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Is the Sidewinder right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Sidewinder Rattlesnake; Horned Rattlesnake

Scientific name: Crotalus cerastes

The basics:
Sidewinders are well known for their “horns”, nasty reputations, and moving across shifting sands in a unique series of sideways body loops. This is certainly among the most interesting of snakes, but also a potentially deadly one that should be enjoyed in zoos rather than private collections.

The 3 Sidewinder subspecies range from southeastern California, USA, east to Utah and south to northern Mexico. Sidewinders inhabit desert dunes and nearby rocky hillsides, usually in association with mesquite and creosote shrubs.

Appearance / health:
The background color often matches that of the local sand – gray, pinkish-gray, beige or tan, and the dorsal surface is marked with blotches of pale brown or gray. The supraocular scales (above the eyes) are raised, forming 2 “horns”. Sidewinders reach a length of 43-84 cm (17-33 in).

Zoo specimens are sensitive to dampness but otherwise hardy, and have approached 30 years of age.

Behavior / Temperament:
Sidewinders adjust well to large zoo exhibits but are always ready to defend themselves if unsettled by cage maintenance.

It is impossible for a private snake owner to adequately prepare for or treat a venomous snakebite, or, prior to a bite, to arrange for treatment in a hospital.

Sidewinders are ambush predators, lying in wait within burrows or alongside shrubs, sometimes partially covered by sand. Typical foods include pocket mice, cactus mice, kangaroo rats, lizards, and birds. Zoo specimens fare well on mice.

Females may breed only once each 2-3 years, depending upon food availability. They give birth to 5-18 live young in autumn. Newborn Sidewinders are 18-20 cm (7-8 in) long, and feed upon lizards and nestling mice.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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