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The venom of the rattlesnake serves two main purposes. The first is to kill prey, mainly small rodents. The second is to begin a preliminary breakdown of the animalís tissue for easier digestion.

Venom does not pose a threat to the snake itself. It is stored in special glands and is carefully released through non-absorbent ducts. Also, venom is produced and stored in an inert or inactive enzymatic form.

Open mouth diagram of rattlesnake showing
venom glands, ducts, and fangs.



The eastern massasauga rattlesnake is a fascinating creature. It uses its special morphological features to sense prey, feed, attempt to avoid predation, and
survive in our harsh climate.

  • Snakes subdue small prey by delivering venom through specialized, elongated, hollow teeth known as fangs;
  • The snake can move each fang separately. The fangs are similar to a hypodermic needle. When not in use the fangs lie flat on the inside of the mouth;
  • During a strike the fangs pivot forward to gain contact with the
    desired target, usually a vole or a mouse. After a strike is made the snake instantly releases its fangs and waits for the animal to stop moving before attempting to swallow it. This bite and release ensures that a fighting animal will not injure the snake through a bite or a scratch;
  • Though the mouse or vole may escape it will die soon afterward;
  • Since snakes are not able to chew their food, they swallow the
    animal whole, usually head first. This is a relatively slow process depending on the size of the prey. Depending on the ambient temperature, most food is usually totally digested within a week;

Illustration of hollow fang used to
deliver venom to prey.

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