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Most snakes lay eggs, but rattlesnakes give birth to live young. These young arrive in the world fully equipped with sight, smell, heat sensors, venom and fangs. The only thing lacking is a set of rattles, which begin to appear within about a week, as soon as they go through their first molt and begin to search for food.
From the moment they are born, baby rattlesnakes are capable of hunting and killing prey. They don't immediately set out after food, however, and remain near their birthplace for about one week, or until they shed their first skin. At this same time, the small button-like structure at the tip of a newborn's tail is shed and replaced with a single section of rattle. It is generally believed that mother snakes do not care for their young, but some studies indicate that certain species, such as black-tailed and rock rattlesnakes, remain with and protect their young until the first skin is shed. Once the shedding is complete, the young snakes become hungry and disperse to search for food.
A young rattlesnake's diet is similar to an adult's, except the prey is smaller so the baby snake can swallow it. This limits his food choices only to smaller animals. Baby rattlers prey mainly on small lizards since they fit easily into their mouths. They will also hunt young rodents. Like their adult counterparts, baby rattlesnakes are not usually interested in dead food; they're not scavengers and strongly prefer to hunt live prey.
A baby rattlesnake hunts the same way as an adult, lying in wait in a clump of grass or bushes, under rocks or inside a rodent's burrow. When a suitable prey animal, such as a small lizard or rodent, comes within reach, the baby rattlesnake strikes and releases venom through his fangs, which act similar to hypodermic needles. The baby rattler then releases the lizard or rodent and waits for it to die before using special heat-seeking sensors near the nostrils to track the prey down again so it can be swallowed.
Hibernation and Starvation
It's normal for a baby rattler to stop eating and go into hibernation during cold winter months. Many young rattlesnakes die during their first year, however, from starvation. A baby rattlesnake should eat regularly during the warm months when he's not hibernating. He needs plenty of food to survive during this rapid period of growth, and if he cannot find or capture enough prey, he could starve to death.
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