Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake

Scientific Classification

Common Name
dusky pygmy rattlesnake
Genus Species
Sistrurus (rattle on tail) miliarius (mullet-like, possible reference to its blotchy color pattern) barbouri

Fast Facts

The dusky pygmy rattlesnake is a short, thick-bodied snake. Markings include a dark line through each eye; a series of dark, roughly circular spots running down the center of the back; a thin reddish-orange stripe along the mid-body line; and dark spots on its white belly.
Range in length from 36-60 cm (15-24 in.); pygmies in excess of 75 cm (30 in) are recorded; newborns are 15-17.5 cm (6-7 in)
Weighs approximately 150 grams (5.4 oz.)
Dusky pygmy rattlers are carnivorous, feeding mainly on small mammals, birds, amphibians and other reptiles.
4-6 months
Females are ovoviviparous - the young develop in eggs that the female retains inside her boy. The young hatch from the eggs, then the mother gives birth to the live young.
Clutch Size: 2-12 young; average litter is 6
Sexual Maturity
2-4 years
Life Span
Up to 20 years
The dusky pygmy rattler is found in the southeastern quarter of the United States (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri).
Inhabits woodlands, freshwater floodplains, and marshes
Global: No data
IUCN: Not listed
CITES: Not listed
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

  1. Another pygmy, the western pygmy is the smallest venomous snake in the United States.
  2. These snakes are classified as pit vipers because of facial pits found below and between the eye and nostril on both sides of the head. The pit is highly sensitive to infrared radiation (heat) and serves as a direction finder in locating warm-blooded prey or predators.
  3. Rattlesnakes have a special feeding system based on venom, injected into prey through teeth called fangs. Pygmy rattlesnakes use their tail more as a lure to attract prey than as a scare tactic.
  4. The venom is hemotoxic - although bites usually are not life threatening, they are very painful and can result in the loss of a digit (or similar areas) if the wound is not properly cared for.
  5. Like many other pit vipers, pygmy rattlesnakes release their prey after striking, and then scent-track the prey after it dies. In one study, researchers found that the venom may immobilize a small mammal within 30-45 seconds, whereas lizards and frogs may remain relatively mobile for 15-20 minutes after being struck. Apparently some of these cold-blooded prey are able to escape beyond the range which a pygmy rattler can scent-track its prey. In one case the researcher observed a pygmy rattler tracking a dead anole lizard that had climbed up a tree and died. Though the snake apparently knew where the prey was, it could not reach it.
  6. The rattle is a series of hard segments made of keratin. A new segment is added each time a snake sheds. When shaken, the segments vibrate against each other, producing a familiar buzz. Unlike other rattlesnakes, which may have loud rattles, pygmies produce a much softer sound (almost a whirring, thus giving them the nickname "buzzworm"). Often their rattles break off and produce no sound at all.
  7. Don't be fooled by the rattle - there are several snake species (black racer, milk snake, hognose) that vibrate their tails when cornered.
  8. The age of a rattlesnake is not evident by the size of number of segments in its rattle. The rattle is often broken off after a couple of years. An adult rattlesnake that has the original button at the tip of its tail is rare.

Ecology and Conservation

Snakes are not popular creatures in American culture, but they are essential for controlling rodent and other small mammal populations.

The dusky pygmy rattler is one of the most abundant venomous snakes in Florida. But in some areas, these snakes are struggling to survive. They are threatened by habitat destruction, pollution, and urbanization. Sometimes they are just killed out of fear.

These snakes, as with other species of rattlers, are destroyed by annual "rattlesnake round-ups" that occur in several states in the U.S. Proceeds from these events often benefit several prominent charity organizations.


Ashton, Ray Jr. and Patricia Sawyer Ashton. Reptiles and Amphibians of Florida: Part One, The Snakes. Miami. Windward Pub.,1988.

Mehrtens, John M. Living Snakes of the World. New York. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 1987.

Stetson University. stetson.edu/departments/biology/piginfo.html