Rattlesnakes Still Strike Fast In Cold Weather, Study Says

The researchers studied the speed that the rattlesnakes struck out at perceived threats in temperature controlled containers.
Crotalus Helleri
The Southern Pacific rattlesnake's range includes southwestern California and south into Baja California, Mexico.

Researchers with Sand Diego State University and UC Riverside, both institutions of higher learning in southern California wanted to know how cooler temperatures affected the way rattlesnakes strike and if the cold slowed the strikes of these reptiles down.

So, the researchers decided to find out with two rattlesnake species: the Southern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) and the Mojave green rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus).

“Many reptiles and other animals that rely on external sources of heat have muscles that don’t contract as well when temperature drops. We wanted to know if that was the case with rattlesnakes,” UC Riverside biologist Tim Higham told UC Riverside News.

Crotalus Scutulatus 02 (1)

The Mojave green rattlesnake is often less than 5 ft. in length. It has one of the most potent venoms of all rattlesnakes. Photo by Lvthn13/Wikipedia.

The researchers studied the speed that the rattlesnakes struck out at perceived threats in temperature controlled containers. Using a balloon as the threat, filled with warm water, the researchers continuously lowered the temperature in the containers by 10 degrees and found that the rattlesnakes could still strike the balloon fairly quickly even with the temperature drops.


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“We expected their strike to be about half as fast for every 10-degree drop in temperature, but they’re still able to uncoil and strike fairly rapidly, even at our lowest test temperatures,” Rulon Clark, a SDSU ecologist and research team member said. At the lowest temperature, the snakes struck out 25 percent slower than at the higher temperatures.

An abstract of the article, “The effects of temperature on the defensive strikes of rattlesnakes” can be read on the Journal of Experimental Biology website.

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