps, grasslands, forests, and mountainous regions. Although they are venomous serpents, not every rattlesnake bite is threatening to humans.
20 Types of Rattlesnake Species
1. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is the largest species of rattlesnake in the Americas and the heaviest venomous snake.
It can grow to a maximum length of eight feet and has diamond-shaped dark brown, black, and yellow markings. Its head is triangular, with a dark stripe running through each eye.
They use their rattle at the end of their to hunt prey. Rattlesnakes of this kind are solitary creatures that seek out other rattlesnakes only during the breeding season.
2. Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is a rattlesnake living in the arid landscapes of the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. It is known for its diamond-shaped patterns and robust size, reaching up to 4 feet.
This type of rattlesnake earns its "coon tail" nickname due to its distinct tail pattern. The black and white banding resembles a raccoon's tail, hence the moniker.
The snake possesses a hemotoxic venom but uses it only when necessary. It is defensive and warns with its rattles before striking.
The snake is more active during cooler hours and feeds on small mammals, birds, lizards, and other snakes.
3. Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)
The Mojave Rattlesnake is a venomous snake in the southwestern United States and central Mexico.
Mojave Rattlesnake bites contain potent neurotoxins that can cause paralysis and death. However, the snake is not aggressive and will only strike if threatened.
Moreover, this type of rattlesnake can thrive in various habitats, where it eats small mammals, birds, lizards, and other snakes. They also keep rodent populations in check, balancing the ecosystem.
4. Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
The Timber Rattlesnake is a well-camouflaged snake that resides in the rugged landscapes of eastern North America. They are relatively docile and measure anywhere from 36 to 60 inches.
Moreover, they have adapted to thrive in their environment, including hibernating in communal dens and exhibiting patience and precision in hunting. Through their predation, Timber Rattlesnakes regulate rodent populations.
5. Sidewinder Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes)
The Sidewinder Rattlesnake is a nocturnal venomous snake species living in the arid landscapes of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.
Its unique sideways movement, horn-like scales above its eyes, and colored skin provide effective camouflage in desert terrain. Like other types of rattlesnakes, it uses its tail as a lure to catch prey.
While it is a formidable predator due to its hunting strategy, stealth, and venom, it prefers to avoid confrontation. It swiftly retreats when faced with potential threats.
6. Red Diamond Rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber)
The Red Diamond Rattlesnake is a rattlesnake species in the southwestern United States and Baja California in Mexico. It has a unique reddish-brown or pinkish hue and diamond-shaped patterns on its back.
Moreover, it can grow up to five feet long and thrive in various habitats. However, it prefers open, sandy environments over rocky terrains.
It primarily feeds on small mammals but occasionally eats birds, lizards, or snakes. Likewise, it is most active during cooler hours due to its nocturnal nature. Still, it may bask in the sun during colder seasons.
7. Arizona Black Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus)
The Arizona Black Rattlesnake is a venomous species found in Arizona, New Mexico, and some regions of Mexico. Their black or dark grey coloration allows them to blend seamlessly into the surroundings.
They prey on small mammals such as mice, rats, squirrels, birds, or lizards and have a unique behavior of 'tail-flagging' as a warning to potential predators. Although encounters with this species are rare, always observe them from a safe distance.
8. Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus)
The Pacific Rattlesnake is a highly adaptable species that can camouflage in various environments. It also thrives in habitats such as grasslands, coastal areas, forests, and deserts.
This type of rattlesnake sports a blended color pattern of browns and greys. Adult sizes reach between 2 and 5 feet, making them medium- to large-sized rattlesnakes.
This rattlesnake is a patient and precise predator that ambushes small mammals, birds, and lizards.
9. Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
The Prairie Rattlesnake is a venomous pit viper exhibiting muted, earthy tones of greys and browns, camouflaging with dry landscapes. Adults typically measure between 1.5 to 3 feet in length.
This is a nominate subspecies, and it has one other subspecies called the Hopi Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis nuntius). It is smaller, growing only up to 2 feet. Its name is derived from the Native American Hopi tribe, which lives in the habitat where the snakes live.
10. South American Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus)
The South American Rattlesnake, also called Tropical Rattlesnake, presents a mix of tans and browns, beautifully designed with diamond-shaped markings along its back. Averaging between 4 and 5 feet, it sports longitudinal rows of keeled scales, lending to its rugged surface texture.
Naturally occupying a broad range of habitats, it is typically found in forests, grasslands, and deserts across South America. This species is active the most during the early morning and dusk. Its diet primarily consists of small mammals, but it also preys on lizards in other areas.
11. Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius)
The Pygmy Rattlesnake lives in the southeastern United States. It is small and stout, stretching only 15 to 25 inches long. Its skin displays a series of reddish-brown blotches against a grey body.
They thrive in various environments, and their diet consists of small rodents, lizards, and frogs. Their venom keeps their prey’s population in check.
This type of rattlesnake produces cytotoxic venom that, while low in volume, is tissue-toxic and can cause hemorrhaging. The venom lacks neurotoxins but has extensive amounts of serotonin and tryptamine compounds, which led to the creation of the heart attack drug called eptifibatide4.
