The eastern diamondback rattlesnake — the largest rattlesnake in the world — has amazing adaptations for capturing prey (but poses little threat to humans). Each snake is equipped with a pair of long, curved, hollow fangs that connect with venom glands and fold within the mouth when not in use. The snake hunts from a tight coil — remaining motionless for as long as a week — while it waits for prey to come within striking distance. And as with all pit vipers, the eastern diamondback is able to hunt in total darkness and identify warm-blooded prey via infrared detection.
This highly effective ambush predator is dependent on the longleaf pine ecosystem of the southeastern United States. But less than 2 or 3 percent of the original habitat's pine coverage remains, and habitat loss and fragmentation is causing sharp declines in the snake's numbers. The eastern diamondback is also highly persecuted by humans, who kill it maliciously and for its skin and meat. The snake is wholly unprotected across most of its range — unlimited numbers of snakes can be killed in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.
In Alabama and Georgia, the eastern diamondback is targeted by hunters who compete for prizes at gruesome “rattlesnake roundups,” where the snakes are exhibited and then slaughtered and sold for their skin and meat. The Center is working to outlaw rattlesnake roundups, denouncing the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for issuing a state wildlife exhibition permit for the Whigham Rattlesnake Roundup in Grady County — a permit that should be issued only for educational purposes, never entertainment. Rattlesnake roundups have led to documented eastern diamondback declines.
Federal protection would put an end to the slaughter of these imperiled, misunderstood snakes and lead to increased protection for the vanishing longleaf pine ecosystem the species depends on. The Center petitioned for that protection in 2011, and the next year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the snake may warrant a place on the endangered species list. But when the Service didn't move forward, we filed a notice of intent to sue in January 2013.
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