Sidewinder

Facts, Identification & Control

Latin Name

Crotalus cerastes

Appearance

Named for the unusual way it moves, the sidewinder is commonly found in southwestern U.S. deserts. This small, venomous pit viper reaches almost 30 inches in length as an adult and has adapted quite well to a life in the sand. The sidewinder is difficult to spot due to its lighter base color that is cream, light tan, dusty pink, or gray, with darker color splotches, which allows the snake to remain camouflaged when hiding in the sand. The snake is also equipped with two supraocular scales above the eyes that look like horns. These may help protect the sidewinder’s eyes during bright days or when it is buried beneath the sand. The “horns” give the sidewinder the nickname, the horned rattlesnake. Like all pit vipers, the sidewinder has a large triangular head, eyes with elliptical pupils and two large fangs capable of injecting venom into their unsuspecting victims. As a desert dweller, the sidewinder developed an unusual style of moving, which allows it to move swiftly and efficiently over moving sand.

Behavior, Diet & Habits

Active both during the day and night, the sidewinder primarily hunts at night during the warmer months and during the day in cooler months. Feeding mostly on lizards and small mammals, the snake lays hidden beneath the sand’s surface waiting for an opportunity to strike. The sidewinder bites its prey, follows it until the animal succumbs to the sidewinder’s venom and then consuming the prey whole. Sidewinders are rarely aggressive. When threatened, the sidewinder rattles its tail to warn potential predators and strikes only if the threat remains. Rarely seen in urban areas, sidewinders are often found on or along desert roads and highways. These snakes often use pavement to help regulate their body temperature during summer months. Most human encounters with sidewinders occur when unsuspecting hikers step on a snake hidden in the sand. Rarely fatal, a sidewinder bite is extremely painful and will require medical attention.