Florida is home to six species of venomous snakes that are each native to the state. The largest is the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Easily identifiable, these snakes are brown, black and tan in color with a large diamond pattern running down their back. They have a thick, broad head with a white-outlined, dark-brown stripe that runs diagonally across their face. Their most notable feature is their rattle-capped tail that can be heard as they shake it loudly in warning to any approaching threats. As adults, these snakes on average reach lengths of 3-6 feet long and weights of 2-5 pounds.
These cold-blooded reptiles are solitary creatures that prefer to lie coiled and wait for their prey in hidden, secluded areas. They are effective and patient hunters whose diet mainly consists of small mammals, such as mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits and ground-dwelling birds. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes can be found distributed throughout the state and prefer to live in dry places, such as pine flatwoods and longleaf regions. These snakes can also swim and often live on barrier islands around the state.
In Florida, mating season for the eastern diamondback rattlesnake occurs around late summer through the fall season. Males can travel, and often compete, to find a mate. Females give live birth to an average of 10-20 offspring after a gestation period of six to seven months. The newborns will stay with their mothers for around a week and a half, at which point they will claim their independence and venture into the world alone. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes have an average lifespan of 10 years in the wild, though they can live much longer than that.
Crucial to their survival, eastern diamondback rattlesnake populations are dwindling due to human interferences. Habitat degradation, habitat loss, roadway mortalities and fear-based elimination of these snakes has had a significant impact on the numbers of these incredible animals.
It is important to remember that fear is a natural emotion but not a necessary catalyst to kill these important creatures. Snakes play a critical role in our ecosystems and are generally not a threat to humans when left alone. We can reduce our conflict with snakes by over 90 percent if we adhere to the rule of never feeding, threatening, approaching or handling wildlife. With all our combined efforts, we can keep Florida’s abundant biodiversity plentiful and protected for generations to come.