Do Rattlesnakes Lay Eggs or Give Live Births?

Posted by Nancy on 5/15/2018 to Rattlesnakes

Question: I have heard that rattlesnakes give live birth, but I heard Tom talking about a rattlesnake having up to 25 eggs. Can you please explain this discrepancy?

Answer: The rattlesnake’s reproductive system is ovoviviparous. This means that the female rattlesnake carries her fertilized eggs inside her body for approximately 90 days. The eggs then hatch inside her body and she gives live birth to her young. While it is true that a female rattlesnake may carry up to 25 eggs, only 4 to 10 are born live and she will only reproduce every 2 or 3 years.

Newborn rattlesnakes are about 10 inches long, have venom and fangs and also a small button on the end of the tail. This button usually will not rattle. This makes newborn rattlers dangerous as you will find them in full defensive mode without hearing a warning. The babies will strike and are venomous. Use proper snake handling equipment when handling newborn rattlesnakes. This includes snake tongs, snake hooks and buckets with security lids.

Young snakes will stay in the area of their birth until their first shed. They will also add a button to their tails and can now make the well-known rattling sound. The mother rattlesnake does not provide any care for her young and many will not survive their first year. Many die from predators or hunger. As they are usually born between August and October the inability to find a suitable spot for hibernation also causes many deaths.

Those that survive grow rapidly and will shed several times each year. Every time they shed a button is added to their rattle. Rattles may also be broken off. So, despite the old wife’s tale, you cannot age a snake by the rattle.

Hopefully, you now understand more about the rattlesnake’s reproductive system and how they have both eggs and live births. This was a good question. Feel free to ask us more!

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