Other common names
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Diamondback, Rattlesnake, Rattler
Most adult eastern diamond-backed rattlesnakes are about 33-72 inches (84-183 cm) in total length. This is a very large, heavy-bodied snake with a row of large dark diamonds with brown centers and cream borders down its back. The ground color of the body is brownish. The tail ends in a rattle, which is often held above the ground. The large and thick head is distinct from the neck and has a light bordered dark stripe running diagonally through each eye. The coloration of juveniles is the same as described for adults, and the tip of the tail of newborns ends in a “button”, which is the first segment of the future rattle.
Range in Florida
Eastern diamond-backed rattlesnakes are found throughout Florida and in every county. They also occur on many nearshore islands including many of the Florida Keys and several islands in the Gulf of Mexico in Levy (e.g., Cedar Keys) and Franklin (e.g., Dog, St. George, and St. Vincent islands) counties.
Assessment of risk to people and pets
VENOMOUS The eastern diamond-backed rattlesnake is a large and impressive snake, and bites can be very dangerous to people and pets. The victim should seek immediate medical care from a physician or hospital experienced in treating snakebites. Eastern diamond-backed rattlesnakes are not aggressive and avoid direct contact with people and pets. Most bites occur when the snakes are intentionally molested or accidentally stepped on. This is a snake that should be simply left alone and not bothered.
Comparison with other species
Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) Venomous The timber rattlesnake has black chevron-like crossbands, a reddish stripe down the middle of its back, and a black tail. This is the only other rattlesnake with which an eastern diamond-backed rattlesnake might be confused in Florida.
Most adult eastern diamond-backed rattlesnakes are about 33-72 inches (84-183 cm) in total length, with a record length recorded of 99 inches (251.5 cm). This is a very large, heavy-bodied snake with a row of large dark diamonds with brown centers and cream borders down its back. The ground color of the body is brownish. The tail is usually a different shade of brown or gray, and toward the end of the tail the diamond pattern fades out or changes into dark bands. The tail ends in a rattle, which is often held above the ground. The dorsal scales of the body are keeled (each scale has a prominent raised ridge). The large and thick head is distinct from the neck and has a light bordered dark stripe running diagonally through each eye. The pupil is vertically elliptical (cat-like), and there is a deep facial pit organ located between the nostril and the eye. There are no large scales on the top of the head except for the scales over the eyes. The coloration of juveniles is the same as described for adults, but it may be brighter with more contrast. The tip of the tail of newborns ends in a “button”, which is the first segment of the future rattle.
Eastern diamond-backed rattlesnakes are often found in pine flatwoods, longleaf pine and turkey oak hammocks, sand pine scrub areas, and coastal barrier islands. These habitats contain palmetto thickets and gopher tortoise burrows in which these rattlesnakes may seek refuge. This species is occasionally found in suburban neighborhoods where development encroaches into favorable habitats.
Most eastern diamond-backed rattlesnakes lie quietly coiled when first discovered. However, if provoked they will coil their bodies and shake their tails, producing a loud buzzing sound. They may also raise the head and neck far off the ground and into an S-shaped striking position. These snakes can strike up to 2/3 their body length. Thus, a 6-foot (183 cm) individual may strike 4 feet (122 cm). Nonetheless, these snakes are not aggressive, and striking is only used in defense as a last resort.
Eastern diamond-backed rattlesnakes feed primarily on mammals and occasionally birds. Adults feed mostly on rabbits, cotton rats, mice, squirrels, and birds, whereas juveniles prefer mice and rats. These snakes may actively pursue prey by following their scent trails, but more typically these snakes sit and wait to ambush prey.
In Florida, females typically give birth to around 8-29 live young between August and September. Competing males engage in combat dances when trailing females during the breeding season.
Contrary to folklore, the eastern diamond-backed rattlesnake does not need to rattle before striking. It can lay silently and motionless, and then strike without the usual nervous buzz from its rattle. In fact, eastern diamond-backed rattlesnakes that rattle are more likely to be heard, seen, and killed than those individuals that remain silent.
The eastern diamond-backed rattlesnake is extremely beneficial to people because it preys on many species that are considered pests. Nevertheless, many are unfortunately killed by people every year. This indiscriminate killing, combined with the widespread loss of rattlesnake habitat to agricultural development, urban sprawl, and the commercial hunting for rattlesnake skins has caused a severe decline in most eastern diamond-backed rattlesnake populations.
Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Brevard, Broward, Calhoun, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Columbia, De Soto, Dixie, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Glades, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Hendry, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Holmes, Indian River, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Lee, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Nassau, Okaloosa, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Saint Johns, Saint Lucie, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Seminole, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor, Volusia, Wakulla, Walton, Washington, Upper FL Keys, Middle FL Keys, Lower FL Keys
If you have a new or interesting observation for this species, please email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum.
Ernst, C.H. and E.M. Ernst. 2003. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. 668 pp.
Krysko, K.L., K.M. Enge, and P.E. Moler. Amphibians and Reptiles of Florida. 2019. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida. 706 pp.
Means, D.B. 2017. Diamonds in the Rough: Natural History of the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. Tall Timbers Press, Tallahassee, Florida. 416 pages.
Powell, R., R. Conant, and J.T. Collins. 2016. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston and New York. xiv + 494 pp.
Share your observations
You can help scientists better understand the biology and distribution of this species by sharing your observations. Send photos or videos of interesting observations, along with associated information, by emailing the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum for documentation in the Museum’s Herpetology Master Database. You can also post your observations on iNaturalist.
Additional helpful information
Do you have snakes around your house? Learn how to safely co-exist with snakes.
Still have questions about snakes or identifications? Feel free to email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum with your questions or feedback on this profile.
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