Mojave Desert Sidewinder

Crotalus cerastes ssp. cerastes

Conservation status: least concern

 
a snake with light and medium brown patterns
A sidewinder, with characteristic "horns" above the eyes.

NPS photo

Basic Biology

  • Color: tan with lighter cream down their backs between dark dorsal blotches.

  • Size: typically 1.5 feet or less, but can reach up to 3 feet.

  • Diet: primarily eats lizards, small mammals, and birds.

  • Reproduction: breeds in spring and summer. Bears an average of eight to ten live young at a time.

  • Habitat: sandy flats in creosote and mesquite deserts, occasionally rocky slopes; below sea level to about 6,000 ft.

 

Description

Named for its characteristic sideways gait, the Mojave desert sidewinder rattlesnake can be found in sandy flats in creosote and mesquite deserts. Its unique style of movement allows it to move quickly across the sand. It is also one method by which the sidewinder keeps cool in the desert heat, by reducing the amount of time any specific part of its body is in contact with the hot sand.

Sidewinders are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. During warmer periods, they may also be nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. During the day, they escape the heat by hiding in rodent burrows or staying submerged in the sand. This latter practice is called “cratering,” in which the sidewinder will shift side to side until almost its entire body is under the sand. This not only allows the snake to stay cool, but provides a great hiding place from which it can await its prey. Keep an eye out while wandering in dunes areas--if you see some J-shaped tracks ending in a small depression in the sand, you might be looking at a cratering sidewinder! Sidewinders, like all rattlesnakes, are venomous, so be sure to keep a safe distance.

 
j shaped tracks in sand
Sidewinder tracks in sand.

NPS photo

Signs & Tracks

Look for their J-shaped tracks in sandy areas like the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

Last updated: January 17, 2021

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P.O. Box 579
Death Valley, CA 92328

Phone:

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