Species group: Rattlesnakes and Other Vipers
Other common names: Sidewinder Rattlesnake; Horned Rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus cerastes
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
Not for You!
I’ve had the good fortune to work with this and related species in zoos for decades but feel strongly that they should never be kept in private collections. Unfortunately, their unique mode of locomotion, “reputations” and generally modest price tag leads some to label sidewinders as “ideal starter hot snakes”. Please ignore such advice!
It is impossible for a private snake owner to adequately prepare for or treat a venomous snakebite. Viper venom is far more complex than was once believed. Haemotoxins, which damage blood cells, blood vessels and body tissues, predominate in most that have been studied. However, all have neurotoxic components as well, along with the enzyme Hyaluronidase, which speeds venom diffusion.
Sidewinders are kept by many zoos – please limit your viper “interactions” to zoo visits, or prepare for a career as a professional zookeeper or herpetologist if you have a serious interest in venomous snakes..
From findiviglio Jan 21 2016 8:50PM