Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake


Extreme southern South Carolina, across southern Georgia, Alabama, and southeastern Mississippi, and all of Florida except the Keys.


Meadows, dry woodlands, lakes, ponds, and marshes; in dry habitats, it often lives in gopher tortoise burrows.


Their color is light gray to dark gray with irregular black blotches. There is also a series of reddish brown to orange blotches running down the back that may be more distinct near the head. On some specimens, these spots may be very muted. The pupil is vertical (catlike) and there is a deep facial pit between the nostril and the eye.

These snakes are classified as pit vipers because of facial pits found below and between the eye and nostril on both sides of the head. The pit is highly sensitive to infrared radiation (heat) and serves as a direction finder in locating warm-blooded prey or predators.

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake

Known as the "patient hunter of the pines", and like most pit vipers, these small rattlers use the "sit and wait" method of hunting. In the wild, they have been observed in the same location for up to three weeks, patiently waiting for unsuspecting lizards, frogs, rodents or insects. The mottled color pattern allows these snakes to go virtually unseen on the forest floor. Even when they do rattle, it is often mistaken for a buzzing insect.

Like many other pit vipers, pygmy rattlesnakes release their prey after striking, and then scent-track the prey after it dies. In one study, researchers found that the venom may immobilize a small mammal within 30-45 seconds, whereas lizards and frogs may remain relatively mobile for 15-20 minutes after being struck.

This snake is most active at night and tends to be sluggish during the day. If threatened, it will hiss and rattle in warning before finally striking. The pygmy’s bite is typically not fatal, but it can be extremely painful. It is responsible for more snake bites in Florida than any other venomous snake.


Dusky pygmy rattlesnakes reach sexual maturity between two to four years of age. Females are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to live young, rather than laying eggs externally. Usually the female gives birth to between five and eight young in the late summer or fall. Young pygmy rattlesnakes look slightly different from their adult counterparts. Usually their coloration is of a lighter hue than adults. The young are totally independent and the female provides no maternal care.

Interesting Facts:

TThe age of a rattlesnake is not evident by the size of number of segments in its rattle. The rattle is often broken off after a couple of years. An adult rattlesnake that has the original button at the tip of its tail is rare.

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake
: The dusky pygmy rattler is one of the most abundant venomous snakes in Florida. But in some areas, these snakes are struggling to survive. Although they help to keep rodent populations in check, they are comfortable sharing space with humans, often turning up in yards and neighborhoods leading to snake–human conflicts. They are threatened by habitat destruction, pollution, and urbanization. Sometimes they are just killed out of fear.
Did YOU Know?    
Despite the important role snakes play in keeping rodent populations in check, these snakes, as with other species of rattlers, are destroyed by annual "rattlesnake round-ups" that occur in several states in the U.S.
Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake
Class: reptiles
Order: Squamata
Family: Viperidae
Genus: Sistrurus
Species: miliarius barbouri
Length: 15 to 22 inches
Average Lifespan: Up to 20 years
Wild Diet: Frogs, toads, insects, small rodents, lizards and fledglings.
Predators: Raccoons, skunks, foxes, hawks, and eagles.
USFWS Status: Not Listed
CITES Status: Not Listed
Where at the Zoo? Small Animal Building: Temperate Zone

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