While rattlesnakes may be considered dangerous by most, they also have many predators. Some animals that eat rattlesnakes include hawks, owls, and king snakes.
Some of these predators, such as kingsnakes, are immune to rattlesnake venom. However, most of them are not and rely on other defense mechanisms to keep them safe. For instance, eagles have thick skin on their feet, which prevents the snake from injecting any venom.
Apart from animals that feed on rattlesnakes, other animals may kill them either defending themselves or due to their natural dislike towards the snake.
Animals that Eat Rattlesnakes
Hawks are predatory birds that primarily feed on rodents and lizards. Apart from rodents, hawks have a taste for snakes, including rattlesnakes.
Although not all hawks feed on the rattlesnakes, the red-tailed hawks routinely feed on them.
Despite being venomous and reasonably large, these hawks can swoop and grab the snake from behind within seconds. To kill the snake immediately, the bird first grabs it by its talons and then bites and breaks off the snake’s neck using its sharp beak.
Hawks also have an excellent vision about 5 to 6 times that of humans. This means that they are able to spot prey from miles away, making it easy for them to plan their attack.
Owls are also carnivores and are fond of eating snakes. In particular, great horned owls, or tiger owls, are large, powerful birds that eat young rattlesnakes.
The bird rarely attacks adult snakes as they are more intimidating and can defend themselves.
While owls do not particularly prefer to eat snakes, they are opportunist feeders that consume virtually anything. Owls are not as fast as hawks; however, they have excellent vision, sharp beaks, and strong talons that enable them to overcome their prey.
Roadrunners are among the few predators of rattlesnakes. These birds are native to the southwest of the United States and Mexico.
They share the same habitats as the rattlesnakes and are natural enemies.
Roadrunners kill the rattlesnakes by bashing their heads on the ground or by pecking through the back of their head. They kill them with incredible speed, agility, and fierce resolve. Nonetheless, the roadrunner is not a large bird, and neither is it immune to snake venom. As such, it only hunts juvenile rattlesnakes.
Coyotes are omnivorous, and they will try to feed on anything available or easy to kill. Coyotes have been known to prey on rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes.
These animals mostly kill rattlesnakes for food or when protecting their puppies.
However, coyotes do not really like to feed on snakes, and 90% of their diet consists of small mammals. That said, they can still prey on rattlesnakes. They usually kill them by biting their heads and snapping their neck.
Nonetheless, coyotes are not immune to snake venom and, if bitten, will die. That said, venom is only dangerous if injected into the bloodstream; consuming venom will do little to no harm.
Bobcats are some of nature’s most fearless predators. They are among the few creatures bold enough to kill and eat venomous snakes.
Bobcats are not immune to snake venom, and if it would take a hit, it will undoubtedly feel the effect; however, feline agility usually helps ensure that they dodge most snake strikes.
List of Snakes That Eat Rattlesnakes
Some of the rattlesnake predators are mainly other snakes. These snakes are known as ophiophagous (snake-eaters). They include:
1. Black Racers
Black racers are relatively large and non-venomous snakes that are native to North America. The snake does occasionally kill and eat other snakes, including small venomous snakes like rattlesnakes and copperheads.
The snake usually hunts rattlesnakes by stalking them and attacking them at lightning speed. Unlike other non-venomous snakes, they do not constrict their prey; instead, they pin them down and wait for them to suffocate. While they may not be immune to snake venom, they use their speed and agility to dodge any bite.
However, black racers do not actively hunt rattlesnakes and will only consume them on rare occasions. Some have even been seen nesting with rattlesnakes during winter.
This swift-moving snake eats lizards, small mammals, and giant insects. However, it will eagerly consume rattlesnakes when they have the chance. This snake is also non-venomous.
It is unclear whether the coachwhip is immune to the rattlesnake’s venom; however, they use their incredible speed to avoid rattlesnake’s strike.
Kingsnakes are natural snake hunters and predominantly feed on rattlesnakes and copperheads.
What sets Kingsnakes apart from the other predators is that they are immune to the rattlesnake venom- as such, they are not afraid of being bitten. They are also strong and can easily overpower snakes larger than them.
This is because the snake has superior crushing power, which allows them to squeeze prey to death. Scientists believe that its distinctive posture during constriction gives it an edge over other snakes. They usually bite the rattlesnake behind the head and coil around their body to suffocate it.
Once the rattlesnake has been overpowered, it is swallowed whole.
Read More: Can King Cobras Eat Other Snakes?
4. Indigo Snakes
Indigo snakes consume rattlesnakes, which can be even four times heavier than them.
Apart from rattlesnakes, they have been seen preying on other venomous snakes native to the southeastern U.S.
While scientists are not entirely sure whether the snake is immune to snake venom, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggests that the snake is mostly immune. They made this deduction after observing indigo snakes being bitten by Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes.
How Rattlesnakes Protect Themselves
While it is true that some animals might prey on rattlesnakes, most prefer not to. This is because the snake is highly venomous and can defend itself. Some of the defense mechanisms that the snake uses include:
One of the main ways rattlesnakes defend themselves is through camouflage. Due to their distinct brownish color, these snakes can naturally blend in with their surrounding environment.
2. Running Away
Rattlesnakes are not confrontational and prefer to flee when cornered. They only strike when threatened and will retreat if given a chance.
3. Defensive Posture
When a rattlesnake is cornered, it will adopt a defensive posture to warn of its predators. This includes expanding their physiques in attempts to come across as bigger and more threatening, hissing and rattling their tails.
A rattlesnake’s last line of defense is its bite. Although many rattlesnakes are venomous, they don’t release venom every time they bite. This is because to produce venom, snakes use a lot of energy. Therefore, the first bite, albeit painful, is usually cautionary.
While rattlesnakes are dangerous animals, they are not on top of the food chain. As such, other animals, including birds and other snakes, will occasionally prey on them.
There are different techniques that these animals use to overpower rattlesnakes; however, most (especially those that are not immune to venom) seem to rely on speed and agility. Also, most of these predators do not actively hunt rattlesnakes unless when the opportunity arises.
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Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.