Crotalus cerastesSidewinder

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Geographic Range

The sidewinder ranges from the Mojave and sonoran deserts of southeastern California, western Arizona, southern Nevada, and southwestern Utah. Sidewinders are often found in arid deserts, flatlands, loose, sandy washes, hard pan flats, and rocky areas below 5,000 feet. Sidewinders are also common ammong hummoks that are topped with creosote where their food source of kangaroo rats and other rodents live.This is the smallest and least dangerous snake in Nevada. However, this is the most common snake in the Las Vegas Valley. In Las Vegas, they are fairly common on the lower slopes of alluvial fans.

Habitat

Sidewinders are often found in arid deserts, flatlands, loose, sandy washes, hard pan flats, and rocky areas below 5,000 feet. Sidewinders are also common ammong hummoks that are topped with creosote where their food source of kangaroo rats and other rodents live.This is the smallest and least dangerous snake in Nevada. However, this is the most common snake in the Las Vegas Valley. In Las Vegas, they are fairly common on the lower slopes of alluvial fans.

Physical Description

The sidewinder is a pale, sand-colored snake that also may appear to look pinkish and yellow. They have light and dark patches along the back and speckles along the sides. The sidewinder has a wide triangular head, with a narrow neck that expands into a thick body. They have a short brown or black tail, that is connected to a small rattle.The sidewinder is the only snake that has a horn-shaped scales bulging out above their eye, which is how they get their nickname, the "Horned Rattlesnake". Also near their eyes, on the side of their head, they have holes called pits or hollows that are heat sensors that detect warm-blooded creatures. Adults average 30 inches in length, however females are usually larger than males so there is some sexual dimorphism.

Reproduction

Sidewinders give birth to live young. The two most important events in a sidewinders calander are mating and birth. Some femals take a year off of breeding and only breed every other year. Some even rest for two years, if the food supply is scarce. Sidewinders mate in April through May and sometimes in fall. When the male and female mate, the male snake crawls along the female's back, rubbing her with his chin to stimulate or arouse her. The male then will wrap his tail around her tail and then will try to bring their clocqe together. The clocque is a little flap that is near tail which is designed for mating and reproduction. If the female wants to mate, she will lift her tail and allow him to mate with her. The snakes can be mating fo several hours, and if one of the snakes decides to move, the other is dragged along. Females might mate with the same male snake or a different male snake. In case their is a different male snake, the female has a good selection of genes for her young and inceases the chances that at least some of her young will fit to survive. Females give birth to 15-18 young in late summer to early fall. The young are born 6 to 8 inches long. The birth takes only 2 to 3 hours altogether. Within a few minutes after being born, the baby sidewinder escapes out of a thin transparent membrane. The young stay near their birth place for a few days and then they disappear and have no future contact with their mother or their littermates. The sidewinder does not migrate over long distances, so being in the some area with one of their littermates isn't unlikely.

The sidewinder's life span varies. Sidewinders can live up to 20 to 30 years in captivity. In the wild, many of their lives are cut short because of predation, diseases, or vehicle accidents.

Lifespan/Longevity

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    27.3 years
    AnAge

Behavior

Sidewinders are solitary. They migrate through different areas of their one area in which they live in. Sidewinders cannot produce their own body heat like humans. They rely on the sun for body heat and shade like burrows or cool platforms like rocks. If a sidewinder cannot find shade they can overheat and die. Their body temperature, in general, needs to be around 30 degrees celsius, which is 86 degrees farenheit. If their body temperature is lower, they can have trouble digesting food and moving around. The sidewinder does hibernate when the weather is too cold or too hot. The sidewinder will find burrows for both temperatures. Sometimes their may be many different kinds of snakes in one burrow. The sidewinder will hibernate in the burrow for a few days or weeks at a time. The sandy color of the sidewinder makes it less easy for a predator to come and snatch them. The color also helps the snake find prey easier, becuase of it's sandy camoflouge color. The sidewinder doesn't really have a predator except for humans. Human only kill sidewinders accidentally, by running it over in a vehicle, out of fear, or simply because they felt like it. Humans use a car to kill them, weapons like, clubs, or fire arms. Sidewinders have no protection against humans except for their poisinous venom, that is only powerful enough to kill a 30 pound animal.

Food Habits

The sidewinder is a carnivore. Their diet consists of lizards, small mammals like Kangaroo rats and pocket mice, other rodents that burrow, and sometimes birds. The pit organs are used to help find warm blooded animals to prey on. Sidewinders are the most nocturnal of rattlesnakes, so at night, they randomly wander over the desert until they find a place to burrow underneath the sand to hide. The following day they they stay burrowed until they find a prey to strike and feed. They kill their prey by hunting them down with their sidewinding moovement, then they strike their prey by biting them and releasing poisonous venom into the prey. After they bite a warm blooded animal, such as a rodent, they release it to track it down later. However, lizards are held until the venom takes effect.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The sidewinder provides snakeskin leather for boots and accessories, and anti-venom for medical purposes.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The sidewinder is not that big of a threat towards humans, because when they bite, they only release venom that will kill a creature that weighs 30 pounds. However, sidewinder venom causes swelling, uncomfortableness, and sickness.

Conservation Status

The subspecies of the sidewinder are the Mojave Desert Sidewinder. the Sonoran Sidewinder, and the Colorado Desert Sidewinder.

Other Comments

The sidewinder is the fastest of rattlesnakes because it has a unique way of moving. The sindwinder pulls itself over the ground in a constant direction of S- or J-shaped loops. This helps the snake catch their prey faster and helps keep their body from touching the hot desert surface when traveling.

Contributors

Cara Ori (author), Pima Community College, Brad Fiero (editor), Pima Community College.

Glossary

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

References

1999. "Encyclopedia" (On-line). Accessed October 28, 1999 at http:lycos.infoplease.com/ce5/CEO47748.

Burton, R. 1977. Venomous Animals. Great Britain: Colour Library International Ltd..

Klauber, L. 1972. Rattlesnakes: Their Habitats, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind Volume 1.. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of Califfornia Press.