Sidewinder Rattlesnake

Category: Wildlife

In the United States, there are only four snakes with venom capable of killing an adult human, although death is unlikely - coral snake, copperhead, cottonmouth water moccasin, and the rattlesnake. Sidewinder rattlesnakes have the least effective venom of any rattlesnake, but there is still the threat of permanent injury from the hemotoxin.

Sidewinder Rattlesnake

Sidewinder Rattlesnake

Scientific & Common Names

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class - Reptilia

Order - Squamata

Suborder - Serpentes

Family – Viperidae

Subfamily - Crotalinae

Genus - Crotalus

Species - C. cerastes

Common names - Sidewinder Rattlesnake, Horned Rattlesnake, Sidewinder

Characteristics

The color of sidewinders vary slightly, but it tends to be a light tan with darker brown markings. They are sometimes referred to as a horned rattlesnake due to the raised scales above their eyes, that resemble horns. Sidewinders are a desert species and are found in Northwestern Mexico, California, Nevada, Arizona, and they may venture into Utah. There are three recognized subspecies of sidewinder - cerastes, cercobombus, and laterorepens. They are smaller than most rattlesnakes, hardly measuring more than the diminutive species like twin spot, pygmy, and desert massasauga. Their average size is only 1½ - 2½ feet, although the females can be slightly larger. They also have a short lifespan of only 5-10 years, with males living longer.

Breeding

Sidewinders live solitary lives, despite often being in close proximity with each other, and will come together only for mating. Generally, mating occurs annually, but females may refuse to mate if prey is scarce. The female gives live birth - like all venomous US species with the exception of the coral snake - to between 5-10 young, although more are possible, with a maximum of 18. Unlike most other rattlesnake species, the young stay with the mother until their first shed, often a week or more. Once they leave her, however, they will have no further contact.

Behavior

Sidewinders get their name from the 'S' shape they use while traveling. Other species of snake are capable of this type of locomotion, but the sidewinder uses it almost exclusively. The technique helps them to move easily across the shifting sands of their desert home while also keeping most of their body from touching the scorching ground. Young sidewinders will lure lizards using their tails but they graduate to ambush predation as adults, when they feed on rodents. When hunting rodents, they will envenomate them and then wait for the toxins to take effect while they will hold the lizards instead of tracking the dying animal.

History

Sometime during the cretaceous period, snakes broke off from their legged ancestors to create a new evolutionary line. There is not a strong fossil record for snakes due to their fragile skeletons, but there are links showing the gradual loss of limbs.

Present Status

Sidewinders are not listed as a concern and their numbers are stable, unlike many other rattlesnake populations.

References

  1. Rattlesnakes And Venomous Reptiles by Jim Bremner and Jay W. Sharp
  2. Peterson Field Guides A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants: (North America North of Mexico)by Steven Foster and Roger Caras
  3. Reptiles and Amphibians of the Mojave Desert: A Field Guide by Joshua M. Parker PhD and Simone Brito MS
  4. Peterson Field Guides A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians by Robert C. Stebbins
  5. 50 Common Reptiles & Amphibians of the Southwest by Jonathan Hanson , Roseann Beggy Hanson