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Crotalus is a genus of venomous pit vipers found only in the Americas from southern Canada to northern Argentina. The name is derived from the Greek word krotalon, which means "rattle" or "castanet", and refers to the rattle on the end of the tail which makes this group (genera Crotalus and Sistrurus) so distinctive. Currently, 32 species are recognized.
Members of this genus range in size from only 50–60 cm (C. intermedius, C. pricei), to over 150 cm (C. adamanteus, C. atrox). In general, adult males are slightly larger than females. Compared to most snakes, they are heavy-bodied, although some African vipers are much thicker. Most forms are easily recognized by the characteristic rattle on the end of their tails, although a few island populations form exceptions to this rule: C. catalinensis has lost its rattle entirely, C. ruber lorenzoensis usually has no rattle, and both C. r. lucasensis and C. molossus estebanensis exhibit a tendency for rattle loss. The rattle may also be lacking in any species due to a congenital abnormality.
The rattle consists of a series of loosely interlocking hollow shells, each of which was at one point the scale covering the tip of the tail. In most other snakes, the tail tip, or terminal spine, is cone-shaped, hardly any thicker than the rest of the skin, and is shed along with it at each successive molt. In this case, however, the end-scale, or "button", is much thicker and shaped like a bulb, with one or two annular constrictions to prevent it from falling off. Before each molt, a new button will have developed inside the last one and before the skin is shed, the tip of new button shrinks, thereby loosening the shell of the previous one. This process continues so the succession of molts produces an appendage consisting of a number of interlocking segments that make an audible noise when vibrated. Since younger specimens may shed three or four times in a year, every time adding a new segment to the rattle, the number of segments bears no relation to the age of the snake. In theory, the rattle could become very long indeed, but in practice, the older segments tend to wear out and fall off. How quickly this happens depends on the snake's environment, but end segments tend to break off after the rattle becomes about six or seven segments long; it is uncommon to find specimens with as many as a dozen segments. In captive specimens, however, as many as 29 segments have been found.
No species is considered aggressive; when threatened, most will retreat quickly. However, most species will defend themselves readily when cornered.
How far these snakes can strike has been controversial. Obviously this depends on the size of the animal, but other factors may also play a role, such as the species, the position of the body, and the degree of excitement. Additionally, there is the question of definition: from which point on the snake should a strike be measured: from the front, the middle, or the back of the anchor coil on the ground? Even if the length of the specimen is known, once it strikes, it is almost impossible to determine the limiting point reached by its head and the position of its body when the movement started. Therefore, it is not surprising that many conflicting statements can be found in the available literature about how far these snakes can strike. Estimates have been given that range from one-third of the body length, to half, three-quarters or even the full length of the animal. They rarely strike further than half of their body length, and almost never more than three-fourths, but that it is still not wise to trust such values if only because it is not possible to accurately judge the length of a coiled snake.
Their diets generally consist of vertebrates, although many invertebrate species have also been consumed. Smaller species feed mainly on lizards, while larger species start by feeding on lizards as juveniles and then switch to preying mainly on mammals as adults. Prey items more frequently taken include rabbits, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, chipmunks, prairie dogs, gophers, and rats and mice, while those less frequently taken include birds, snakes, and amphibians. Cannibalism has been reported in a number of different species. Individuals that feed on rodents usually release their prey after a strike, and these snakes evidently can discriminate between trails left by prey that has or has not been envenomated.:506
