Why Does A Rattlesnake Rattle ?
To anyone who is
unfamiliar with serpents, the rattlesnake is probably one of
the easiest recognised of all snakes.
Most residents in the UK
don't know what any of our native species look like but the Rattlesnake
is recognised by even the most ignorant!
The Rattler has become
recognised world wide because of its unique appendage (although
some species don't have a rattle) and the sound of its rattle
can send shivers down the spine of even the most fearless of
Hollywood has often used the terror factor caused by this animal,
which has had more than its fair share of bad publicity. Hunted
to near extinction in some
areas in world famous or infamous "round-ups" the Rattlesnake is actually
quite a timid snake who gives plenty of warning to intruders that it's about!
But how does it rattle?
The secret is in the tail. The tail is shaped
differently to any other snake, instead of a gradual taper the tail is shaped
and ridged. As the snake sloughs its skin the majority of the skin sheds off
in the normal manner but when it reaches the ridged tail it breaks away leaving
a shell like crust hanging loosely over the end of the tail. The un-discarded
skin is made from "Keratin" (the same substance that fingernails are
made of) and dries into a hard husk. Each time the snake sloughs another rattle
is formed until the Rattler has a string of rattles. Although some, over a period
of time fall away it is not unusual for a specimen to have a rattle with up to
10-20 sections to it! As the snake gets defensive it vibrates its tail and hey
presto the distinctive rattle is heard.