Sistrurus miliarius

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Sistrurus miliarius
Sistrurus miliaris miliaris CDC.png
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Viperidae
Genus: Sistrurus
Species: S. miliarius
Binomial name
Sistrurus miliarius
(Linnaeus, 1766)
Sistrurus miliarius distribution.png
  • [Crotalus] miliarius Linnaeus, 1766
  • Crotalus miliarius
    Palisot de Beauvois, 1799
  • C[rotalophorus]. miliarius
    Gray, 1825
  • C[audisona]. miliaria Fitzinger, 1826
  • Crotalophorus miliarius
    Holbrook, 1842
  • C[rotalus]. (Crotalophorus) miliarius Jan, 1863
  • [Sistrurus] miliarius Garman, 1884
  • Sistrurus miliarius Boulenger, 1896
  • Sistrurus miliarius miliarius
    Gloyd, 1935[2]
Common names: ground rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, leaf rattler, death rattler, eastern pygmy rattlesnake, more.[3]

Sistrurus miliarius is a venomous pit viper species found in the southeastern United States. Three subspecies are currently recognized including the nominate subspecies described here.[4]


S. m. miliarius

A small species with adults usually growing to 40–60 cm (16–24 in) in length. Maximum reported length are 78.8 cm (31.0 in) (Klauber, 1972). Snellings and Collins (1997) reported a specimen of S. m. barbouri measuring 80.3 cm (31.6 in), but it had been in captivity for over 12 years. The largest S. m. barbouri reported by Gloyd (1940) was a specimen measuring 63.8 cm (25.1 in) from St. Petersburg, Florida. Shine (1978) suggested that in some populations males may be larger than females, but a later study by Bishop et al. (1996) did not find sexual dimorphism of any kind in a population in Volusia County, Florida.[5]

The midbody rows of dorsal scales usually number 23. The dorsal pattern consists of a series of oval or subcircular spots with reasonably regular edges. The spots on the flanks are mostly round and not much higher than they are wide. Belly pigmentation towards the rear is more limited to indistinct blotches found on pairs of adjacent scales.[3] Juveniles have a color pattern that is similar to the adults, although it may be paler or more vividly marked, and the tip of the tail is yellow.[5]

Common names[edit]

Bastard rattlesnake, nipple snake, Carolina ground rattlesnake, brick red rattlesnake, Carolina pygmy rattlesnake, Catesby's small snake, dwarf rattlesnake, eastern pygmy rattlesnake, grey rattlesnake, ground rattler (Garman, 1887), ground rattlesnake, hog-nosed rattlesnake, little rattlesnake, miliar(y) rattlesnake, North American smaller rattlesnake, oak-leaf rattler, pygmy ground rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, small rattlesnake, southeastern ground rattlesnake, southern ground rattlesnake, southern pygmy rattlesnake, spotted rattler, spotted rattlesnake,[3] southern rattlesnake.[6]

Geographic range[edit]

Found in the southeastern United States from southern and eastern North Carolina, south through peninsular Florida and west to eastern Texas and Oklahoma. The type locality given is "Carolina." Schmidt (1953) proposed that this be restricted to "Charleston, South Carolina."[2]


This species reportedly inhabits flatwoods, sandhills, mixed forests, floodplains, and is also found near lakes and marshes.[2]

Conservation status[edit]

This species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (v3.1, 2001).[1] Species are listed as such due to their wide distribution, presumed large population, or because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category. The population trend is stable. Year assessed: 2007.[7]


Usually seen in the summer sunning themselves or crossing the road later in the day. The tiny rattle makes a buzzing sound that can only be heard from a few feet. Some individuals are very aggressive and will strike furiously, while others seem lethargic and do not even attempt to rattle.[8][9] They do not dig their own burrows, but rather use those dug by small rodents or gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus).[10][11]


