Friday, December 18, 2009

Colorado Desert Sidewinder

I have had a number of interesting experiences with sidewinder rattlesnakes. The place I have encountered them is driving the roads at night between Snow Creek and Hwy 111 (the road that goes to Palm Springs), and the road between Hwy 111 and Whitewater Canyon. This is an area of drifting sand and creosote. The first one I came into close contact with was caught by Jim Sullivan. He brought it by the house to show it to us. The sidewinder is small, about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet long. It has a cream, tan, pink or gray background with gray, yellow-brown or tan blotches down the back. It has a dark eyestripe and "horns" above its eyes which may fold down to protect the eye while crawling through burrows and it has elliptical eyes.

A better look at the horns and the dark eyestripe. Also a good look at the keeled scales.

Jim indicated that he was bit by a sidewinder when he was younger. It was able to twist around with its loose skin while he was holding it and it bit his finger. He cautiously held the sidewinder and got it to open its mouth.

A closeup view of the open mouth and fangs.

Sometime later I was out snake hunting with Andrew along the Snow Creek Road and caught a sidewinder. I was amazed at how fast they are. I was able to scoop it up into a large plastic bucket, placed on the lid and put it in the trunk of the car. When we got home late that night and I opened the car trunk, the bucket was over-turned, the top was off and the snake was missing. I sent Andrew to bed and very carefully searched the trunk of my car, and in turn, the passenger compartment. I could not find the snake anywhere. Judy was understandably upset that I intended to drive my car and she forbid the kids from driving with me in it. I drove my car for about a week, or a week and a half. Then one morning, on my way out to the car to go to work, I spotted the head of the sidewinder sticking out from underneath the trunk of the car. There was blood and it looked like the snake was dead. It looked like the snake was trying to squeeze out of the trunk and died trying.

I got my camera, then opened the trunk. The snake was stretched out sidewise along the edge of the trunk. Thinking the snake was dead I picked it up and it started to move. I immediately dropped it on the ground.

It was still sluggish from the morning cold. The snake on our driveway.

I ended up dispatching this snake, not knowing what kind of injuries it sustained in trying to get out of the trunk. The main difference between the Mojave Deseret subspecies and the Colorado Desert subspecies, is that the Colorado Desert subpecies has a black button where the rattle meets the tail and the Mojave Desert subpecies has a brown rattle. Ours had a black knob.

On another occasion snake hunting, with Andrew again, we caught a sidewinder between Hwy 111 and Whitewater Canyon. I was able to take the following photos early in the morning while it was cold and the snake was sluggish.

This one almost seems to have a brown knob on the end of the tail. The area where we hunt is right about where the two subspecies separate.
On another occasion I was snake hunting with Jim Sullivan and we caught two sidewinders and a red diamond rattlesnake. We gave one of the sidewinders to someone else we met that night that was looking for a sidewinder and I brought the sidewinder and red diamond home and kept them in a terrarium in our garage. The red diamond would eat, but the sidewinder would not.

A closeup of the sidewinder's head.

In early fall, September sometime, I gave the sidewinder back to Jim. It wouldn't eat. I kept the red diamond (which I just let go two months ago, after having it for 4 1/2 years). Jim killed it to tan the skin and found that it was pregnant with something like seven young sidewinders (they are born alive). They were likely only a week or so away from being born. I felt horrible. Sidewinders are fascinating. They are nasty tempered, very fast, neat looking, especially with the horns, and I feel very fortunate to have had some experiences with them.

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