Fact Checker: Are Baby Rattlesnakes More Dangerous?

Fact Checker: Are Baby Rattlesnakes More Dangerous?

Myths, lies, and old wives’ tales loom large in the outdoor pursuits. Here at MeatEater, we’re dedicated to separating facts from bullsh*t, so we created this series to examine suspect yarns. If there’s a belief, rumor, or long-held assumption you’d like us to fact check, drop us a note at factchecker@themeateater.com.

Claim
Young rattlesnakes have the worst bites because they can’t control the amount of venom they inject. Adult rattlesnakes, on the other hand, have the foresight to leave something in their reserve for later. After all, a wise rattler knows that no venom now means no food later.

Origin
The origins of this theory are unclear, but it’s a widespread belief. MeatEater editors from California, to South Dakota, to Pennsylvania said this is an accepted rule in their region. Maybe the same folks who started the rumor that daddy longlegs are venomous came up with this one, too.

Facts
Both young and old rattlesnakes can control the amount of venom they throw in a given strike, and studies show that age isn’t an indicator for probability of a “dry” bite. This means that a 1-foot rattlesnake is just as likely as a 5-foot rattlesnake to deliver a bite with no venom.

Even if a baby rattler gives everything it has, there isn’t much for it to give. “Bigger snakes have much bigger venom sacs, and adults can deliver far greater volumes of venom than babies, even if they only inject a small percentage of the total volume available,” said Greg Pauly, a herpetologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, in an interview with Bay Nature magazine.

As far as claims that young rattlers have more potent venom, there’s a bit of truth to that. Rattlesnake venom contains over 100 different active components, and the makeup of a specific snake’s venom is determined by age, diet, geographic location, how long ago the snake ate, and other factors. While experts believe that younger snakes tend to have quicker acting venom, it’s not enough to outweigh their small supplies.

“It could be argued that the drop-for-drop potency of baby rattlesnake venom is greater, but here is where the issue of venom quantity comes into play,” according to an Animal Behaviour study. “An adult rattlesnake produces, stores, and injects anywhere from 20-50x more venom than a baby.”

Not only is this theory wrong, but it’s also dangerously inaccurate. Research shows that bigger snakes mean bigger consequences for victims.

“There is a significant body of compelling research indicating that the size of the rattlesnake, and therefore the quantity of venom injected, is the most important determining factor of the severity of an envenomation,” the Animal Behaviour study reads. “Bigger snakes tend to cause worse envenomations.”

Shop

Land Access Fund Donation
Save this product
MeatEater

A quick and easy way to contribute to our Land Access Fund in an amount of your choosing.

Land Access Fund Nalgene
Save this product
MeatEater

Profits from the sale of this Nalgene will be made as a donation to the Land Access Initiative. Get yours today and support this cause.

Land Access Fund T-Shirt
Save this product
MeatEater

Profits from the sale of this t-shirt will be made as a donation to the Land Access Initiative. Get yours today and support this cause.

American Buffalo Book
Save this product
MeatEater

By Steven Rinella. An adventurous, fascinating examination of an animal that has haunted the American imagination.

Get the latest in your inbox
Subscribe to our newsletters to receive regular emails with hand-picked content, gear recommendations, and special deals.
Our picks for the week's best content and gear
For the whitetail obsessed, with Mark Kenyon
Redefining our connection to food, with Danielle Prewett
Your one-stop for everything waterfowl, with Sean Weaver
Get out on the water with the MeatEater Fishing crew
Technical hunting apparel
Purpose-built accessories for hunting and fishing
Quality elk, turkey, waterfowl, and deer calls
Save this article