Banded Rock Rattlesnake

Banded Rock Rattlesnake


Native to the southern U.S. and Mexico, ranging from southeastern Arizona to western Texas and south through northern and central Mexico.


Lives in arid and semi-arid habitats, from grasslands and tropical deciduous forests to mountains, rocky flats, and outcrops at elevations of 1,000 to 9,600 feet.


The banded rock rattlesnake, like other rattlesnakes, is venomous. It is characterized by a slender body, with light gray scales with dark, gray-black bands along the length of its body. These bands usually have serrated, saw-like edges. There are often small spots between the cross-bands. On some, the spotting is very heavy and gives the snake a speckled appearance in addition to the banding. These colors and the dorsal banding pattern may help camouflage the rock rattlesnake against the often gray rocks and areas of green lichen that are common in its habitat

This species is sexually dichromatic, meaning males and females differ in coloration. The background color or sometimes just the mid-dorsal region of adult males tend to be greenish, whereas adult females are gray. Males grow to a larger size and have longer tails as a proportion of their total length when compared to females.

The banded rock rattlesnake has elliptical pupils that look like cat's eyes and like all pit vipers, has a heat-sensing pit between the nostril and eye on each side of its head. It has a relatively small triangular head that is only slightly wider than the neck when viewed from above.

The rattler on its tail consists of several interlocking segments of a substance called keratin ? the same material as your fingernails and hair. As it grows or ages the snake sheds its skin and a new section is added to its rattler. It is a myth that a snake’s age is determined by how many segments there are to its rattle because a segment can break off fairly easily. The rattlesnake’s rattlers are empty; the sound produced by the rattle is caused by it moving back and forth 60 or more times per second and the sound results from the segments touching each other.

Rattlesnakes survive without their rattle. Sometimes the rattle matrix that forms the rattle segments, located between the tail and the rattler, has been lost or severely damaged and the rattle segment will no longer grow.

The venom of the rock rattlesnake probably targets vertebrates more than invertebrates. For humans, it is highly hemorrhagic, causing swelling, bleeding, and local necrosis. The venom of some populations also contains potent neurotoxins, similar to that found in Mojave Rattlesnake venom. Although no human mortalities have been reported, any bite from a rock rattlesnake should be considered life threatening, and immediate medical attention should be sought.

This snake can move unexpectedly fast and is quick to strike. The banded rock rattlesnake can bite in, or under water; although, they may not be able to strike very far because of the lack of resistance.

Banded Rock Rattlesnake

It uses venom injected through long, hollow, retractable fangs to kill and begin digesting its prey. Venom is used to subdue their prey before swallowing it whole. The potency of this species venom varies throughout its range, suggesting that this snake's habitat and diet could be a factor in venom variations.

Rock rattlesnakes are primarily diurnal, with most activity occurring during the morning into mid-afternoon, and then again in the late afternoon. These snakes are rarely found being active after dark. Despite being a terrestrial species, they often perch atop rock outcrops and as high as a yard or more up into trees and shrubs. They often take refuge under or among rocks, inside or under stumps, or in animal burrows for protection.


These snakes are thought to breed in the summer between late July and late August. Females may have between three and six young in a litter that averages 8 inches in length.

This rattlesnake is ovoviviparous. The babies first develop inside eggs inside the mother. When developed, they break free of their eggs, and the mother gives birth to live young. The female will remain with her young until their first shedding, which happens when the young are 11-14 days of age. The young snakes stay together for safety and do not stray far from their mother during this time.

Banded rock rattlesnakes are born with a “prebutton” at the end of their tails. This segment is lost during the snakes first shed. It is replaced with the first segment of the rattle. Young snakes cannot make any noises with this segment of the rattle. They need at least two segments to make the rattling sound. Young rock rattlesnakes use their rattles to communicate with their mother in a behavior called caudaling, and it is Morse code for rattlesnakes.

Juvenile rock rattlesnakes have a tail that is yellow in coloration. This color gradually fades as it grows, with only a trace of yellow retained into adulthood.

Interesting Facts:
  • The banded rock rattlesnake's range overlaps with that of the gray-banded kingsnake, a species similar in appearance with alternating gray and black bands along its body. This similarity is likely an adaptation that developed as a form of mimicry. Resembling a banded rock rattlesnake helps protect the nonvenomous gray-banded kingsnake from predators that may mistake it for the venomous banded rock rattlesnake.
  • This species’ scientific name is a tribute to Laurence Klauber, former curator of reptiles and board member of the San Diego Zoo, who had a passion for rattlesnakes and eventually became the world’s foremost authority on them.
  • Young rock rattlesnakes sometimes wave their yellow tails in a behavior known as caudal luring to attract lizards. Once the unsuspecting lizard is close enough, the snake rapidly attacks.
  • Banded rock rattlesnakes are very secretive and are rarley observed because of their coloration, small size, and speed.
  • The banded rock rattlesnake’s venom is mostly composed of a haemotoxin and neurotoxin. The haemotoxin destroys red blood cells disrupt blood clotting, and cause organ degeneration and generalized tissue damage specifically affecting the heart and cardiovascular system. The neurotoxin affects the brain and the nervous system; this is how the prey becomes paralyzed.
  • Each year a rattlesnake will consume 3-4 times its body weight.
  • A ratttlesnake’s teeth attach at the jaw bone, and if they are damaged, the snake can regrow them.

Although not endangered, banded rock rattle snakes face threats by urban development, collection for the pet trade and habitat disruption due to mining activity. High intensity wildfires, driven by climate change, are a growing threat. This species is common throughout its range, but its population status in the wild is unknown.

Did YOU Know?    
As with other rattlesnake species, a banded rock rattlesnake will vibrate its tail when alarmed in an attempt to scare off potential threats.
Banded Rock Rattlesnake
Class: reptiles
Order: Viperidae
Family: Crotalus
Genus: Crotalus
Species: lepidus klauberi
Length: up to 2 feet; males are larger than females
Where at the Zoo? Small Animal Building

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