Its diet includes small mammals and birds, lizards, insects and frogs,[3] as well as other snakes.[8][9] Pygmy rattlesnakes also include giant desert centipedes in their diet, which they hunt by active pursuit, grabbing and flipping the centipedes around while simultaneously injecting venom to prevent injury by the victim. They also ambush lizards such as skinks by using their tails as lures, as is common in many other species of viper.[12]


Since this species is unable to produce much venom, it is unlikely that it is able to deliver a fatal bite to a human adult.[13] Brimley (1942) wrote that although it was too small to be really dangerous, its bite "will give the victim quite an unpleasant time for several days."[3] However, bites involving children have resulted in prolonged hospitalization and there are also reports of necrosis.[13]

These snakes produce cytotoxic venom that is strongly hemorrhagic and tissue toxic, but devoid of any neurotoxins (Ernst, 1992; Van Mierop, 1976). The venom was basis for the development of the drug eptifibatide which is used to prevent clotting during a heart attack. The venom is somewhat different in that it contains substantial amounts of serotonin and related tryptamine compounds (Welsh, 1967). Antivenin does not appear to be effective in the treatment of these bites, although CroFab does seem to do a better job than ACP, at least in some animal models. (Consroe et al., 1995).[13]


Subspecies[4] Taxon author[4] Common name[14] Geographic range[14]
S. m. barbouri Gloyd, 1935 Dusky pygmy rattlesnake The United States from extreme southern South Carolina through southern Georgia, all of Florida, west through southern Alabama and southeastern Mississippi.
S. m. miliarius (Linnaeus, 1766) Carolina pygmy rattlesnake The United States from extreme southern South Carolina, northwards into eastern North Carolina as far as Hyde County and west through central Georgia and central Alabama.
S. m. streckeri Gloyd, 1935 Western pygmy rattlesnake The United States in Mississippi (except for southeast of the Pearl River Valley), west through Louisiana into eastern Texas, and north into southeastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, southern Missouri and southwestern Tennessee.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sistrurus miliarius at the IUCN Red List. Accessed 15 September 2007.
  2. ^ a b c McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré T. 1999. Snake Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, vol. 1. Herpetologists' League. ISBN 1-893777-00-6.
  3. ^ a b c d e Wright AH, Wright AA. 1957. Handbook of Snakes. Comstock Publishing Associates. (7th printing, 1985). 1105 pp. ISBN 0-8014-0463-0.
  4. ^ a b c "Sistrurus miliarius". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 28 February 2007. 
  5. ^ a b Campbell JA, Lamar WW. 2004. The Venomous Reptiles of the Western Hemisphere. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca and London. 870 pp. 1500 plates. ISBN 0-8014-4141-2.
  6. ^ U.S. Navy. 1991. Poisonous Snakes of the World. US Govt. New York: Dover Publications Inc. 203 pp. ISBN 0-486-26629-X.
  7. ^ 2001 Categories & Criteria (version 3.1) at the IUCN Red List. Accessed 15 September 2007.
  8. ^ a b Behler JL, King FW. 1979. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 743 pp. LCCCN 79-2217. ISBN 0-394-50824-6.
  9. ^ a b Conant R. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Second Edition. First published in 1958. Houghton Mifflin Company Boston. 429 pp. 48 plates. ISBN 0-395-19979-4 (hc), ISBN 0-395-19977-8 (pb).
  10. ^ Animal Diversity-U. of Michigan (Downloaded Feb. 18, 2010.)
  11. ^ Ernst, C., R. Barbour. 1989. Snakes of Eastern North America. Fairfax, Virginia: George Mason University Press.
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b c Norris R. 2004. Venom Poisoning in North American Reptiles. In Campbell JA, Lamar WW. 2004. The Venomous Reptiles of the Western Hemisphere. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca and London. 870 pp. 1500 plates. ISBN 0-8014-4141-2.
  14. ^ a b Klauber LM. 1997. Rattlesnakes: Their Habitats, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind. Second Edition. First published in 1956, 1972. University of California Press, Berkeley. ISBN 0-520-21056-5.

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