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Question:

Can you tell how old a rattlesnake is by counting the number of rattles on the tail?
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  Answer:

No! The rattler itself is a dry cartilage-like piece of skin that represents the end product of the shed process. Each time the snake sheds, it adds one additional button or segment to the rattle. The many loose overlapping segments allow a vibrating, quivering movement effect which makes the sound of rattling when the snake activates the muscles of the tail. The snake may shed several times a year as it undergoes growth or needs to rejuvenate its old rougher skin for stalking and movement purposes. During a very wet year, the snakes tend to shed more often, and as they are growing rapidly at an early age they shed more. Counting the buttons may shed more light on how many times the snake has shed its skin rather than its age, since the shedding process does not coincide with the calendar. Also, the snake often breaks the rattler off many times during the course of daily living. Larger, older snakes have usually lost their neo-natal or first primary button, along with several more, so that they do not even have all the rattlers they have developed during their lifetime and travels. Besides, accurate counting can be very tricky on a live snake!
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Authored by CONCISE COMMUNICATIONS. This page last updated on 05/28/97.
Copyright 1997 CONCISE COMMUNICATIONS & TNE, Inc. All rights reserved.
Information in this document is subject to change without notice.
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