Do Rattlesnakes Nurse Their Young?

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Do rattlesnakes nurse their young?

In this article, we are going to discuss if they nurse their young and more information regarding the topic, lets go!

Can rattlesnakes nurse their young ones?

The answer is a definite no. We haven’t seen any nipples on snakes, have we? Snakes are reptiles and do not have mammary glands; they do not lactate and produce milk for the newborn offspring. None of the species of snakes nurse their young. 

Mostly it is the mammals and birds that take care of their young, the amphibians, and reptiles are less likely to take care of their young. It is then interesting to see how young rattlesnakes survive. What do they eat? Are they fed by the mother snake, or do they start hunting on their own after they are born? Are they immediately capable of catching the prey?

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What do rattlesnakes eat, and how do they catch their prey? 

Rattlesnakes eat rats, birds, and other small animals. They lash out at the prey and inject venom through their fangs. If the animal still moves away, the rattlesnake follows the scent, and once the animal is dead, it swallows it. The baby rattlesnake does not have as much venom as the adult, but the venom is still lethal.

Though the baby rattlesnake is capable of doing everything as an adult rattlesnake, it cannot hunt for food until after the first shed. This usually takes a few days to a week after their birth. During this period, the mother snake takes care of the young. They, however, do not hunt for or feed the young rattlesnake.

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How do the young rattlesnakes then survive? It is intriguing how rattlesnakes care for their young ones and protect them until they can fend for themselves. 

How do rattlesnakes care for their young?

What is the type of parental care exhibited by the mother rattlesnake? The general perception is that snakes are not capable of exhibiting any maternal care. They are detached and aggressive, and they only want to hunt food for their next meal.

This can be especially thought of as true for the venomous rattlesnake. One can only think of them as fierce and aggressive and incapable of having any caring behavior. But you would be surprised to know that this is perhaps the species of snakes most well known for their parental care.


Birth of the rattlesnake –

Let us first see how the rattlesnakes are born. While some species of snakes called the oviparous, lay eggs in secluded places and leave them exposed to egg-eating predators. Rattlesnakes, on the other hand, are ovoviviparous species, and they carry the eggs in their bodies until they are ready to hatch.

The eggs do not have the hard-calciferous shell, and they develop as embryos in sacks within the body of the mother snake. The nutrients for their growth and development come from the yolk. As the eggs develop within the body of the rattlesnake, they are protected from predators and other external catastrophes. Once they are mature, the membrane ruptures during parturition, and the baby snakes are born. 

Parental care in rattlesnakes can broadly be divided into the following –

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1. Keeping the young ones warm

During the first few days until the first shed, the mother snake will take care of the baby snakes by keeping them warm. Rattlesnakes are ectotherms, which means that they depend on external sources for maintaining their body heat. In some rattlesnake species, the adult snakes are darker than the baby snakes, and this helps them to absorb the heat to keep the young ones warm.

This warmth helps the young snake to develop and shed after which they can hunt on their own. Being together helps them conserve their water and heat. The nutrients provided to the young rattlesnake in the yolk is enough for their growth and development until they begin their hunt. 

2. Protecting them from predators – 

The rattlesnake family will live together in a group until the young ones shed and disperse. The young rattlesnakes because of their small size, inexperience, yet to develop eyesight, pit sensitivity, and inability to use the rattle may suffer high mortality. To prevent this, during this time, the mother snake guards the young snakes against predators. The predators may be deterred seeing the large adult snakes and may not venture too close to the young ones.

The mother snake may also physically conceal the young ones by lying on top of them. It is observed that in the event of attack by a predator, the mother snake may move the young ones to safety or sometimes distract the predator and let the younger ones escape. The mother snake also does not let the young snakes wander away from the group. The mother snake blocks their path or gently taps them to keep them together. 

Interesting facts –

  • The mother rattlesnakes, even though they would have been without food for a few weeks or months before giving birth, will not leave their young ones alone and head out for a hunt. They usually wait until the young ones disperse after the first shed to get themselves food. Forsaking their food to care for the young ones make them as much caring as any of the mammals!
  • Did you know that the mother rattlesnakes also take time off from their maternal duties once in a while? The rattlesnakes generally stay in groups during gestation and after giving birth. They help each other with their duties. In the group, if there is a pregnant rattlesnake, she will take care of the young rattlesnakes, while the mother snake gets some well-deserved rest. So not only are they good mothers but they are great baby sitters as well!
  • The male rattlesnakes also help out at times to care for the young. Though they do not exhibit any active care like the mother snake or any protective behavior, their very presence, with larger bodies than the females, can deter some of the predators.
  • There are certain species of rattlesnakes called the western diamondback; these snakes disperse within a few hours or days after parturition. Whereas, the other species such as the eastern diamondback is under the protection and guard of the mother until the first shed up to two weeks later. 
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It is phenomenal to know that snakes also exhibit paternal care, and this care is not limited to just protecting the eggs. The paternal care exhibited by rattlesnakes may be very brief, but this usually goes a long way to get the young ones prepped up to hunt within a few days of their birth.