Timber Rattlesnake vs Eastern Diamondback: What Sets These Fanged Serpents Apart?

Written by Gabrielle Nicole
Updated: June 6, 2022
Image Credit bradenjalexander/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points:

  • Timber rattlesnakes, while generally found on the ground, have also been known to climb trees up to 80 feet tall. They are also good swimmers, able to swim on the water’s surface and below it. Eastern diamondbacks can also swim well but don’t prefer water, and they are not good climbers.
  • The venom of an eastern diamondback snake, which it can inject in large quantities at once with its sharp, hinged fangs, contains hemotoxin, which can cause tissue damage and paralysis. A timber rattlesnake’s venom contains crotoxin, which causes pain, swelling, bleeding, and neurological symptoms in victims, and can kill humans.
  • While the timber rattlesnake has a chevron pattern and a stripe running down its body, the eastern diamondback sports a diamond pattern along its body, and has dark banded eyes.

Vipers like the timber rattlesnakes and the eastern diamondbacks are venomous snakes with long formidable fangs. They derive their family name Viperidae from the Latin vivus, “alive” and parere, “to bear.” This refers to their method of bearing young alive. The mother snakes of these species incubate fertilized eggs in their bodies before giving birth. As pit vipers, they have specialized pit organs that act like infrared cameras to detect the heat shape of predators even in the deep dark of night. These serpentine rattlers share some intriguing features, but what makes them different? Let’s snake through the diverse nature of timber rattlesnake and eastern diamondback and see what sets these serpents apart.

Timber Rattlesnake vs Eastern Diamondback: Comparison

The major differences between timber rattlesnake and eastern diamondback are habitat, size, and behavior.

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Timber RattlesnakeEastern Diamondback
Scientific NameCrotalus horridusCrotalus adamanteus
Habitat & RangeThe southeastern United States; mountainous & hilly forests, swamps, river floodplains, lowland cane thickets & fieldsThe eastern United States; scrublands, coastal plains, pine forests, barrier islands, wet prairies, savannas, wetlands, abandoned farms & overgrown fields
AppearanceChevron pattern and a stripe running down the bodyDiamond pattern along body & dark banded eyes
Size2.5-5 feet long average, up to 7 feet; 1-3 pounds3-6 feet long average, up to 8 feet; 5-10 pounds
BehaviorMore docile and prefers to retreat when threatenedMore likely to stand their ground in the face of threat

Key Differences Between Timber Rattlesnake and Eastern Diamondback

The key differences between timber rattlesnake and eastern diamondback are their habitat and range, physical markings, size, and behavior.

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Both of these snakes have long, hollow fangs to deliver powerful venom; they sense their prey with pit organs and warn of their strike with the shaking of rattles at the tip of their tails. Let’s find out where each lives, who grows to a larger size, and what other features make these rattling reptiles unique.

Timber Rattlesnake vs Eastern Diamondback: Scientific Classification

The timber rattlesnake and the eastern diamondback are both vipers of the family Viperidae. From there, they diverge. The timber rattlesnake also goes by the names American viper, black rattlesnake, eastern rattlesnake, timber rattler, and canebrake. Its scientific name is Crotalus horridus. Crotalus is derived from krotalon, Greek for rattle. Most of the world’s rattlesnakes are part of this genus, including the eastern diamondback, western diamondback, and the sidewinder. The species name horridus comes from the Latin horreō, meaning “to stand on end or shiver.”

The eastern diamondback is sometimes called the Florida rattler or the common rattlesnake. Its scientific name is Crotalus adamanteus. The species name adamanteus roughly translates to “hard as unbreakable steel.” So, the entire species name refers to this snake having a rattle as hard as steel.

Timber Rattlesnake vs Eastern Diamondback: Habitat & Range

Close up of a Timber Rattlesnake eye
Timber rattlesnakes inhabit the eastern United States.

Scott Delony/Shutterstock.com

You can find timber rattlesnakes spread widely across the eastern United States. They are regionally extinct in Canada and threatened in several parts of their range. They live in mountainous or hilly forests, swamps, wetlands, river floodplains, lowland cane thickets, and fields. Although primarily terrestrial snakes, timber rattlers are excellent climbers and have been found in trees at points higher than 80 feet. They are also good swimmers, able to swim on the water’s surface and below it. In the winter, they hibernate in crevices and burrows.

