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Montana Field Guides

Prairie Rattlesnake - Crotalus viridis

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Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:
FWP Conservation Tier: 2

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General Description
Adults have a triangular head, blunt nose, narrow neck, and stout body; they range in length from 15 to 60 inches. The background color above varies from pale green to brown; a series of brown or black blotches edged with a dark and then a light line extends the length of the body. The blotches often merge into rings on the tail. There are also blotches on the sides. The belly is pale yellow to white and lacks blotches. All rattlesnakes have a heat-sensing pit located between the nostril and the eye. The fangs are hollow and hinged, allowing them to be folded back against the roof of the mouth. The tail ends in a rattle that helps warn potential predators of the snake's presence.

Diagnostic Characteristics
No other snake in Montana has rattles (see Gophersnake and Western Hog-nosed Snake).

General Distribution
Montana Range



Western Hemisphere Range

 


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 1274

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

 

(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)



Migration
Non-migratory.

Habitat
Prairie Rattlesnakes favor open and arid country but are also found in ponderosa pine stands and mixed grass-coniferous forests. They are more likely to be encountered on south-facing slopes and in areas with rock outcrops. Prairie Rattlesnakes den communally, but range up to 7 miles from the dens during the summer. Females give birth to 4 to 21 young in late summer; the young are marked similarly to adults, but colors are brighter. Prairie Rattlesnakes prey on a variety of animals, including mice, ground squirrels, and rabbits. Gravid females may aggregate at basking sites (rookeries) (Gannon and Secoy 1985). May be most common near broken country and breaks. Land use changes from range to irrigated farmland may adversely affect population (Pendlebury 1977).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Two of three collected in north-central MT had eaten Peromyscus maniculatus (Mosimann and Rabb 1952). In southern Saskatchewan, 4 collected with prey: 2 P. maniculatus; 1 Richardson's Ground Squirrel, 1 passerine (Gannon and Secoy 1984).

Ecology
In southwest Saskatchewan, one hibernaculum contained an estimated 150 adults, plus juvenile and young-of-year in same den. Overwinter weight loss greater for northern populations than for southern popualtions; overwinter mortality of young-of-year may be significant for northern populations (Gannon and Secoy 1984).

Reproductive Characteristics
Female probably has 2-year reproductive cycle (Gannon and Secoy 1984). Mate late July to early September (Klauber 1972). Sperm presumed to stay viable overwinter. Parturition late August to September. Average young is 9 to 10 in southern Saskatchewan (Gannon and Secoy 1984).

References
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
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