Predator Gone Silent: The Rattlesnake Debate

Predator Gone Silent rattlesnake on desert background


There is one sound that no one in Arizona wants to hear when they are out hiking or camping: the telltale rattle of a rattlesnake. Even though hearing it may freak you out, it is actually helpful. We all know exactly what that rattle means, and are alerted to the fact that there is a rattlesnake nearby. If you are like most people, one of most important lessons you learned about snake encounters as a child or new desert-dweller was to move away from the area and not make any sudden movements towards the snake.

But what if we’ve been taking the rattle for granted?

If you came across a rattlesnake that didn’t rattle, would you know what to do? Would you be able to identify it as a rattlesnake, or even see it before it attacked? And if you had your dog with you, would you be able to guarantee their safety?

In recent years, an interesting debate has surfaced in the Arizona community surrounding rattlesnakes. People (and animals) are encountering rattlesnakes that don’t rattle, and some herpetologists believe that this is a new phenomenon. On one side of the debate, the belief is that snakes are adapting to stay alive. Steve Reaves of Tucson Rattlesnake Removal has said that rattlesnakes have stopped rattling in recent years. Others believe that the rattlesnakes along the trails have learned that rattling gets them in trouble, so they are keeping quiet for self-preservation.

On the other side of the debate, there are herpetologists who say that this is in no way a recent occurrence. Stéphane Poulin, curator at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has said that, over the past 25 years, he has seen no major change in rattlesnake behavior, and that rattlesnakes just don’t rattle that often. It is a common belief among doubters that rattlesnakes’ primary defense has always been to avoid being seen by predators.

While the timeline and reason may still be up for discussion, the truth is that sometimes, rattlesnakes simply don’t rattle to alert you of their presence before striking.

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSA)’s Rattlesnake Avoidance Training Class could save your dog’s life. This class gives dogs the tools they need to avoid a costly and potentially deadly rattlesnake bite. We have three more classes this year, so if you’re in Tucson, reserve your spot now!

But don’t take our word for it. Humphrey and his owners took the class a year and a half ago. Since then, they have had encounters with four rattlesnakes! Luckily, Humphrey knew exactly what to do and helped warn his family about the dangerous snake. Good boy, Humphrey!

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  1. Great post. I can’t comment on changes in behavior over time, but my observation has been that the snakes are much less likely to rattle when they are cold. I have often seen rattlesnakes on my morning run, but they are very lethargic before the sun comes up. I’ve never had one rattle at such times. Conversely, the most dangerous times seem to be late afternoon when the snakes are active and alert – they generally rattle vigorously then. Either way, I don’t venture out during snake season in sandals – my toes are too juicy a target. For my canine companion Abby, her best defense has been the rattlesnake avoidance class. Great class that has prepared her for adventures on the trail. Highly recommended!

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