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Sidewinder rattlesnake

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Sidewinder rattlesnake
Scientific Classification
Binomial Name

Crotalus cerastes

Image Description

The Sidewinder rattlesnake is a unique viper best known for its "sidewinding" method of moving, which helps them gain traction on sandy surfaces. They live in the barren deserts of South Western America and North Western Mexico. This nocturnal hunter preys on smaller animals but can kill an animal up to thirty pounds. Relying on its food for its water, this snake is an aggressive hunter that's willing to put up a fight.


The Sonoran Sidewinder (Crotalus cerestes cercombombus) showing the supraocular "horns".

One distinctive feature sidewinder rattlesnake is their supraocular (over each eye) projections that give its eyes protection. These pointed protrusions over their eyes have the appearance of horns, which has caused the snake to also be known as the horned rattlesnake.

The sidewinder has rough scales that help it move in a "sidewinding" motion[1] The sidewinder is camouflaged by the shading of its skin, which can appear gray, pink, yellow, brown, tan, or cream making it hard to distinguish from the sand and brush that it lives near. Sidewinders have anywhere from 28-47 square shaped blotches on their backs. They have a dark line that connects from the corners of its mouth to its eyes [2]

The full grown adult will range from 1.5-2.5 feet in length, and the females are usually larger than the males. Sidewinders larger than 30 inches have been recorded, but only in rare cases. [3]


Sidewinders usually mate during April and May, but can reproduce in the fall. [4] The young are born in an embryonic membrane. [5] Females will give birth to 5-18 offspring in the late summer to early fall. Sidewinder youth are 6" to 8" long at birth. [6]

Certain females will take a break from mating and only mate every other year. If food is scarce some may even go two years without attempting to reproduce. When the male wants to mate with a female he will crawl along the female's back and then tap her with his chin to spur her. The male will wrap his tail around the female's tail and try and connect their clocques together. The clocque is a small flap near the tail that is used for reproduction. If the female wants to mate she will lift her tail. The mating process can last for several hours.

Throughout the female's life she may decide to stay with the same male, but if she does not she is usually looking for a stronger snake so that her young will have a better chance for survival [7]

It has been observed that after conceiving, the female will go to a warm area and will eat everything she can catch. The female will become much heavier and will even steal food from her mate. Near the end of the pregnancy the female will try to find even warmer areas. [8]

After the two to three hour birth, the young stay near their family for a few days and then separate for the rest of their lives. The average life span of the Sidewinder can vary. In captivity they can live twenty to thirty years; but in the wild some do not live as long due to vehicles, predators, or diseases. [9]



The sidewinder is a small rattlesnake that is found in the southwestern United States and the northwest of Mexico. They are normally found in sandy deserts with little or no plant growth. Sidewinders prey mostly on mice, lizards, and kangaroo rats. [10] One amazing thing about the sidewinder is that it can go its whole life without drinking water. The snake receives all of its necessary fluids from its prey. [11] The sidewinder is the fastest rattlesnake and it uses this skill to catch prey. Once a sidewinder catches its prey, it injects venom by biting them. The sidewinder can deliver enough venom in one bite to kill a creature that weighs thirty pounds.

Sidewinder bites are not a fatal threat to adults, but they can cause pain and illness. But the Sidewinder does have a positive impact on humans and its habitat. The sidewinder skin can be used for clothing and shoes and it can help in venom and anti-venom research for medical purposes. The sidewinder is a force of population control for the animals it eats. [12]


The Sidewinder has adapted very well to its desert environment by fitting into its sandy surroundings. [13] Most snakes use a form of movement called serpentine. The serpentine method includes crawling on the bottom scales. [14] But the sidewinder uses a very special method of locomotion. It starts off by throwing its head in front of its body, using it as an anchor. Then it hauls its body forward.[15] This side to side motion is a very proficient way of moving across the sandy surfaces, enabling the snake to gain traction and great speed. See video below...

Also, due to the hot temperatures of the sand, the sidewinding technique, allowing only two small pieces of the body to be touching the ground at once, ensures that the snake does not over heat[16]


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