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Home > Snakes > Do Rattlesnakes Nurse Their Young? Facts & FAQs

Do Rattlesnakes Nurse Their Young? Facts & FAQs

brown rattle snake

Rattlesnakes are reptiles, not mammals, which means that they do not lactate and therefore, cannot nurse their young. That said, the female rattlesnake’s reputation for being a bad mother that abandons her babies after birth is an unfounded one because she does stay and care for her young until their first shed. After that, all the babies will slither off and start their own lives.

new snake divider About Rattlesnakes

The rattlesnake is a type of viper found across the Americas. The rattle on the end of the tail is the most obvious feature of this snake. The viper shakes this rattle to ward off enemies, and if you hear this noise, you should back away quickly. The rattle is also notable for the fact that a new ring is added to the rattle every time the snake sheds its skin.

Rattlesnakes are venomous, and a bite should be considered a medical emergency. That said, a rattlesnake bite is rarely fatal unless left untreated. Baby rattlesnakes can deliver a venomous bite from the age of about 1 week old, and humans are more likely to be bitten by a juvenile rattler. While they have developed the ability to bite and deliver venom at this age, they have not fully developed their rattle so are unable to warn people off.

Only Mammals Nurse

Mammals are named after the mammary glands that female mammals are born with. These glands produce milk that the animal’s offspring will consume for the first days, weeks, or months after birth. Mammals are the only group of animals that have these glands and are the only group of animals that will lactate and nurse their young. Since rattlesnakes are reptiles and not mammals, they do not have the capacity to produce milk. Therefore, they do not nurse their young.

rattle snake
Image Credit: Piqsels


How Are Rattlesnakes Born?

While most snakes lay eggs, the rattlesnake is ovoviviparous, which means the female carries the eggs for 3 months, and rather than laying the eggs, she gives birth to live young rattlesnakes. Female rattlesnakes have something of a bad reputation for abandoning their young. In reality, the mother will protect her young until their first shed.

A rattlesnake will first shed their skin at the age of about 1 week. Once this has happened and they can deliver a venomous bite, they will leave the nest and their mother to slither off on their own.

Are They Born With Rattles?

Rattlesnakes are not born with a rattle. They have a small scale that is called a button. As the young snake continues to grow and shed their skin, a new ring is added to the rattle, eventually being able to make the distinctive rattling noise. Although each segment of the rattle is made up of three buttons, of which only one is visible, there is nothing actually rattling that makes the noise. The rattling noise is the sound of the segments rubbing together.

What Do Baby Rattlesnakes Eat?

While inside the mother rattlesnake, the babies survive on the yolk of their egg sack. Since the babies have essentially matured before being born, they are able to hunt and kill prey after their first shed, which can occur after just 1 week. At this point, the young rattlesnakes can usually hunt and provide for themselves.

rattlesnake baby
Image Credit: Mark_Kostich, Shutterstock

How Do Rattlesnakes Care for Their Babies?

Most of the hard work has been done by the time a baby rattlesnake is born. The baby resides inside the mother inside an embryo, which is a lot like an egg with no shell. For the first week after birth, the baby does not need to eat. During this time, the mother will watch her clutch, which can consist of up to 10 young. She will prevent them from straying too far, and once the young finish their first shed, they can hunt their own food.

new snake divider How Do Rattlesnakes Feed Their Young?

Rattlesnakes are not mammals, so they do not nurse. They feed their young before they are born. The young rattlesnakes eat the yolks of their eggs. Once they’re born, the mother rattlesnake will care for her young, but they have most of the same attributes as an adult. The only thing they can’t do straight away is hunt. However, they can and will hunt and kill prey after their first shed, roughly 1 week after being born.

Featured Image Credit ny: Piqsels

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