Are Rattlesnakes Aggressive? | The Truth Behind Their Aggressive Reputation

Rattlesnakes are a legend in adventure media, always seeming to scare the hero at just the right moment for dramatic tension. Unfortunately, that reputation for aggression has followed them off the big screen and into real life. But are rattlesnakes aggressive or have they just been given a bad wrap. 

Rattlesnakes are not generally aggressive, since aggression would mean they were attacking with more intent, but they are very defensive. If they feel like they are in danger, rattlesnakes will attack to protect their own lives. Unfortunately, they see humans as a serious threat.

Basically, a rattlesnake is as afraid of humans as the humans are afraid of the snake! For more information on staying safe and not getting rattlesnakes worried, keep reading below.

Rattlesnakes Are Not Aggressive, But They Are Defensive

Rattlesnakes are not generally aggressive. They don’t hunt humans, they probably won’t chase them, and they don’t want to start a fight if they can just make us leave instead.

However, rattlesnakes are very defensive. They think we are big scary monsters, and that makes them more than a little concerned.

They want us to go away and not hurt them. If that means biting us, they’ll do it just to make us leave them alone. It isn’t too different than a human killing a rattlesnake that made them nervous, except that humans do tend to get a little more aggressive.

Sadly, many people still think the right thing to do is kill a rattlesnake if they see one. This is often in the hopes to protect their family and loved ones. However, rattlesnakes are not going out of their way to bite humans. 

What Will Make a Rattlesnake Bite?

Rattlesnakes don’t like to bite unless they feel very threatened. Making venom takes energy, after all, and they need it to hunt their food. They don’t want to waste energy and venom for any little reason.

Most people who end up being bitten by rattlesnakes have stepped into the rattlesnake’s space. They’re close enough to be threatening, are behaving in a threatening way, and the snake can’t easily escape.

In some scenarios that are more common than they should be, people might even be trying to touch or pick up the rattlesnake! Alcohol and fatigue are common factors in these scenarios, but the end result is a snake bite.

Do Rattlesnakes Bite Without Warning?

Rattlesnakes prefer to give warning. Most animals are smart enough to leave when they hear the rattle, and it saves the snake some trouble.

However, not all snakes have time to rattle. If someone steps on a rattlesnake, tries to pick it up when it was sleeping, or startles the snake in some other way, it will react as defensively as any other animal in that situation. They can hardly be blamed for a spontaneous bite when a giant foot just landed in the middle of their bedroom.

Baby rattlesnakes might not rattle even when given a warning, but it isn’t because they’re more aggressive. They just don’t have rattles yet! Rattles develop as snakes shed, and the babies haven’t shed enough to have audible rattles yet. They’d give a warning if they could.

Rattlesnakes Prefer to Avoid Humans

Rattlesnakes aren’t exactly social creatures. The only animals they routinely interact with are the small rodents they eat, other snakes during mating season, and whatever larger animals stumble into their neighborhood. They are the ultimate introvert.

When humans come around, Rattlesnakes would really rather avoid them. Humans are loud, messy, scary, and scare away snake snacks. Snakes will leave if they have the option. Unfortunately, humans tend to take over the escape routes or walk right into snake nests, and in the worst-case scenario, they’ll attack the snake or try and pick it up.

Rattlesnakes bite because somebody was in biting range and did not get out of biting range. If you calmly and carefully get out of biting range, the snake would rather leave you alone than bite you. It’s as simple as that.

Do Rattlesnakes Chase People?

No, rattlesnakes do not chase people. We aren’t worth the energy of pursuing, since we aren’t edible for a rattlesnake, and the snake would much rather use that energy to get as far away from us as possible. Rattlesnakes are actually pretty lazy.

However, a few things rattlesnakes do can make it look like they’re chasing a human. They get scared and confused, and our shadows can look like a nice safe shady spot. Isn’t that ironic?

Rattlesnake Eyesight Isn’t Always the Best

When snakes shed, it isn’t just the skin on their bodies that goes. They shed the skin on their eyes, too! This isn’t a fast or easy process, and the skin that’s drying out and pulling away can make it difficult for the snake to see. If a rattlesnake has cloudy, white, or opaque eyes, try extra hard to avoid it.

Even though rattlesnakes are pit vipers, using scent and heat to hunt, they still use their eyes to get around and check out danger. The shedding period makes it difficult to figure out what’s a tree and what’s a car.

This is why sudden movements are so spooky for them during this time. If you thought you were hiding under a nice, safe, cozy tree, and a giant tried to stomp on you, you’d probably get a little snippy too.

They Can Try to Hide Under Us or Our Cars

Rattlesnakes are not overtly aggressive.  In fact, they are just as afraid of humans as humans are of snakes. Sometimes they’ll panic when they get surprised, and they’ll try to run to the nearest shady spot to hide.

Unfortunately, the list of shady spots includes you, your car, your motorcycle, and your tent. A freaked-out snake can choose one of those if you catch it out in the open, and that leaves both of you in an awkward position.

If you shine a bright flashlight in a snake’s eyes, it’s liable to run off in any direction. Sometimes that direction is toward you.