12. Tiger Rattlesnake (Crotalus tigris)
The Tiger Rattlesnake is a venomous species in the American Southwest and northwestern Mexico. It has bold, dark crossbands against a lighter background, resembling tiger stripes.
This type of rattlesnake inhabits rocky terrains and scrublands, primarily surviving on a diet of small rodents, lizards, and occasionally birds.
Furthermore, they are nocturnal during summer. Before hibernating in winter, they are most active during the day and in twilight hours.
13. Twin-spotted Rattlesnake (Crotalus pricei)
The Twin-spotted Rattlesnake is a small pit viper living in the southwestern United States and Mexico. It has a brown-to-gray palette and is a master of camouflage.
The snake prefers living in the mountains amidst pine-oak and mixed conifer forests. It is a creature of the night and feeds on small mammals, birds, and lizards.
14. Santa Catalina Rattlesnake (Crotalus catalinensis)
The Santa Catalina Rattlesnake is endemic to Santa Catalina Island in the Gulf of California. It has a non-functional rattle and light-colored skin that blends with the rocky terrain. It is primarily active at night, feeding on small mammals, birds, and lizards.
The lack of rattling ability was hypothesized to be a stealth adaptation during hunting if they are arboreal creatures1. Observations in their natural habitat debunked this theory since these rattlesnakes are mostly terrestrial creatures.
Unfortunately, the latest IUCN assessment categorized the Santa Catalina Island Rattlesnake as critically endangered. This is an effect of multiple causes, such as its single-location existence, past threats from feral cats, illegal trade, human persecution, and dependence on a single rodent species for 70% of its diet.
15. Rock Rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus)
The Rock Rattlesnake, or the Banded Rock Rattlesnake, is a small pit viper in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Its body has a pinkish-brown to dark-gray color that allows it to blend in with the surroundings.
It preys on small mammals, lizards, birds, and amphibians at night. This ovoviviparous species gives birth to 2 to 8 offspring at a time, usually in late summer or early fall.
Despite its venom, it usually does not pose a threat to humans unless it feels threatened.
16. Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii)
The Speckled Rattlesnake, or Mitchell’s Rattlesnake, is a venomous pit viper in the western US and Mexico. It blends in with the rocky terrain thanks to its speckled skin.
It is active at night, feeds on small mammals, birds, and lizards, and gives birth to live young.
When threatened, this type of rattlesnake rattles its tail and strikes with potent venom. A recent study reports its venom constitutes crotoxin and serine proteases2, which can lead to muscle weakness, vision problems, and uncontrolled bleeding.
17. Grand Canyon Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus abyssus)
Grand Canyon Rattlesnake, also called the Pink Rattlesnake, inhabits the Arizona and Utah states of the USA. Its colors, ranging from pink to grey, resemble the surrounding rocks, allowing it to blend into the Grand Canyon's stunning landscape.
Unlike most nocturnal rattlesnakes, the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake prefers the cooler daylight hours to hunt for small mammals such as mice and rats. However, it may occasionally prey on birds.
18. Mottled Rock Rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus)
This rattlesnake is a small, primarily nocturnal creature found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It can only grow up to 32 inches. Depending on their rocky environment, their color can range from light grey to pink, with mottled patterns of different hues.
It uses the ambush technique to hunt small mammals, lizards, and birds. Unlike other types of rattlesnakes, they are active in colder temperatures.
19. Northwestern Neotropical Rattlesnake (Crotalus culminatus)
The Northwestern Neotropical Rattlesnake lives in Southwestern Mexico, with some staying at Sierra de Coalcomán, reaching elevations up to 6,500 feet. It has a unique skin coloration and can grow around 3.2 feet in length.
This type of rattlesnake is terrestrial and diurnal, feeding on rodents, birds, and lizards.
20. Baja California Rattlesnake (Crotalus enyo)
The Baja California Rattlesnake, also called Lower California rattlesnake, is a snake living in Mexico's Baja California Peninsula and the southern tip of California.
It is relatively small, reaching up to 35 inches, and has a distinctive skin coloration that blends with its desert environments.
Moreover, it preys mainly on rodents and lizards. Unlike most rattlesnakes, they also eat centipedes of the genus3 Scolopendra.
Martins, M., Arnaud, G., & Murillo-Quero, R. (2008). Exploring Hypotheses about the Loss of the Rattle in Rattlesnakes: How Arboreal Is the Isla Santa Catalina Rattleless Rattlesnake, Crotalus catalinensis?. South American Journal of Herpetology, 3(2), 162-167.
Arnaud, G., Ríos-Castro, E., Velasco-Suárez, A., León, F. J. G., Beltrán, L. F., & Carbajal-Saucedo, A. (2023). Venom comparisons of endemic and micro-endemic speckled rattlesnakes Crotalus mitchellii, C. polisi and C. thalassoporus from Baja California Peninsula. Toxicon, 224, 107030.
Taylor, E. (2001). Diet of the Baja California Rattlesnake, Crotalus enyo (Viperidae). Copeia, 2001(2), 553-555.
Scarborough, R. M. (1999). Development of eptifibatide. American Heart Journal, 138(6), 1093–1104.