Baby rattlesnakes are known for being more dangerous than adult rattlesnakes. But is this just a myth? This depends on a number of different factors which we discuss in this post.
When Do Baby Rattlesnakes Come Out?
Rattlesnakes are greatly influenced by the temperature and climate they live in. Generally, they are much more active during the spring and summer months. In the winter, they brumate in their dens but do still manage to move occasionally to find food. Baby rattlesnakes will brumate in communal dens with family members until warmer weather arrives. Once the temperature rises, they will stay near their birthplaces and feed on small rodents, such as mice. As they grow, they move further and further out until they find mates and form their own dens. They will usually stay within a few miles of their dens during warmer months and return when it gets cold again. Their distance of movement also depends on the species of rattlesnake.
Rattlesnakes do not burrow, so they need to find places to den that already exist. They will take advantage of gopher holes, small caves, large crevices in rocks, even other abandoned animal dens and hideouts. If you have property, they may even be denning in your own backyard!
Where You Typically Find Baby Rattlesnakes
Rattlesnakes are native to North America, and particularly the southwestern US states of Arizona, Texas, California, and New Mexico. Baby rattlesnakes will be roaming around their birthplaces when they are very small looking for prey and potential mates. You can find them hiding near bushes, boulders, logs, and fallen trees. They can also be hiding in flower beds and bushes. Like all animals, they need water so will go out searching for a drink when thirsty. They will even just lie out in the open or on top of an object to sun themselves to warm their bodies.
What Size Rattlesnake Can Bite You?
All rattlesnake sizes can bite a person, so even if one looks very small it is still dangerous. Baby rattlesnakes may be more likely to bite a human or animal because they are very vulnerable and feel threatened. A larger rattlesnake will be more comfortable in its surroundings and its ability to handle the big bad world. Rattlesnakes face threats from other animals, particularly hawks and other snakes.
Baby rattlesnakes are born with venom ready to go, and if they are young enough, will not have grown a rattle to warn someone before striking. They are also hard to spot because they are so small, making them easy to step on. This may be what makes them more dangerous than adult rattlesnakes.
How Much Venom Do Baby Rattlesnakes Have?
Baby rattlesnakes do have venom, but less so than fully grown rattlesnakes. Nevertheless, this can still cause significant harm to a person or their pet when they bite.
There are certain factors that contribute to the level of envenomation from a rattlesnake bite:
- The size of the rattlesnake.
- Whether the snake was stepped on (more venom) or feigning attack in self-defense (less venom).
- How much clothing (and the material) the snake had to bite through to get to bare skin.
The bigger the rattlesnake is, the more venom it can inject during a bite. Large rattlesnakes have bigger venom sacs, and even if they refrain from injecting all of it during a bite, they can still inject more than a baby can. In fact, an adult rattlesnake will have in the range of 20-50 times more venom than a baby has. When humans get bitten by an adult, they can receive very large quantities of venom which causes severe damage.
Baby rattlesnakes may have more potent venom, but since they have much less, they usually cannot do as much damage as an adult. Baby rattlesnake venom is higher in LMM toxins which are fast-acting neurotoxins versus adult rattlesnakes which are higher in HMM toxins which are slower tissue destructive enzymes. Baby rattlesnakes and adult rattlesnakes feed on different-sized prey, so their venom makeup matches what they are trying to kill.
How Far Can a Baby Rattlesnake Strike?
Baby rattlesnakes cannot strike as far as a larger adult rattlesnake due to simple size limitations. Generally, a rattlesnake can strike a distance of between 1/3 and 1/2 of its total body length. So, a baby rattlesnake may only be able to strike a few inches.
Rattlesnakes lunge forwards from a coiled position when they strike, and will usually (but not always) provide a warning with their rattle. However, since many baby rattlesnakes will not be old enough to have a rattle, they may skip the warning. When they attack, their fangs will be exposed for injecting venom into the victim.
Is a Baby Rattlesnake Bite Different From an Adult Rattlesnake?
The myth surrounding baby rattlesnake bites goes something like this: a baby rattlesnake is more dangerous than an adult because it cannot control how much venom it injects during a bite. Adult rattlesnakes will withhold venom so that they do not waste it on an animal they are not intending to eat, but only use enough for self-defense.
A term called “venom metering” describes a rattlesnake’s ability to control the quantity of venom injected during a bite. Herpetologists have done studies on baby rattlesnakes and found that they can in fact control their venom when biting. So, it seems that a baby rattlesnake being more dangerous than an adult rattlesnake because of lack of venom control is just an old wives tale.
Can a Baby Rattlesnake Kill You?
Baby rattlesnakes have a different age-related composition of their venom than adults which affects the damage caused to a human from envenomation. However, a baby rattlesnake’s venom is highly dangerous and can kill a person, particularly a very young or very old person. This is more true if medical attention is not sought quickly enough. The larger and healthier the person, the less harmful baby rattlesnake venom will be due to its smaller quantity which will be dispersed more greatly. Regardless of size, the vast majority of rattlesnake bites are not fatal.
The folklore surrounding baby rattlesnakes being more dangerous than adults has largely been put to rest. However, both small and large rattlesnakes are extremely dangerous and should not be handled in any way without adequate protection and caution.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.