This topic is something that I have always wondered about, how do snakes and more specifically rattlesnakes care for their young. Can and do they nurse their young in the same way other animals do?
I decided to do some research and below is everything that I learnt about this interesting subject!
So do rattlesnakes nurse their young? This came as a bit of a surprise to me, but rattlesnakes do not nurse their young. Unlike mammals, reptiles do not have mammory glands. These glands are what produce milk for their offspring to drink.
So that was the quick answer to the basic question. However there is so much more to learn! How do baby rattlesnakes survive if their mothers do not feed them? Does the mother even look after the baby or abandon it?
Keep reading to find out all of the answers.
The reasons why rattlesnakes cannot nurse their young.
This is a more in depth look at what I discussed above.
Rattlesnakes do not have the ability to nurse their young and in actual fact there are only mammals, such as ourselves that can nurse their young.
Being reptiles means that rattlesnakes do not posses what is known as a “mammory gland”. This gland is what produces the nutritious milk that baby animals (and humans) drink until they are at a stage in their lives where they can source their own meals.
Instead a rattlesnake survives on the nutrient rich yolk from the egg that it lived in whilst still in its mother’s body. This yolk provides the baby rattlesnake with more than enough nutrients to sustain it until it can catch its own prey.
How do mother rattlesnakes care for their young?
There is a common misconception that mother rattlesnakes give birth to their offspring and then abandon them to the wilds.
This could not be further from the truth!
You see rattlesnakes are “ovoviviparous” which means that they give birth to live and nearly fully developed young. This means from birth the baby’s are already nearly at the point where they can fend for themselves.
The below videos is a little grainy but shows perfectly a mother rattlesnake giving birth to its live and perfectly formed baby rattlesnakes.
Mother rattlesnakes will fiercely defend their young until after their first shed which usually happens around a week after birth.
They will keep the baby’s warm by coiling their bodies around them. Rattlesnakes are cold blooded so do not produce their own heat but with the heat that they have stored during the warm day they can keep the young warm long into the night.
Once the first shed of skin has come and gone the baby rattlesnakes will split up from their mother and go their own way. At this age they already have all the tools they need to be able to hunt for prey themselves.
So how do young rattlesnakes survive?
As I mentioned above, rattlesnakes are already nearly fully developed at their time of birth.
This means that the mother does not have to do much for her young to survive long enough to go their own way. In the week or so that this takes she will stop any threat that comes her offsprings way.
Any predator that thinks its can make an easy meal of the baby rattlesnakes will find itself on the receiving end of a potent and venomous bite.
What do baby rattlesnakes eat?
Once the rattlesnakes have reached the age of one week and are ready to leave their home they soon need to hunt for their first meal.
Without their mothers care they venture out into the unforgiving wild in search of food. Because they are no where near full size at this age they cannot eat what adult snakes eat.
Adult rattlesnakes typically feast on small and medium sized mammals that they come across.
Baby rattlesnakes however can only really manage to consume very small mammals such as young mice. Because of this a baby rattlesnakes diet will mainly consist of small lizards and other reptiles.
When do young rattlesnakes have to fend for themselves?
I briefly spoke about this earlier in the article but rattlesnakes literally have to fend for themselves once they leave their mothers care. This tends to be after around one week, which coincides with the first of many skin sheds throughout their lifetimes.
Once they have left their mothers there is no turning back and the baby rattlesnake will go onto pastures new.
Until they are larger they have to be very careful. Even though they have strong venom and fangs that can paralyse they will still be an easy target for some predators.
Although it seems quite harsh and brutal to let your offspring fend for themselves after only a week you have to remember that they are born fully fledged killers.
Are baby rattlesnakes venomous? This surprises many people, baby rattlesnakes are venomous. They have the fangs from birth and also the venom and believe it or not they are even more aggressive than adult rattlesnakes!
Do baby rattlesnakes have rattles? No a baby rattlesnake is not born with its rattle. The rattle actually develops over time with each time that it sheds its skin. When the rattlesnake is born it actually has what is known as a “button”. Then when it sheds its old skin a layer stays at the bottom of the tail end.