Getting too close to a rattlesnake you find in the wild is very dangerous. So, it is important to know how close is too close when being near a live rattlesnake.
How Far Can a Rattlesnake Strike?
The distance a rattlesnake can strike is set at a certain portion of its overall size. Most rattlesnakes can strike outwards beyond their laying position between 1/3 and 1/2 of their total body length.
Rattlesnakes usually strike by first coiling up and rattling their tail as a warning. By coiling, the snake has the best possible body position to launch a strike on an animal or threat. However, if they are stepped on, they will strike without giving a warning and then try to flee.
Can Rattlesnakes Jump?
It may appear to the naked eye that a striking rattlesnake is jumping, but this is not true. In fact, rattlesnakes cannot jump, so they rely entirely on their lunging ability to attack.
This also happens very quickly, as rattlesnakes are the fastest striking venomous snakes. If you blink your eyes when one tries to bite you, you may not see it. This is by design as nature has made it so they can catch small prey, such as rodents and birds before they escape.
Will a Rattlesnake Chase You?
Even though rattlesnakes are dangerous, they are not very aggressive by nature. So, if they think you are moving away from them, they will not chase you. The only times they will attack is if they are hunting or feel threatened by a potential predator. In fact, when they bite prey, the animal often gets away and the rattlesnake senses it and finds it incapacitated further up the trail.
What If the Rattlesnake Is Coiled?
If you see a rattlesnake coiled, it could be resting or it could be ready to strike. Do not approach a coiled rattlesnake, even if it is not rattling its tail. This position gives a rattlesnake the best place to launch an attack.
What If the Rattlesnake Is Laid Out?
A laid-out rattlesnake could be relaxing and “sunning” or it could be dead. If it is in the winter and the temperature breifly warms up, it could have left its den for a warming up period outside on a log or open space. In the spring and summer months, it could have gotten wet somehow and wants to dry off and warm up a bit.
However, this also depends on what time of day it is. If you see a rattlesnake laid out in midday during the summer, it might be dead. However, if you see it at dusk when the temperature becomes a little cooler, it could be active and getting ready for a night of hunting. Regardless, you should avoid a rattlesnake if you see it and just leave it alone.
How Fast Can a Rattlesnake Move?
Rattlesnakes can strike very fast, but they actually move more slowly. Humans can outrun a rattlesnake easily if they need to avoid one, and the snake won’t likely chase them.
Rattlesnakes can travel around 2-3 miles per hour, but only in short bursts. A running human can move up to 28 miles per hour, with the average person easily being able to outpace a rattlesnake.
A rattlesnake’s body movements can be described as several different mechanical motions:
Serpentine locomotion, or lateral undulation, is a way of movement where a snake grips the surface irregularities and moves its body back and forth. This is a very fast way of traveling for a snake, but rattlesnakes do not move in this way.
Rectilinear locomotion is how most rattlesnakes travel. This is a straight-body form of travel where most movement occurs using their ribs to push off the ground. This is an inch-by-inch straight line movement which is actually best for being energy-efficient. Large-bodied snakes, such as boas and rattlesnakes, like this form of travel because it tires them out less.
Sidewinding locomotion is where a snake loops part of its body in a diagonal forward movement and gripping the ground and pulls and flips the rest of its body forward. Most snakes can sidewind for short bursts.
One type of rattlesnake uses this as its primary method: the sidewinder. The sidewinder rattlesnake is a fast-traveling snake that uses its body movement to get across the hot sand and loose gravel in the desert regions of the U.S. southwest. Sidewinders are estimated to travel at 3 miles per hour in short bursts, but usually travel and search for food much much more slowly.
As mentioned, rattlesnakes are extremely quick at striking and because of this, you may not see them bite you. However, their striking speed depends on how warm the temperatures are.
Western desert rattlesnakes are thought to be faster strikers than prairie rattlesnakes, or those that live in more northern regions.
What Is a Safe Distance To Avoid Getting Bitten?
First, if you are heading out into the woods for a hike or camping, you should wear proper feet and leg protection that can withstand a snake or insect bite. If you come across a rattlesnake, there is a distance that will keep you safe from being bitten. This depends largely on the size of the snake and its relative striking distance.
The Longest Rattlesnake Ever Measured?
There is no official Guinness World Record for the longest known rattlesnake. However, the Eastern Diamondback is the largest rattlesnake species and can grow up to 8 feet long. This means that the largest rattlesnakes can strike at a distance of 4 feet beyond its coiled position. So, if you can stay farther than this distance when you see a rattlesnake, you should be able to avoid being bitten.
Avoiding rattlesnake bites means staying alert when you hike or walk, especially through rocky and grassy areas. Only hike on well-worn trails and follow the trail map. Also, do not sit on fallen logs or stumps without first checking around and inside.
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.