The rattlesnake is a powerful predator, but that doesn't mean he has no enemies. Other animals in his natural habitat will kill him, either as a way of defending themselves or because they can turn him into a meal. While he is significantly smaller than some of these predators, he can hold his own -- his body is designed not only for avoiding them in the first place, but for defending himself against his attackers.
With his rattling tail, unpredictable movements and large fangs, the rattlesnake is an imposing creature no matter your size -- for this reason, large animals capable of killing him are inclined to do so as a self-defense measure. A large, hoofed animal like a deer or horse has no interest in eating the rattlesnake, but will trample one if he crosses its path. The rattlesnake is capable of downing large prey like this, so the larger animal will stamp out the snake if he feels threatened.
Eating the Snake
The rattlesnake isn't without his share of predators who want to make a meal out of him. Aerial predators like owls, eagles and hawks may swoop down and snatch up a rattlesnake, while animals on the ground like foxes, coyotes, feral cats and even turkeys may also take on the rattler as a possible source of food. Even other snakes, like the king snake and black snake, prey on rattlesnakes.
Fortunately for the rattlesnake, his body is designed to help him avoid and deter predators. His patterned body can make him blend in with his environment, allowing him to either hold still and camouflage himself or crawl away before he is noticed. If he is spotted by a predator, he rattles his loud tail and emits a powerful hiss that sends a clear warning to his would-be attacker -- he can even puff up his body to make it look bigger and more formidible.
If the rattlesnake finds himself engaged with the enemy, he is well-equipped for self-defense. When he opens his mouth, his hinged fangs unfold from his upper jaw, and he lunges forward to deliver a powerful bite. His strike takes only about half a second, during which his hollow fangs inject his would-be predator with poisonous venom. While the strength of the venom varies between rattlers, he chooses how much to inject. This allows him to kill animals significantly larger than he is -- his venom finishes them off.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.