Rattlesnake, Dusky Pygmy

Sistrurus miliarius barbouri  

Adults average 15 to 22 inches in length with a maximum length of 30 inches. They are gray with irregular black blotches. There is also a series of orange blotches running down the back that may be most distinct near the head. On some specimens, the orange spots may be very muted. 








Southern South Carolina to southeastern Mississippi and throughout Florida, except the Keys


Pine-palmetto flatwoods, scrub, and longleaf pine habitats not far from fresh water.

Life Expectancy

20+ years

Sexual Maturity

2 to 3 years


In the wild, they eat small mice, lizards and frogs, insects. In the Zoo, they are fed mice.


IUCN - Least Concern


Like most pit vipers, pygmy rattlesnakes are sit-and-wait (or ambush) predators. These snakes coil in a spot and wait for their prey to come to them. In Florida over 90% of the snakes found were coiled and immobile when located, and individual snakes have been observed to remain in the same location for as long as 2-3 weeks. Pygmy rattlesnake’s first line of defense is to remain motionless. Pygmy rattlesnakes almost never warn approaching people by sounding their rattle. They are likely to remain motionless until stepped on or over. A hot-tempered snake, the pygmy rattlesnake strikes repeatedly at the slightest provocation. It inhabits all types of terrain where there are lakes and marshes. In dry habitats, it often lives in gopher tortoise tunnels. This snake bears six to ten live young, which are venomous at birth.


Their color pattern makes them hard to see in grass or leaf litter, especially when they are coiled. On small specimens, the rattles are very hard to see and hear. These rattles, if not dampened by dew or rain, sound like a buzzing insect. This snake is a pit viper and is venomous. Although its venom is potent, its small size and small fangs releases only small amounts of venom, which usually makes the bite less serious than that of the other venomous snakes. Its bite, usually not fatal, can be extremely painful. In some cases, it can cause serious local tissue damage and nausea, vomiting and vertigo.

Special Interests

The pygmy rattlesnake is also called a ground rattler. It appears that pygmy rattlesnakes are by far the most abundant venomous snakes in the state of Florida.


One tale of greed tells of one man who dreamt of finding a beautiful necklace made of gold close to a freshwater spring. For three nights the dream came and was very vivid. Feeling that he knew where the spring was the man climbed to it and felt underneath a stone. Suddenly a viper that had not appeared in his dream bit him. His greed had driven him too far, and as a result his desires caused his death. According to a Cherokee myth, the rattlesnake was once a man but was changed into a snake and given rattles when it saved the human race from being burnt up by the sun. The Cherokee gave him a name that translates “he has a bell.” Also called “Thunder’s necklace,” the rattlesnake was thought to be the most prized ornament of the thunder god. Cherokees never kill rattlesnakes unless absolutely necessary, and if forced to do this, would plead pardon from the snake’s ghost. The shaman of the tribe revered all parts of the snake –the rattle, skin, teeth, flesh, and oil.


The dusky pygmy rattlesnake is abundant throughout its range.

Jacksonville Zoo History

Records first officially record this species addition to the Zoo’s animal collection in March 1957, but it almost certainly has been in the collection since 1915 as part of the many unnamed rattlesnakes. It has successfully bred here.


Wild Florida