For all species, the most significant threats come from people, but they also face many natural enemies. These include other snakes, such as king snakes (Lampropeltis), coachwhips (Masticophis), indigo snakes (Drymarchon) and racers (Coluber), birds, such as hawks, eagles, owls, roadrunners, and ravens, and mammals, such as coyotes, foxes, wildcats, badgers, skunks and pigs. Certain species of birds frequently prey on these snakes, but this is not without risk. Two cases were reported in which dead hawks found near venomous snakes had suffered hemorrhage and gangrenous necrosis due to snakebite.:514
This genus is ovoviviparous, giving birth to live young. The basic lifecycle of many Nearctic species has been known for quite some time. Females at an age of 26 months undergo vitellogenesis as they enter their third hibernation, mate the following spring, and give birth later in September or October.:516
A number of variations to this basic cycle occur. In North America, the females of some species store sperm in their oviducts for at least eight months, and the males (all species of which undergo spermatogenesis during the summer) store sperm in the vas deferens for at least a year. Thus, species that store sperm for a shorter duration mate in the spring and store sperm in the vas deferens, while those that do so for a longer duration mate in the fall and store sperm in the oviduct over the winter, after which fertilization occurs the following spring.:516 In addition, species that occur further north, where it is colder during much of the year and the feeding and growing season is short, may reproduce only every other year or less. Those found in central and southern Mexico or the tropics have reproductive cycles that correspond mostly with the rainy season.:519
Two main hemotoxic effects are caused by rattlesnake venom. First, zinc-containing metalloproteases act upon capillary endothelial cells to cause platelet aggregation and hemorrhage. Second, the platelet antagonist crotalin creates a severe bleeding effect as it binds to the surface proteins, blocking aggregation. These two starkly different effects may seem counterproductive, but the effect should be profound. Firstly, endothelial-cell disruption causes lysis and internal bleeding. Then, as these hemorrhages increase, the natural thrombin response is hindered by the effect of crotalin increasing the toxic effect. Their observed hunting technique is a bite-and-release method, so a fast-acting toxin would be ideal. Assuming the natural median prey would be a small rodent such as a mouse, the bite would elicit a fear response, quickening heart rate and increasing blood pressure. This would speed the toxic effect, as well as spread the hemolytic and hemorrhagic effects.
|Species||Taxon author||Subsp.*||Common name||Geographic range|
|C. adamanteus||Palisot de Beauvois, 1799||0||Eastern diamondback rattlesnake||The southeastern United States from southeastern North Carolina, south along the coastal plain through peninsular Florida to the Florida Keys, and west along the Gulf Coast through southern Mississippi to southeastern Louisiana|
|C. aquilus||Klauber, 1952||0||Querétaro dusky rattlesnake||The highlands of central Mexico: Guanajuato, Hidalgo, México, Michoacán, and San Luis Potosí|
|C. atrox||Baird & Girard, 1853||0||Western diamondback rattlesnake||The United States from central Arkansas and southeastern California, south into Mexico as far as northern Sinaloa, Hidalgo, and northern Veracruz, disjunct populations in southern Veracruz and southeastern Oaxaca|
|C. basiliscus||(Cope, 1864)||0||Mexican west coast rattlesnake||Western Mexico from southern Sonora to Michoacán|
|C. catalinensis||Cliff, 1954||0||Santa Catalina rattlesnake||Isla Santa Catalina in the Gulf of California (western Mexico)|
|C. cerastes||Hallowell, 1854||2||Sidewinder||The southwestern United States in the desert region of eastern California, southern Nevada, extreme southwestern Utah, and western Arizona, northwestern Mexico in western Sonora and eastern Baja California|
|C. durissus||Linnaeus, 1758||8||South American rattlesnake||All South American countries except Chile and Ecuador (although the various populations are disjunct), some islands in the Caribbean|
|C. enyo||(Cope, 1861)||2||Baja California rattlesnake||Western Mexico on the Baja California Peninsula from around Río San Telmo on the west coast and from opposite Isla Angel de la Guarda on the gulf coast, south to Cabo San Lucas, on the following islands in the Gulf of California: San Marcos, Carmen, San José, San Francisco, Partida del Sur, Espírita Santo, and Cerralvo, off the Pacific coast on the island of San Margarita|
|C. horridusT||Linnaeus, 1758||0||Timber rattlesnake||The eastern United States from southern Minnesota and southern Maine, south to east Texas and north Florida, in southern Canada in southern Ontario|
