California's smallest rattlesnake species, this elegant
snake rarely reaches 0.75 m in length. Famous for their
specialized method of moving efficiently over loose sand
by pushing straight down in only two places at a time,
they can also be common on firmer substrates. Due to
their small size (and, therefore, low venom yield) and
comparatively low venom potency, their bites are usually
not as serious as bites by other species. Two subspecies
occur nearby, the Mohave Desert sidewinder (C. c.
cerastes) and the Colorado Desert sidewinder (C.
The sidewinder is a type of rattlesnake that gets it's
name because of the way it moves. Instead of slithering
headfirst, in a rather outstretched manner, the
sidewinder, Crotalus cerastes, thrusts it's head forward
first then it's body in a sideways fashion. It's body is
not held straight but rather in an "S" or serpentine
shape. They actually push off the ground from two
different places on their body. Their tracks look like a
series of the letter "J" repeated over and over across
the sand. It sounds like a cumbersome way of moving but
it is extremely efficient especially in sandy terrain.
Make no mistake about it, these snakes are very fast.
And since they are rattlesnakes, they are venomous and
potentially deadly to humans and other animals.
are sometimes called horned rattlesnakes because of what
resembles small horns above their eyes. These hornlike
protrusions are actually elevated scales that most
likely protect the snakes eyes from the sand. The
coloring of the sidewinder is similar to the sandy areas
where they live. The shades can range from buff or cream
to brown and even yellow. The bottom of them is usually
a shade of white.
They have a pattern on their backs made up of small,
dark squares. They can grow to a length of 32 inches.
The females are larger than the males. Their scales are
rough which helps them in the way they move across the
Sidewinders can be found in desert regions of western
Arizona, southern Nevada, Colorado, southeastern
California, and in the southwestern regions from Utah
southward down into Mexico. These snakes inhabit hot,
dry, flat areas. They can be found in rocky regions
below the elevation of 5,000 feet as well as in dry,
sandy, washes and riverbeds. They are also found in
areas where creosote bushes are in abundance.
snake, with it's unique way of traveling, feeds on much
the same prey as other snakes of it's size. The younger
ones tend to eat lizards while the adult snakes eat
mice, kangaroo rats, and other rodents. When they bite a
lizard they do not release it until the venom has
rendered it helpless. Then it is
eaten. However, when a rodent is the meal, they bite and
release it. The snake then follows the dying animal and
eats it after it has become incapacitated. Sidewinders
will be out and about during the day and nighttime hours
when the weather is cool. However, when the hot weather
arrives they only come out to hunt at night.
the potential is there for a lethal bite to a human, it
is rare. Not because the venom isn't potent but because
they usually will not release enough venom to be fatal
to humans. The bite is very painful and if bitten one
should seek medical attention immediately. Sidewinders
usually sound off a warning by rattling their tails. The
sound is actually made by the tail
segments vibrating against each other. They do not
actually have little beads in the tail that make the
noise the way a baby's rattle does.
Sidewinders are another reason one should use caution
when in the desert. Be careful where you step, place
your hands, and sit your butt! You never know what might
be lurking in the shade of the next bush you pass.