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Wild Florida

Rattlesnakes best appreciated from afar

Although not naturally aggressive towards humans, these ecologically important snakes will defend themselves when threatened.

As predators in the food web, Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes help maintain healthy ecosystems by keeping prey populations, such as rodents, in balance. (Photo by Miri Hardy)
As predators in the food web, Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes help maintain healthy ecosystems by keeping prey populations, such as rodents, in balance. (Photo by Miri Hardy)
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With their striking namesake row of large dark diamonds down their back and a rattle at the end of their tail, Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are quite a sight to behold. If provoked or startled, they will often coil their bodies and shake their tails, producing a loud buzzing sound. But they do sometimes strike without sound.

Although often maligned, by controlling small mammal populations as predators and providing food to larger animals as prey, rattlesnakes play a crucial part in a healthy ecosystem. And Eastern diamondbacks are extremely beneficial to people because they prey on many species that we consider pests, such as rats and mice. In addition to their crucial role in the food web, as they ingest their food whole, they also serve as important seed dispersers. Nevertheless, many are killed every year, intentionally and by accident.

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Eastern diamondbacks have especially suffered from the loss, fragmentation and degradation of their native habitats, such as pine flatwoods, as well as from commercial hunting for their skins. 

And, like most venomous snakes, they face additional threats in the form of intense human persecution. In fact, while building Myakka River State Park in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps killed as many rattlesnakes as they could. We’ve since learned that these reptiles play a very important role in Myakka’s delicate ecosystem. And by killing large numbers of them, other species’ populations became significantly unbalanced, with the whole ecosystem feeling devastating impacts for years to come.

Although they are one of six venomous snakes in Florida, Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes will do their best to avoid direct contact with people and pets. But they will protect themselves when threatened. Indeed, most bites occur when the snakes are intentionally molested or accidentally stepped on.

As these snakes can strike up to two-thirds their body length (and they're typically 3-6 feet), we should always keep a respectful distance and admire these beautiful reptiles from afar. And when enjoying a hike in Wild Florida, staying on trails and keeping dogs on a leash will keep everyone safe from harm.

Friends of Myakka River exists to support Myakka River State Park and the Wild and Scenic Myakka River. Together, we're protecting and sharing Myakka's Magic, to the benefit of future generations, and our own. 



Miri Hardy

Miri Hardy is the first executive director of Friends of Myakka River, a nonprofit that supports Myakka River State Park. She’s been a Sarasota resident since 2014 and holds a doctorate in social psychology from Washington University in St. Louis. Miri is happiest exploring wild Florida, often on her bike, and capturing its beauty with her camera.

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