Safety in coils: predation rates of ambush hunting rattlesnakes are extremely low
Rattlesnakes are widespread mesopredators that are themselves killed and eaten by a host of other predators, including birds of prey and carnivorous mammals. Although anecdotal accounts of rattlesnake depredation are common, there are few quantitative data on encounter rates between rattlesnakes and their predators. Here we review a large database of encounters between rattlesnakes and their predators recorded from field videography of snakes in the sit-and-wait phase of their ambush hunting strategy. We found that, across 8300 hours of observation, adult rattlesnakes of six species and multiple populations exhibit low encounter rates with predators; furthermore, when predators were encountered, we never observed them to attack or kill coiled snakes. Thus, we propose that rattlesnakes are preyed upon while performing other, riskier behaviors associated with moving through the landscape. We also discuss why rattlesnakes are at low risk of predation while hunting on the surface.