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What is a Desert Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes)

What is a Desert Sidewinder

Desert Sidewinder Overview

The sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes), is also known as the horned rattlesnake and sidewinder rattlesnake.

It is a pit viper species belonging to the genus Crotalus (the rattlesnakes) and is found in the desert regions of the Southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.

Like all pit vipers, it is venomous.

Parts of the information below is a transcription from the sign found at the Valley of Fire State Park in Overton, Nevada.

RELATED ARTICLE: Snakes in Nevada

What is a Mojave Desert Sidewinder


Desert Sidewinder or Horned Rattlesnake – Crotalus cerates

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Suborder: Serpentes
  • Family: Viperidae
  • Genus: Crotalus
  • Species: C. cerastes

Three subspecies are currently recognized.

  • Mojave Desert sidewinder – C. c. cerastes
  • Sonoran Desert sidewinder – C. c. cercobombus
  • Colorado Desert sidewinder – C. c. laterorepens

Size and Body Description

18 to 30 inches (45 to 75 cm) long; prominent triangular projection over each eye termed its “horn” giving a common name to the snake.

Color harmonizes with its habitat; may be pale yellow to pink or gray.

Small blotches along the back; rough scales, terminal rattle.


Lizards, small rodents, especially mice and kangaroo rats.

Stuns food with poison, then swallows head first.


Females produce up to 18 young, with an average of about 10 per litter.

Like most other viperids, the young are born enveloped in thin embryonic membranes, from which they emerge shortly after being expelled from the mother.

The young stay with their mother in a burrow for 7-10 days, shed for the first time, then leave their natal burrow. During this time, the mother is thought to guard and protect them from predators.

Habitat and Range

rbrausse, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Arid desert flatland with sandy washes in the Southwestern United States, this species is found in the desert region of southeastern California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, and western Arizona. In northwestern Mexico, it is found in western Sonora and eastern Baja California from below sea level to 5000 ft. 


“Sidewinding” movement uses friction to gain traction on soft sand and prevents overheating by reducing body contact with hot sand.

“Horns” are specialized scales that cover eyes to protect against obstacles when hunting rodents in burrows, and from drifting sand in the habitat.

Burrows beneath blow sand.


Frequent wind-blown sand piled around desert shrubs, especially creosote bush scrub and mesquite.

In Valley of Fire, often found curled up out of the sun in holes in sandstone outcroppings.

Hikers should be cautious when climbing rock outcroppings and walking across blow and deposits.

Sidewinders may be hiding in the sand but not visible on the surface.

Related Content

Click here to read our article on Wildlife at the Valley of Fire and here to read our article on Snakes in Nevada.

References Used

What is a Desert Sidewinder