What is a pygmy rattlesnake?

Pygmy rattlesnakes can feast on frogs.

The pygmy rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius, is a small, thick-bodied rattlesnake, commonly called the pygmy rattlesnake or terrestrial rattlesnake. With the adult snake averaging 13 to 30 inches (35.5 to 76 cm) in length, this pitviper has a small rattle that is rarely heard and, if heard, is usually described as the hum of an insect. The venomous snake is endemic to the southern United States, where it is colloquially called the “bell worm”.

Although venomous, a pygmy rattlesnake bite is not generally considered fatal.

Unlike larger rattlesnakes, the pygmy rattlesnake has nine large scales on top of its triangular head. The snake’s coloration can be red, gray, brown, lavender, or orange, and includes a row of dark dorsal spots with an orange to red dorsal stripe. The underside of the snake is white with abundant dark spots. The juvenile pygmy rattlesnake has a yellow tail that it uses to attract prey, and it darkens as the snake matures. Snake rattle string typically has six to eight segments, and in more than half of snakes it has only three segments.

The pygmy rattlesnake is reclusive by nature and is often found hiding in leaf litter. Snakes are sometimes arboreal and have been observed in trees up to 10 feet (3 m) tall. From these locations, snakes ambush lizards, frogs, snakes, small mammals, and insects. The pygmy rattlesnake injects venom into its prey and then releases it. The snake then tracks prey by scent after it dies.

The female pygmy rattlesnake gives birth to three to 11 live young from late summer to early fall. Courtship and mating take place between late summer and mid-winter. Males engage in combat rituals with the victorious male earning the right to mate with the female. Copulation can last several hours, and the mated couple will often remain together for several days, with one snake coiled on top of the other. The female snake stores the male’s sperm until mid-spring, when it fertilizes its eggs.

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The three subspecies of pygmy rattlesnake are the Carolina pygmy, Sistrurus miliarius streckeri; the dark pygmy, Sistrurus miliarius barbouri; and the western pygmy, Sistrurus miliarius streckeri. The pygmy rattlesnake is found in a variety of environments, including forest, riverine, coastal and swamp habitats. The pygmy is venomous, but there are no known cases where a snakebite has been fatal to a human. The pygmy rattlesnake is protected in a few places, including North Carolina and Tennessee.

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