SPECIES NAMECrotalus cerastes
RISK TO HUMANSHighly venomous
SUBSPECIESColorado Desert Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes laterorepens)
Mojave Desert Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes cerastes)
DISTRIBUTIONSouth Central California
Colorado Desert Sidewinder Range Map
Mojave Desert Sidewinder Range Map
Considered among the smallest rattlesnakes in California, this species has a thin neck, a thick tail, and a heavy body. Also commonly called the “horned rattlesnake” due to the supraocular scales over the eyes that are enlarged and raised, giving the appearance of horns. These scales act as protection by folding down over the eyes when snakes are crawling into underground burrows or buried in sand or friable soils. Coloration is highly variable ranging from pale cream, grayish, tan, brown, and pink. Patterns consist of dark blotches on the dorsal surface. A dark stripe extends through both eyes to the back of the jaw. The most noticeable difference among the subspecies is the color of the bottom segment of its rattle. The Colorado Desert Sidewinder has a black basal rattle segment, while the Mojave Desert Sidewinder has a brown segment. Adult length ranges from 17-33 inches, generally staying within 12-18 inches.
Confined to south central California, south and east of the Sierra Mountains. Inhabits primarily wind-blown sandy areas such as the sandy flats in creosote and mesquite deserts, where sand hummocks are topped with vegetation, hardpan, rocky hillsides, and other desert areas.
Primarily eats lizards, especially when young. Also preys on small rodents and birds.
Named for its unique sidewinding style of movement, this rattlesnake is typically unaggressive but will act in defense if provoked or startled. Primarily crepuscular and most active during dusk or dawn when the temperatures are moderate to cool. To stay cool during times of excessive heat they hide in small mammal burrows or stay almost fully submerged in the sand, this is called “cratering”. Sidewinders trails can be identified by looking for J-shaped depressions in the sand. Mating occurs in the spring with 2-18 live young born between July and September. Neonates measure approximately 7 inches at birth.