Of course, the name “rattlesnake” stems from the characteristic rattle at the end of the tail. This rattle is made of keratin, the same material that makes up our fingernails and toenails. The rattle consists of several overlapping hollow parts that when pulled against each other produce a dry rattling noise. To watch the individual pictured rattle, check out this video I took. As a general rule, snakes only want to bite as a last resort when they feel as if their life is directly threatened. When a rattlesnake feels threatened by a human, it will typically go through a series of actions. First, if it feels the threat level is low, a rattlesnake will simply sit still or try to escape the immediate area unnoticed. If a person continues to stay in the area, or moves closer to the snake, the rattlesnake will often begin to rattle (but not always). This rattling serves as a warning to potential predators and threats. By announcing that it is there to the threat, the rattlesnake is essentially saying "I see you, you see me, I'm letting you know that I am dangerous. Leave me alone and I will leave you alone." If the threat continues, however, the rattlesnake might resort to biting.
Bites by venomous snakes are extremely rare, however, and most bites that do occur happen when someone is either harassing the snake (e.g. trying to kill it) or if they accidentally step on it. Although bites by venomous snakes are serious, they're rarely deadly. In fact, of the 7,000-8,000 Americans who get bit by venomous snakes a year, less than 1% of those victims die. To put this in perspective, 9 times more Americans die each year from lightning strikes than snake bites. All in all, the fear of venomous snakes most Americans have is incredibly overplayed, and I think that is very important to point out. Snakes are not nearly as scary as what people think. Given respect and appropriate distance, rattlesnakes pose no threat.
Unless you're a rodent, that is. If you were, then this is definitely not the face you would want to be staring down. Western Diamondbacks have been recorded preying on a wide variety of animals, from birds to reptiles to insects and more. However, mammals make up the vast majority of their diet. And when it comes to mammal prey, Western Diamondbacks love rodents. Oftentimes a Diamondback will position itself along a rodent path and wait for an unsuspecting mouse or packrat to scamper by. One lightning-fast strike later and the Western Diamondback has a nice meal.
It is always a pleasure seeing a snake of any species in the wild, but it's a wonderful day when you see any sort of rattlesnake. I've wanted to see a diamondback rattlesnake (either Eastern or Western, I'm not picky) for years now, and I was ecstatic to see as many as I did over the summer. There's just something magnificent about these beautiful, but sadly misunderstood, creatures.