Eastern diamondbacks live in the southeastern United States. They inhabit scrublands, coastal plains, pine forests, and barrier islands. They also live in wet prairies and savannas and around wetlands as well as abandoned farms and overgrown fields. Diamondbacks tend not to prefer the wet areas, but they are adept swimmers and can swim in saltwater between reefs and along swamp edges when necessary. Although they can sometimes be found in bushes and trees in search of prey, they aren’t adept climbers. In cold weather, they’ll also hibernate, finding similar abandoned burrows, nooks, and tree stumps.

Timber Rattlesnake vs Eastern Diamondback: Appearance

Large eastern diamondback rattlesnake
The eastern diamondback has a chevron and diamond-shaped body pattern.

Chase D’animulls/Shutterstock.com

As pit vipers, both of these snakes have vertical, cat-like pupils and a large sensory pit between their nostrils and eye on each side of their face. These pit organs contain a membrane that can detect infrared radiation from warm bodies up to about 3 feet away. This provides them with the unique capacity to detect prey. 

The timber rattlesnake is generally gray, sometimes with a pinkish hue to its body. It has a stripe running down their back that’s a darker brown or black in some. In others, it’s orange, yellow, or pinkish. All have darker coloration at their tail tips and dark stripes that form a chevron pattern along their back and sides. This body coloration acts as camouflage as they slide along the vegetation on the ground. The timber rattlesnake has keeled scales, which feature a ridge down the center instead of being smooth.

The eastern diamondback varies in color from blackish-gray or muddy gray to olive green. Light reflected off its keeled scales gives its skin a dull rather than shiny appearance. Its tail is generally a different shade than its body, somewhere between brown and gray with banded rings. The distinguishing feature of this species is the diamond-shaped pattern along its back and the black band that covers its eyes, outlined by two pale lines. 

Timber Rattlesnake vs Eastern Diamondback: Size

The timber rattlesnake has a large and heavy body. Adults of this species typically grow to be 2.5 to 5 feet in length, but there are reports of 7 foot long snakes. They weigh 1 to 3 pounds, on average. As North America’s longest and heaviest venomous snake, the eastern diamondback tends to be larger than the timber. On average, they reach 3 to 6 feet long, but some can grow to be 8 feet. These snakes average about 5 to 10 pounds.

Timber Rattlesnake vs Eastern Diamondback: Behavior

A Timber Rattlesnake striking prey
The timber rattlesnake tends to be a bit more docile in the face of a threat.

Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com

As one of the most dangerous animals in the eastern U.S, timber rattlesnakes are to be respected. When threatened, they prop themselves up and shake their rattles, producing a crisp warning sound before a potential strike. Long fangs deliver powerful venom that’s potent enough to kill a human. When a bite does occur, the venom will start to produce pain, swelling, bleeding, and neurological symptoms. A defining characteristic of the timber rattlesnake is crotoxin or the “canebrake toxin.” This is a potent neurotoxin that can lead to paralysis. Although bites are rare, immediate medical attention is necessary. However, the timber rattlesnake is more docile than other vipers and would prefer to stay coiled or stretched out and motionless when encountered. Unless threatened or provoked, this snake will only strike humans after performing a long series of rattling and defensive maneuvers. 

Eastern diamondbacks are notorious for their powerful rattle and painful, potentially-fatal bite. They are more likely to stand their ground in the face of a threat than to retreat. The hemotoxin in their venom kills red blood cells and causes tissue damage. Their venom-delivery system is highly effective. They have two hinged fangs attached to venom glands and can inject a large quantity of venom into their victims. Bites need immediate medical treatment, but human deaths are rare since antivenom is widely available.

As far as diet goes, the timber rattlesnake eats birds, lizards, amphibians, chipmunks, squirrels, and other rodents. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes prefer to feast on rats and mice, rabbits, squirrels, and birds.

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I'm a freelance writer, visual artist and musician guided by a deep connection with all other beings and the landscapes we inhabit. My best friend is a four-legged, spotted, soft on the eyes, heart of gold with impossibly soft ears and a wicked sense of humor. I had a pot-bellied pig as a pet when I was a child. His name was Beethoven and he taught me animal-speak early on. I am forever grateful.

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