Rattlesnake Babysitting

Every mom needs a day off. So the lucky (or smart?) rattlesnakes that nest in groups help each other out with maternal duties. If one is still pregnant, and thus needs to be on the surface basking, she attends to the newborns while the new mother stays in cover for a well-deserved rest. Priscilla was the first rattlesnake we observed exhibiting this baby-sitting behavior.

You can read more about Priscilla and House in A Rattlesnake Helper?

Male rattlesnakes occasionally help out in this way too. Although we’ve never observed any active care or protective behavior from males, just the presence of a large rattlesnake may be enough to deter some predators.

Green Male (adult male) is the large black rattlesnake at the top of the image and the mother (Devil Tail) is the smaller, brown adult (mostly her tail and rattle are visible). Unibrau and 520 are two of her kiddos.

Often the youngest (smallest) mom gets stuck with the surface duties of caring for the newborns. Eve was the smallest of the pair of snakes that nested at this site; we saw her often on the surface with way too many babies to have all been her own. The older (larger) female was rarely seen on the surface with the newborns.

Read more about Eve and some of the babies she cared for in Survivors, which discusses observations of mothers and babies after the initial care period.

Eve and family (Arizona black rattlesnakes)
Eve and family, plus probably a nestmate’s kids (Arizona Black Rattlesnakes), photographed by Jeff Smith.