Daniel is a YouTuber who films a variety of content with his son Lincoln. Since 2014, their channel has revolved around learning about the world and his son’s reactions to their discoveries, one split object at a time. While previous examination videos have involved tennis balls and an evacuated hornet’s nest, a recent video covered the interior of a rattlesnake’s defining trait.
After having his son remove a skinned rattlesnake tail from a zip-seal bag and changing from the table to a proper cutting board, Daniel takes a box cutter and attempts to bring the blade down along the length of the tail’s core; when that fails to properly carve into the mass, Daniel changes tactics to puncturing along the center. While the change in approach results in snapping the rattle in two from excess pressure, the interior becomes as easily visible; a rattlesnake’s rattle is completely hollow and composed of keratin, rather than solid bone. While the hollow, brittle nature of this rattle tail means that the snake can damage its rattle, its keratin nature means that the damage will slowly repair itself over time in a manner similar to human fingernails.
Daniel then shares some facts about rattlesnakes. He points out that infant rattlesnakes exit their shells with only a simple “button;” the individual rattle component doesn’t manifest until the snake sheds its first skin and the snake cannot begin to use its rattle to ward off predators until at least its second molting. Judging from the 13 ridges along the tail featured in Daniel’s video, his particular rattler had been several years old; rattlesnakes will shed their skin several times a year, varying by the amount of food and temperatures in the area.
Rattlesnakes belong to two genera of the pit viper subfamily, known as Crotalinae. Differences between the Crotalus and Sistrurus genera come down to size, common habitats, average weight, potency of venom and variance in scale patterns and thickness. While the average Crotalus snake resembles what comes to mind when most people imagine a rattlesnake to look like, the Sistrurus are smaller serpents that are also known by the common names of pygmy or ground rattlesnakes and massassaugas. More than 30 different species of Crotalus has been recognized, compared to only three species, S. catenatus, S. ravus and S. millarius, of genus Sistrurus.
While the increased bulk of the average Crotalus affords it access to stronger venom, the largest factor to consider when it comes to snake venom is the age of the serpent; Adult rattlers have enough life experience to know how much venom to inject into threats and prey, infant rattlers have no gauge of their venom output and are likely to pump sufficiently more venom into an unlucky victim than any seasoned snake would. While rattlesnakes are the leader in snake bites throughout North America, the outcome is usually non-fatal; the venom of most species is only capable of causing tissue death, also known as “necrosis,” and difficulty in the body’s ability to clot wounds, leading to prolonged and excessive blood loss.