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  • overlapping scales on the snake’s body will expand to accommodate larger prey;
     
  • Such adaptations enable the snake to consume a larger meal, and in turn, allow a
    longer period of time before the next feeding. Rattlesnakes may survive on less
    than 12 meals per season.

It is thought that pit vipers may be the most evolved of the snakes because of these
adaptations.
 

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake
about to strike.

During the strike the fangs pivot forward.


TEMPERATURE CONTROL

Snakes have the unique ability to regulate their body temperature using the surrounding environment. Since a snake’s body heat is obtained from its environ-ment, and not from metabolizing food energy, reptiles do not need to eat to keep their bodies warm. It is by this method that a massasauga can live on so few meals each year. Over the winter, the snake may not eat at all for six months.

REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS (ECTOTHERMIC)

Snakes are “ectothermic.” “Ecto” means from the outside and “thermic” means
temperature.

  • In order to increase, maintain or lower body temperature, snakes utilize the heat or cold from “outside” of their body (in the surrounding environment).
     
  • Ectotherms (such as snakes) become sluggish, and their metabolic rates lower, as the temperature falls. Although massasaugas are capable of limited movement at 4°C, they require warmer temperatures for activity.
     
  • Rattlesnake species do not generally become active until temperatures exceed
    12-13°C and their body temperature reaches a range of between 25 and 30°C.

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