Rattlesnakes: the World’s Most Polite Animal?

When you hear the word “rattlesnake,” what’s the emotion that first comes to mind? Is it fear, perhaps, or maybe a bit of apprehension? We’re here to tell you that actually, there’s nothing to be worried about. And hopefully, you’ll come to think of them like we do: as the world’s most polite animal.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Around Houston, there are 34 total varieties of snakes that can be found. Of these, only 6 are venomous. Of these 6, there are 3 kinds of rattlesnakes, 2 of which really aren’t found in this area much anymore. The venomous snakes include:

  • Copperhead
  • Cottonmouth
  • Coral snake
  • Western diamondback rattlesnake (can be found, but mostly west of Houston and in the Bolivar peninsula area)
  • Canebrake rattlesnake (protected by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department; not really found much anymore)
  • Western pygmy rattlesnake (not found so much anymore)

You can learn more about these animals and how to identify them in this blog.

So chances are, you won’t see a rattlesnake in your yard. If you do, you probably are providing them one or more of the three things they need to survive: food, shelter, and water. At the risk of sounding like your friendly neighborhood homeowner’s association, we recommend that to keep rattlesnakes (and other snakes) at bay, you keep your yard trimmed and mowed, and also remove any piles of brush. They will keep rodents under control, though, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to keep these guys around!

Canebrake Rattlesnake, Protected by Texas Parks and Wildlife
Canebrake Rattlesnake, Protected by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

At the Zoo, we love our rattlesnakes. We have 14 total species, most of which are visible to guests. Our Curator of Herpetology, Stan, will tell you “that’s not near enough!” There are 37 species and subspecies of rattlesnake, so there’s always something new to see and learn. Stan comes from a long line of rattlesnake loving curators. In fact, former Zoo Director John Werler had a particular appreciation for these animals.

Former Zoo Director John Werler - and no, that's not a rattlesnake around his neck - it's a bull snake!
Former Zoo Director John Werler – and no, that’s not a rattlesnake around his neck – it’s a bull snake!

Why are they so special? Well, we think they are pretty darn polite. They let you know when you’re too close or when they want to be left alone by rattling their tail. What other animal gives you that much advanced notice (and loud notice, at that) to stay away? Plus, they eat rats. There are studies that show that the presence of the timber rattlesnake, found in the Northeastern United States, actually reduces the incidence of Lyme disease because it eats the rodents provide the meal for the ticks that bite the humans. Not bad for a “scary” snake, right?

Hear rattling? You're either really close to a baby human or you're too close to a rattlesnake.
Hear rattling? You’re either really close to a baby human or you’re too close to a rattlesnake.

One of the coolest rattlesnakes in our collection is the Aruba Island rattlesnake. There are only 200-300 left in the wild, and it is a protected species that only lives on the island of Aruba. The government has given this animal special protection, and the population in the wild is now stable. We are in charge of managing this population in zoos, and we do this to help the species survive in case the worst happens and the snakes disappear from Aruba one day.

The Aruba Island Rattlesnake - there are only 200-300 left of these animals in the wild.
The Aruba Island Rattlesnake – there are only 200-300 left of these animals in the wild.

Still worried about getting bitten? There’s one rule that will help you avoid it: if you aren’t bothering the snake, it won’t bother you. If for some reason an accidental bite does occur, it is because either you didn’t see the snake and were way too close to it, or it didn’t see you. If a rattlesnake notices you, it will more than likely warn you or go on its merry way.

We hope we’ve shed some light on rattlesnakes, and we hope you come to the Zoo soon to see them firsthand. We also hope that if you had worries about rattlesnakes, we’ve helped alleviate some of them. If you’re still not a fan, just follow Curator Stan’s good advice: “you don’t have to like ‘em, just leave ‘em alone.” And if you are a fan, spread the word!

Search Blog & Website
Subscribe to Houston Zoo News
Get the latest stories and updates from the Zoo in your inbox! Find out how: Houston Zoo News
Houston Zoo Facebook Page