|C. intermedius||Troschel, 1865||2||Mexican small-headed rattlesnake||Central and southern Mexico, in southeastern Hidalgo, southern Tlaxcala, northeastern and south-central Puebla, west-central Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Guerrero|
|C. lannomi||W. Tanner, 1966||0||Autlán rattlesnake||Western Mexico in Jalisco|
|C. lepidus||(Kennicott, 1861)||3||Rock rattlesnake||The southwestern United States in Arizona, southern New Mexico, and southwestern Texas, south into north-central Mexico|
|C. mitchellii||(Cope, 1861)||4||Speckled rattlesnake||The southwestern United States in east-central and southern California, southwestern Nevada, extreme southwestern Utah, and western Arizona, in Mexico in most of Baja California, including Baja California Sur, on a number of islands in the Gulf of California and on Santa Margarita Island off the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur|
|C. molossus||Baird & Girard, 1853||3||Black-tailed rattlesnake||The southwestern United States in Arizona, New Mexico, and west and central Texas, in Mexico as far south as Oaxaca, in the Gulf of California on San Estéban Island and Tiburón Island|
|C. oreganus||Holbrook, 1840||6||Western rattlesnake||Southwestern Canada (southern British Columbia), south though much of the western half of the United States (Washington, Oregon, western and southern Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and likely west-central New Mexico), and into northern Mexico (western Baja California (state) and the extreme north of Baja California Sur)|
|C. polystictus||(Cope, 1865)||0||Mexican lance-headed rattlesnake||Central Mexican Plateau, from southern Zacatecas and northeastern Colima east to east-central Veracruz|
|C. pricei||Van Denburgh, 1895||1||Twin-spotted rattlesnake||In the US from southeastern Arizona, and Mexico in northern Sonora southeast through Chihuahua, Durango, southeastern Coahuila and Nuevo León into Tamaulipas|
|C. pusillus||Klauber, 1952||0||Tancitaran dusky rattlesnake||West-central Mexico in southwestern and west-central Michoacán and adjacent Jalisco, probably also in northeastern Colima|
|C. ruber||Cope, 1892||2||Red diamond rattlesnake||The US in southwestern California, south through the Baja California Peninsula, except in the desert east of the Sierra de Juárez, also on a number of islands in the Gulf of California and two islands off the west coast of Baja California Sur|
|C. scutulatus||(Kennicott, 1861)||1||Mohave rattlesnake||The southwestern US in southern California, southern Nevada, extreme southwestern Utah, most of Arizona, southern New Mexico, and West Texas, and south into Mexico to southern Puebla|
|C. simus||Latreille In Sonnini & Latreille, 1801||2||Middle American rattlesnake||From Mexico in southwestern Michoacán on the Pacific coast, and Veracruz and the Yucatán Peninsula on the Atlantic coast, south through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua to west-central Costa Rica|
|C. stejnegeri||Dunn, 1919||0||Long-tailed rattlesnake||Western Mexico in eastern Sinaloa, western Durango, and probably northern Nayarit|
|C. tigris||Kennicott in Baird, 1859||0||Tiger rattlesnake||The southwestern US in south-central Arizona, and in northwestern Mexico in Sonora, on Isla Tiburón in the Gulf of California|
|C. tortugensis||Van Denburgh & Slevin, 1921||0||Tortuga Island diamond rattlesnake||Mexico, on Tortuga Island, in the Gulf of California]]|
|C. totonacus||Gloyd & Kauffeld, 1940||0||Totonacan rattlesnake||Northeastern Mexico from central Nuevo León through southern Tamaulipas, northern Veracruz, eastern San Luis Potosí, and northern Querétaro.|
|C. transversus||Taylor, 1944||0||Cross-banded mountain rattlesnake||Central Mexico in México and Morelos.|
|C. triseriatus||(Wagler, 1830)||1||Mexican dusky rattlesnake||Mexico, along the southern edge of the Mexican Plateau in the highlands of the Transverse Volcanic Cordillera, including the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, México, Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz|
|C. viridis||(Rafinesque, 1818)||1||Prairie rattlesnake||Southern Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan), south through the US (eastern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, extreme eastern Arizona), and into northern Mexico (northern Coahuila, northwestern Chihuahua)|
|C. willardi||Meek, 1905||4||Ridge-nosed rattlesnake||The US in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, and northwestern Mexico in Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, and Zacatecas|
sound of a rattlesnake
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- List of crotaline species and subspecies
- Crotalus by common name
- Crotalus by taxonomic synonyms
- Crotalinae by common name
- Crotalinae by taxonomic synonyms
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