Most people are well aware of how mammals raise their young, as most mammals are fairly similar in this process. They give birth to live young, will often nurse them and shelter them until they are close to their species’ maturity, and then the young will go off and live their own life or stay within their group, depending on the animal.
It is a fairly straightforward process, which may leave you to wonder how other animals raise their young. For example, you might wonder how snakes raise their young, as they come from eggs similar to birds, but snakes aren’t really known for regurgitating their food the same way that birds do.
Rattlesnakes raise their young in a pretty interesting manner. Contrary to popular belief, the mother snake will stay with their young until the snake first sheds its skin, being incredibly protective and ensuring that the snake has grown up properly.
How Do They Feed Their Young?
If you find yourself asking does rattlesnakes nurse their babies, there’s a good chance you will be a little bit surprised by the answer. By technical definition of the term “nurse,” rattlesnakes cannot nurse their young as they cannot feed their young milk. However, they do stay with their young for a little bit before letting them leave their nest.
Rattlesnakes keep their young in egg-like sacs, which means that rather than developing in the womb of the animal (as is the case with mammals), the young rattlesnake develops in the egg which functions as a womb. With the mother snake keeping the egg warm, the young rattlesnake “feeds” off the nutritious yolk in the egg until it is fully mature and ready to hatch.
Much like other reptiles, baby snakes emerge from their eggs at a fairly competent level. They don’t need the same kind of babying and nurturing as other animals do, as they are born able to move around, see, and go about their life as they please, although they stay with the mother for a while as they grow rapidly.
Rattlesnakes, Eggs, and Giving Birth
It is a known fact that snakes lay eggs, so what about rattlesnakes? Rattlesnakes are a little bit different in this sense. They give birth through a process known as ovoviviparity. Inside the mother snake, there is a place where the mother keeps shell-less eggs (or rather, embryos). There is still a yolk in this sac for the young to feed from, and it can be thought of as having egg sacs inside the body rather than laying them outside the body.
As with other reptiles, this allows for the mother snake to give birth to babies that are already considered “mature” from a scientific level. They can do most things that other snakes can do, although they are inexperienced in the ways of the world. This leads to the fact that many, many young snakes are killed when they leave the nest because there are a number of predators that feast on young snakes that cannot defend themselves.
What Happens to Rattlesnakes When They Are Born?
There is a common belief that mother rattlesnakes abandon their young as soon as they are born, which is simply untrue. Mother rattlesnakes will stay with their young until they shed for the first time, at which the babies will typically leave the nest to go do their own thing in the wild. While this may seem like an incredibly short period of time to wait, keep in mind that rattlesnakes are born as already-mature young.
Once the rattlesnakes are born, the mother rattlesnake will darken and it will stay in the nest with its young as they finish developing. The darker color helps the mother to absorb more heat from the sun to keep their young warm, and they will be incredibly defensive of their young, using the rattle to keep other animals at bay if they come close.
The mother snake often works to try and “hide” its young as they finish developing. This can range from physically sitting on top of the young or moving them to safety if they sense that there is something dangerous approaching. The mother snake doesn’t allow for the young to leave the nest at all during this period, blocking their path or tapping on them to signal for them to come back.
What About Food?
Adult rattlesnakes can go without food for long periods of time, and if the mother snake is expecting, there’s a good chance that it will make sure that it is fully fed before the process of giving birth. This allows it to stay within the nest to guard its young for the full week before the babies are ready to leave the nest. Similarly, because the young feed from the yolk, they don’t need to hunt that much for the first week either.
As is the case with wildlife, it is a case of kill or be killed. Once the baby snakes leave the nest, they will need to learn how to hunt on their own. If they cannot do this, they are typically killed off by their predators, as they don’t have means of defending themselves until about two weeks of age. If the snake can manage to learn how to hunt and defend itself once it leaves the nest, then it will have a much better chance of surviving for as long as possible.
Aside from the first week of the young’s life, mother snakes leave their young to fend for themselves after their first shedding period. Whether or not the young are able to get food depends on their own capabilities. It’s generally thought that after that first shedding, the young are capable enough to hunt on their own.
Are They Social?
While rattlesnakes aren’t exactly known for being the most social animals, when it comes to raising their young, they are quite social. In fact, if there is another “friendly” snake in the nest, it will also help to take care of the young, assuming that it is not going to be a predator to them. This is one of the only times when rattlesnakes show that they are caring for their young, even if they leave the young to fend for themselves after they are old enough to hunt.
They will all live in a group together until they are old enough to hunt. The mother takes the role of guarding the young from dangers while the young learn how to perceive the world around them. It’s not known exactly what goes on between the mother snake and the young to ensure that the young “know” how to hunt, but this is simply another one of the many secrets that the animal kingdom holds.