Is a ‘Baby’ Rattlesnake More Dangerous Than an Adult?

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It’s late September, it’s Fall, and we’re deep into birthing & hatching season for snakes. Rattlesnakes specifically are very interesting young creatures. They’re ‘hot’ and ready to go right when born, venomous and ready to live out their lives and find their first meal. Recent studies and in-depth observations indicate some clutches of newborn rattlesnakes may hangout with their mother for a while before scooting along. This probably varies by location, but if their mother is near or at a decently covered den site when she gives birth, there’s a chance they may stick around for a bit. In some cases, though, they’ll take off within a day or a few in search for their first meal. Depending on location, this endeavor could bring them into housed locations, little to their knowledge, where humans reside, which can make things a bit tricky, especially given their small size. However, have you ever heard the statement that baby (juvenile/neonate) rattlesnakes are more dangerous than adults, venom-wise? I’ve heard and come across this many times, and I’m here to tell you it’s not quite true, at least in a couple ways. That said, this makes very young rattlesnakes no less dangerous than adults venom-wise, if bitten.

Most studies indicate young rattlesnakes venom is no more toxic than an adult’s, in fact, some studies suggest adults’ venom may be perhaps a bit more potent as the size of their prey increases. Let’s say they both have equally as potent venom, though, for now. Some say little ones are more dangerous due to the fact that they can’t control the amount of venom they send in with a bite. This may be true, but it also may be true with snakes throughout their lives. A bite’s venom dosage may vary quite a bit by the snake and the situation. A snake that puts a lot of force into a strike may send in more, which you’d generally expect to happen to a prey animal when it wanders past the snake where it’s set up shop to ambush any critters that go wandering through. Bites to humans occur a lot of the time due to direct contact, such as stepping on or grabbing a snake. This doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the snake to reach out and gain momentum – momentum that can be used to contract the muscles that squeeze on the venom glands, sending venom into the puncture wound(s) (sometimes one one fang will make it in). This is the case for young and old snakes, so that variable makes envenomation/dosage equally as dangerous throughout the ages of rattlesnakes, with the potential for some bites to be worse than others.

A neonate rattlesnake hanging out outside of some boulders on a cloudy, breezy afternoon.

There is something that could make younger, smaller snakes more dangerous than adults, and that’s the sheer size of them. They’re small. Tiny. Worms, as I call them when they’re very young. They’re small enough to fit into very small gaps and under objects a big snake could only dream of fitting under (or perhaps not). They can slip under leaves easily, hide in very small gaps in concrete, and basically anything else with enough space to fit a little coiled ball of snake. This makes spotting them potentially much harder than it would be to spot, say, a 3-foot rattlesnake on the prowl, or even coiled up, since most rocks don’t have blotches (that I know of at least). Very young rattlesnakes may also not be in-tune with the environment they’re in, so they may wind up in places bigger snakes avoid, sometimes in open, inconspicuous places. Older, more alert snakes tend to avoid the open, as they know it can leave them vulnerable, but young snakes won’t have that knowledge until they realize what’s lurking out there in the world. Some of those creatures perhaps just wanting to look at them curiously, but there’s animals out there that pose a threat to them them (typically as a meal when it comes to predatory animals), and that unfortunately includes us.

An adult rattlesnake with a very young neonate rattlesnake hanging out under it’s body coils.

To summarize, small, young rattlesnakes are no more dangerous venom-wise compared to an adult. The amount of venom a snake injects into a wound/bite varies by the situation, and there’s a lot of potential situations. This creates the potential for any bite to be equally as dangerous, with some bites having potential to be worse than others, again, depending on the situation. The small size of young rattlesnakes can make them more difficult to spot, which can be a hazard in itself, as very young snakes can hang out in a wide variety of places with ease. Larger snakes require larger objects to hide under, and try to stay out of sight, while small ones haven’t figured out there’s things out in the world that may want to get them. All in all, watch you step, don’t grab for leaves in snake-prone areas, don’t put your hands where you can’t see, don’t grab snakes if you’re unsure of identification, and always keep in mind: that snake isn’t there to hurt or mess with you.

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