Rattlesnakes come in a variety of colors, but black is very rare. Most rattlesnakes have patterns of darker blotches, bands, or diamonds on a lighter background. The most common rattlesnake colors are tan, brown, gray, olive green, and yellow. However, there are a few rattlesnake species that can be almost entirely black.
What causes black coloration in rattlesnakes?
The black coloration seen in some rattlesnake species is caused by high levels of the dark pigment melanin. Melanin is produced by special cells called melanocytes within the snake’s skin. The more melanin present, the darker the coloration.
Some species, like the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake and the Mojave Rattlesnake, can have increased melanin production that makes them appear very dark gray or black. However, truly black rattlesnakes are quite rare.
Are there any species of black rattlesnake?
There are a few rattlesnake species where black or very dark individuals can occasionally be found:
- Black Timber Rattlesnake – Some populations of Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) in the southeastern U.S. can be almost entirely black with only faint patterning visible.
- Mojave Rattlesnake – Though usually light gray with darker diamond markings, some Mojave Rattlesnakes (Crotalus scutulatus) can appear nearly black.
- Western Diamondback Rattlesnake – Occasional melanistic Western Diamondbacks (Crotalus atrox) may be extremely dark gray or black.
However, these black individuals are uncommon. Overall, truly black rattlesnakes are very rare.
Why are black rattlesnakes so rare?
There are a few reasons why black coloration is uncommon in rattlesnakes:
- Genetics – The genes influencing increased melanin production are relatively rare in most rattlesnake populations.
- Camouflage – Darker coloration provides less effective camouflage in most habitats rattlesnakes occupy.
- Temperature regulation – Darker snakes absorb more heat from sunlight, which can lead to overheating.
The rarity of the genes controlling melanin levels likely explains why black rattlesnakes are not more common. Additionally, darker coloration makes snakes more visible against lighter desert backgrounds and also causes them to overheat more easily in sunny environments. These factors combine to make black rattlesnakes quite uncommon in the wild.
Are black rattlesnakes more dangerous?
There is no evidence that black rattlesnakes are more dangerous or potent than normally colored individuals of the same species. The venom and overall behavior do not differ significantly based on color morphs.
However, some people perceive black rattlesnakes to be more threatening. This may be due to their unusual appearance and cultural associations between the color black and danger or evil. But in reality, a black rattlesnake is no more hazardous than a lighter colored one.
Examples of black rattlesnakes
Here are some examples of rattlesnake species where black or very dark individuals can sometimes be found:
|Black Timber Rattlesnake
|Completely black with faint patterning visible
|Very dark gray, almost black
|Extremely dark gray or black coloration
As these examples illustrate, some populations of certain rattlesnake species can exhibit rare black or very dark color variations. But these individuals are uncommon overall.
Famous black rattlesnakes
While black rattlesnakes are quite rare, a few individual serpents have gained fame for their dark coloration:
- “Black Beauty” – A black Timber Rattlesnake displayed at the Buffalo Zoo in the 1940s and 50s.
- “Black Gold” – A near-black Western Diamondback exhibited at the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary in Arizona.
- “Black Mamba” – An almost entirely black 4-foot Mojave Rattlesnake at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo.
These three examples showcase some of the most famous individual black rattlesnakes ever documented. While their dark coloration is highly unusual, it does occasionally appear in certain rattlesnake populations and individuals.
In summary, truly black rattlesnakes are extremely rare. A few species can exhibit dark gray or black color variations due to high levels of melanin pigmentation. But genetics, camouflage needs, and temperature regulation factors make all-black rattlesnakes quite uncommon. They do appear occasionally but should be considered exceptional and not the norm for rattlesnakes overall.