Sidewinder Rattlesnake Species Profile and Fascinating Facts

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The sidewinder rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes) is an insectivorous species of venomous pit viper that belongs to the Crotalinae subfamily of the Crotalidae family of snakes. The sidewinder rattlesnake is native to North America and its range extends from Southern Alberta in Canada through the western United States as far south as Mexico.

Introduction

The sidewinder rattlesnake, also known as Crotalus cerastes, is a venomous pit viper found in arid regions of the southwestern United States. The snake is named for its unique hunting behavior; when cornered, it will rear up with its rattles facing forward and move sideways like a sidewinding (hence sidewinder) snake.

This allows it to remain coiled defensively without risking harm from another predator. The snake feeds primarily on small rodents, lizards, birds, snakes, and eggs but will sometimes eat other snakes if it has become too large for prey items in that area.

It can grow to be over 6 feet long but some reach a maximum length of about 4 feet long. Most specimens have black or dark brown bodies with a light tan or white bellies. They are active during daylight hours during spring and fall, retreating underground at night to avoid heat loss through their thin skin.

Sidewinders are not aggressive unless provoked or threatened, in which case they will stand their ground and strike repeatedly until either they run out of room or their attacker retreats. Their venom contains neurotoxins which cause paralysis and death by suffocation within minutes if left untreated.

Definition

A sidewinder rattlesnake is a venomous pit viper found in arid regions of western North America. They have heat-sensing pits located between their nostrils and eyes, which allow them to accurately sense prey in low light conditions.

Sidewinders often strike quickly, like many snakes, with little to no movement. They also tend to be quite defensive when cornered or threatened; they don’t usually flee unless necessary, instead opting to hide and remain immobile until it’s safe.

One of their most distinguishing features is their notorious ability to give birth to live young rather than lay eggs like most other species. The babies are fully independent at birth—another trait that sets them apart from most other kinds of snakes.

You can identify a sidewinder by its tan body and brown or black stripes running down its back. Their head is narrow compared to their body, while their tail ends in an arrowhead shape. Sidewinders range in size from 12–36 inches long (30–90 cm) depending on subspecies.

Sidewinder rattlesnake crotalus Snake

Anatomy

Like other rattlesnakes, sidewinders have a triangular-shaped head, vertical pupils, and facial pits used to sense heat. Sidewinders are mottled brown with cream-colored bellies. Although they grow to only about 3 feet in length as adults, their tails can be as long as their bodies.

The name sidewinder is derived from their tendency to twist from side to side when hunting for prey on warm desert sands (which tends to look like a sidewinder moving sideways).

They have short fangs that deliver venom into prey rather than hold it until after it’s bitten; most of their hunting occurs at night or in the early morning just before sunrise.

Their diet consists primarily of lizards, small rodents, and birds. Their venom is not deadly to humans but can cause severe pain if you are bitten by one.

Behavior

Sidewinders are solitary animals, spending most of their time alone. They’re also nocturnal, meaning they spend a lot of time basking in hidden areas during hot afternoons, then hunting for food once it cools down at night.

If you’re thinking about killing one, wait until nighttime to do so—this is when they’ll come out of hiding to hunt (but remember: never kill a rattlesnake unless you have to. They’re an important part of our ecosystem!).

Sidewinders are carnivores and prey on small rodents like ground squirrels and lizards – they have even been known to eat birds as large as ducks! In addition to being fascinating hunters, sidewinders are fascinatingly fast; if you’ve ever seen a sidewinder slither across the sand, chances are it was moving much faster than you thought possible.

These snakes can move up to 3 feet per second – that’s almost 5 miles per hour! How do they move so quickly? By using what scientists call sidewinding locomotion. This unique form of movement involves pushing off with their back legs while pulling themselves forward with their front legs.

Habitat

You’ll find sidewinders in all kinds of terrain, from rocky deserts to prairies, from sandy deserts to swamps. They like to stay near food sources such as insects or rodents, so if you see a lot of them in one area, it’s probably because that area is an important food source.

Usually, only one pit viper (of any species) will inhabit a given habitat range at any given time; although when conditions are ideal for reproduction, several females will establish home ranges within close proximity to each other.

The Sidewinder rattlesnake has evolved over thousands of years to thrive in arid environments with limited resources.

Because of their low metabolic rate, they can go long periods without eating – sometimes even up to two years! When prey is abundant, however, they can consume up to 2-3 times their body weight in just one sitting.

Their primary predators include birds of prey and coyotes.
The Sidewinder rattlesnake has been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.

Diet

Sidewinders are carnivores. Their diet mainly consists of ground squirrels, cottontail rabbits, birds, mice, lizards, snakes, and frogs. Sidewinders have even been known to eat a baby desert tortoise as large as itself.

They consume their prey whole by grabbing it behind its head with their jaws to suffocate it and then swallowing it whole. Since sidewinders are ambush predators, they spend much of their time hiding under objects such as rocks or shrubs to avoid being detected by prey.

Sidewinders usually strike from below after concealing themselves in vegetation or soil but occasionally hunt at night when air temperatures are cooler and smaller prey is more active.

In areas where rattlesnakes are numerous, however, few small animals live long enough to make many nocturnal hunting trips necessary. To conserve energy while waiting for food, rattlesnakes often hibernate during winter months in colder climates.

Conservation Status

The sidewinder rattlesnake is not currently at risk of becoming endangered. However, due to habitat loss, snakes have been forced into denser populations which puts them at a higher risk of disease and other problems that can lead to their extinction.

Habitat loss due to agriculture, irrigation systems, urbanization, and urban sprawl is an ongoing problem for sidewinders in both Mexico and in the southwestern United States.

Unfortunately, these land management issues are considered irreversible. As such, it’s important to focus on preserving existing habitats so that snakes can continue living there. Captive breeding programs could also be used as a last resort if all else fails.

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