As terrifying as it might be to have a gigantic snake slithering towards you at top speed, the snake is definitely not doing this on purpose. It was just blinded by fear and flashlight-in-the-eyes. You’d probably do the same thing.

Try to get out of the way, ideally in a diagonal. The snake will probably choose the easiest path, and you’ll be safest if you just move to the side. It isn’t too tricky. Just know that snakes can slither really, really fast.

Aggravating a Rattlesnake Can Make It More Aggressive 

Try thinking critically about this. If somebody tried to whack you with a rock, would you want to stop them? Would you want to make them go away? Would you be a little stressed and confused?

The same thing goes for snakes. They might try to defend their nests, eggs, or selves by making you stop with the rock-throwing. So try not to do anything to aggravate a rattlesnake. It just puts you and the snake in more danger. 

What to Do if You See a Rattlesnake

Do Rattlesnakes Chase People?

If you see a rattlesnake, the best option would be to move carefully out of its bubble. The snake probably shares your perspective on interacting.

However, the answer to this question will vary based on how close you are when you see the rattlesnake.

What to Do if You See the Rattlesnake When It’s Close to You

If you see the rattlesnake when you’re already uncomfortably close to it, stay as calm as you can.

Assess the situation before you do anything else. Where is the rattle? Can you see the snake, or do you just hear it? Make sure you know where it is before you do anything else.

Move slowly out of range, keeping an eye on the snake so you can see its reaction. Alert other people in the area to the rattlesnake’s presence and make sure that all dogs and small children are kept away.

Remember, the snake would also appreciate ending this interaction as quickly and uneventfully as possible.

If you didn’t see the snake until you were within biting range, stay extra calm. Yes, you might get bit, but it is extremely rare for rattlesnake bites to be fatal since the anti-venom is so effective.

Ask people you traveled with to be ready to call emergency services and slowly move as far away as you can.

What to Do if You See the Rattlesnake When It’s out of Striking Range

If you see the rattlesnake when you’re a fairly comfortable distance away from it, stay calm. Try alerting anyone nearby to the presence of the snake and tell them not to approach it. Remember that it will probably move away once it spots people nearby.

If the snake is in the middle of a hiking trail, stomp your feet as you approach. This lets the snake know that people are on the road, and it will probably relocate so it doesn’t have to meet you.

When you’re back at the base of the trail, you can let the ranger station know about the snake. The same goes if you’re camping. Let them know about the snake, tell them the rough location, and they can help the little guy relocate into a safer, calmer, people-free area.

What to Do if the Rattlesnake Is Right Under Your Feet

If the rattlesnake is right under your feet, try taking a few deep breaths before you do anything else. Freezing is actually one of the best things you can do. Either the snake will bite you or it won’t, right? Stopping to breathe will give both of you a moment to process your options.

In the best-case scenario, the snake will take the opportunity to slither away. Freezing allows it to leave peacefully if at all possible.

In the worst-case scenario, you might get bitten. However, you should have some protective factors in place because you’re in rattlesnake territory.

You’re probably wearing clothing and shoes that will help protect you, local hospitals probably have anti-venom in stock, and local emergency response has probably seen your situation before. Staying calm will help slow the venom down and buy you time for a good response.

In any case, the best results will come from you staying as calm as possible. If you get bitten get medical help as soon as possible. 

What to Do if the Rattlesnake Is in Your Yard or Home

If the snake is in your yard or home, call animal control to move it. Local professionals are going to be better equipped than you, your friends, or your neighbors at moving snakes. They can relocate it to somewhere that will be mutually beneficial.

Remember, snakes control the rodent population. Even if we don’t love having them in our yards, they help keep the surrounding area safe. It’s even illegal to kill a rattlesnake in most areas, with the tight exception of self-defense.

How Dangerous Are Rattlesnakes to Humans?

Rattlesnakes are not nearly as dangerous as most people think they are. In fact, we’re much more of a hazard to them. While the bite is often deadly if left untreated, treatment is so effective that very few people per year will actually die of the bite.

What Happens if a Rattlesnake Bites You?

If a rattlesnake bites you, there is a chance it will inject you with venom. This venom can break down tissue and clotting agents in your blood. If left untreated, it can be deadly.

What Is the Treatment for a Rattlesnake Bite?

The treatment for a rattlesnake bite is anti-venom and emergency care at a hospital. A snake bite kit will help, but do not use a tourniquet, do not cut open the bite, do not try to suck out the venom, and do not make the bitten person walk if possible.

Rattlesnake bites don’t kill too quickly, so most people won’t have trouble getting help. But you still need to get help quickly or you are more likely to suffer serious damage. 

Who Is Most Likely To Be Bitten?

Drunk men between the ages of 18-25 are most likely to be bitten. This is because they are most likely to get drunk and try to harass rattlesnakes.

Do I Need Emergency Medical Care After a Snake Bite?

Yes, anyone with a rattlesnake bite needs emergency medical care. Drive safely and calmly to the hospital or call an ambulance and keep the bitten person calm.

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