Rattlesnakes Not Rattling Anymore Rumor

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Forwarded email warns of a change in rattlesnake behavior, claiming that the venomous reptiles are more often striking at humans and other animals without the customary warning rattle. Experts disagree as to whether this is a real trend.

Description: Internet rumor​
Circulating since: Oct. 2010
Status: Disputed

ExampleEmail contributed by Julie S., October 16, 2010:

Subject: Rattlers not rattling!
My fellow friends and family,
We have killed 57 rattlesnakes on two separate ranches this year. Twenty-four (24) at South Bend & thirty-three (3) at Murray , since mid-May. Not one has buzzed! We provoked one fair sized boy with a stick and he coiled & struck at the stick a couple of times before he buzzed up and rattled. The purpose of this explanation is that I have been hearing the same from fellow ranchers and hunters in regards to the lack of warning with rattlesnakes.
I had lunch with a friend today and he offered a theory about the fact that these dudes aren't rattling anymore. He raised pigs for years and reported that when he would hear a rattlesnake buzzing in the sow pen, the sows would bee line to it and fight over the snake. For the uninformed, pigs love to eat rattlesnakes. Therefore, the theory is they are ceasing to rattle to avoid detection, since there are plenty of pigs roaming the countryside. I have a neighbor ranching lady who was bitten 3 weeks ago, twice by the same snake without any warning ... She spent 5 days in ICU, after 22 vials of anti-venom she is back at the ranch and still may lose her foot or worse yet her lower leg.
The days of perceived warnings are over. Keep your boots on and use a light when out and about. As you all know, one can pop up just about anywhere! You may wish to forward this to anyone that would be interested.
Norman D. Stovall 3
Agri-Ventures Corp.
Managing Partner


According to various anecdotal reports including the one above, the behavior of rattlesnakes has changed in recent years such that the venomous reptiles are increasingly striking at people without the expected aural "warning" — i.e., sounding the tiny rattle made up of dry, molted scales in the tip of their tail. This is disconcerting to people who live in rattlesnake country, as it's often difficult to detect when the critters are nearby unless they make the characteristic sound.

Experts disagree as to whether the claim is true or false. Steve Reaves, the owner of Tucson Rattlesnake Removal in Arizona, says it's true. Some rattlesnakes have stopped rattling for one simple reason, he told Associated Press in July 2010: to avoid being killed by humans. Those born with a genetic predisposition to stay quiet have a better survival rate wherever they come into contact with people, Reaves explained. Jerry Feldner of the Arizona Herpetological Association agrees, as does herpetologist Daryl Sprout of Dallas, who told KLTV 7 News in Tyler, Texas that "natural selection is already beginning to prefer snakes that do not bring attention to themselves and therefore draw incoming fire from humans." Also in agreement with the general proposition is Gene Hall of the Texas Farm Bureau, though he, like the author of the message above, attributes the behavioral change to the threat posed by snake-eating feral hogs, not people.

Just a Myth?

Other herpetologists dismiss the whole thing as a myth. Stephane Poulin, Curator of Herpetology at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, says he's noticed no major changes in rattlesnake behavior over the past quarter-century. "Overall, rattlesnakes just don't rattle very often," he explained in an Associated Press interview. "Most of the time they use their camouflage and try not to be seen." Another naysayer is biologist Randy Babb of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, who says the existing research suggests rattlesnakes simply don't rattle that much in the first place. According to Keith Boesen of Arizona's Poison and Drug Information Center, there's no evidence that rattlesnakes striking without warning constitute a "recent phenomenon."

What the experts do agree on — and what readers of this article should take to heart — is that whatever the reason, rattlesnakes don't always sound a warning before striking. When you're in rattlesnake country the best way to avoid an unfortunate encounter is to stay alerted, keep your eyes peeled as well as your ears, and never assume these poisonous pests will announce their presence in advance.

Sources and Further Reading

Arizonans Should Beware of Silent Rattlesnakes
Associated Press, 20 July 2010

Rattlesnakes Changing Their Tune, Strike with No Warning
KLTV 7 News, 15 October 2010

Menacing Feral Hogs Must Be Shut Down
San Angelo Standard-Times, 23 October 2010


Last updated 12/13/15