Arizona Rattlesnake Survived Two Years Without Food and Water Under Shed

A woman in Arizona has found an emaciated rattlesnake under her shed that had been trapped there for over two years. The western diamondback rattlesnake had likely survived all that time without food or water.

The snake was first seen on the property in 2020, skulking around the woman's garden. She quickly installed a wire fence along the bottom of the shed to keep out rats that might attract the deadly reptile. But what she did not realize was that the snake had already slithered underneath.

"How this snake survived so long is a mystery to us," Bryan Hughes, the owner of Rattlesnake Solutions, told Newsweek. "While it's possible that some prey items, such as small lizards, were able to fit through the 1/4 inch mesh barrier, it may have gone without food the entire time."

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The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is the largest rattlesnake in Arizona and can be found throughout the Southwest. In some rare cases, the reptiles can grow to up to 6 feet long. Their bite is potentially lethal to humans and can induce blood clots, internal bleeding, muscle damage and tissue death.

Western diamondback rattlesnake
Stock image of a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. The snakes can be found across the Southwest and are the largest rattlesnake species in Arizona. johnaudrey/Getty

"Rattlesnakes are often found at properties in Arizona, most often in backyards where vegetation, water, and feeding opportunities are present," Hughes said. "Each day our team is called to up to 30 snakes across our service area.

"Rattlesnakes in the wild routinely go months without food [and are] generally considered to be able to survive for up to a year, or more, without it."

However, even for a rattlesnake, two years is a very long time.

"When a rattlesnake is malnourished, its appearance can change dramatically," Hughes said. "In this instance, the snake's body fat and muscle were nearly entirely gone, leaving folds of loose skin draped over its ribs.

"Dehydration and starvation had depleted its venom glands, leaving a narrow head, as opposed to the wide arrow most commonly associated with vipers."

emaciated rattlesnake in bucket
Photo of the emaciated rattlesnake after it has been rescued. It had been trapped underneath the shed with no food for over two years. Rattlesnake Solutions/Dave Holland

"Sometimes, as a rescue service, we take in rattlesnakes that had been abused in captivity and starved to the point of no return...Once it is so far gone, the stress of a feeding and energy to digest a meal are simply too much for it, and the snake does not survive.

"This rattlesnake, while clearly emaciated, may or may not have been in such a condition."

Dave Holland, a snake catcher for Rattlesnake Solutions who rescued the reptile, determined that the snake would have the best chance of survival if it was returned to its natural habitat, rather than undergoing rehabilitation in captivity.

"Based on Dave Holland's assessment at the time, it seemed that the best course of action to allow the snake to survive would be to get it back into its native environment as quickly as possible," Hughes said.

"It was released directly into a rodent burrow, where it could remain in deep cover and safely explore its surroundings, and hopefully succeed in finding prey.

"It is miraculous...that it was able to survive as long as it had."

Update 10/19/22, 10:23 a.m. ET: This article was updated to identify a spokesperson for Rattlesnake Solutions as owner Bryan Hughes.