Most snakes that move in the sidewinding style are those that live in slippery terrains, like deserts. They have to move on the sand, and since their bodies have no fingers to grip the soil, they evolved to move differently.
Sidewinding is one of the four ways by which snakes move about. It is a curious thing to behold, as most snakes have a linear movement (they move forward).
How Does Sidewinding Work?
Sidewinding is also called lateral displacement. When snakes do this, they move their head forward, and as they do this, they lift part of their bodies above the ground.
They remove their bellies from the ground, while also moving back and forth to move forward. It is like a combination of walking and slithering.
As the snake does the sidewinder, it uses three anchor points of its body to touch the ground. These anchors allow them to kind of “hop.” Snakes that do this typically in hot or slippery environments.
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Examples of Snakes That Move Sideways
A sidewinder refers to a pit viper. However, it is not the only snake that moves sideways. Snakes that move sideways are called caenophidian snakes, and below is a list.
1. Saharan Horned Viper
The Saharan horned viper lives in the desert and is common in northern Africa. It is highly venomous, one can easily identify it because of its horn-like structure at its head. Not all horned vipers have horns, as some of them do not develop them.
There are three subspecies of the horned viper, and they are pretty small. They grow up to 24 inches, and females are typically larger than males. However, some females can grow up to 33 inches.
The horned viper comes in many names like the following:
- Desert sidewinding horned viper
- Greater cerastes
- North African horned viper
This snake is also common in Iraq and Syria. While they move sideways, they may assume the C-position if they are under threat. They may also rapidly rub their coils to produce a rasping noise.
This viper is an ambush predator. It hides under the sand and waits for its prey to come by. Once they bite, they hold on its the prey until it dies.
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2. Mojave Sidewinder
Another common name for this snake is the horned rattlesnake. It does have a rattle, and it is also why people call it the sidewinder rattlesnake.
The Mojave sidewinder is highly venomous, and it is common in the desert regions of the United States and Mexico. As of the moment, it has three subspecies.
Its color is tan with a mixture of light cream. They are small and typically mature at 1.5 feet. Some, however, can grow up to three feet. They primarily eat lizards and mammals in the desert.
The Mojave sidewinder reproduces in spring and summer. Once they give birth, they average between eight and ten live young on each litter.
They live in sandy flatlands below sea level. Mojave sidewinders are crepuscular. They hunt at dawn or dusk. During warmer seasons, they hunt at night. If it is too hot, they burrow under the sand.
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3. Namib Desert Sidewinding Adder
The scientific name of this adder is Bitis peringueyi. It is a small snake that grows only up to 10 inches. It comes with many names, as follows:
- Peringuey’s adder
- Sidewinding adder
- Peringuey’s desert adder
- Dwarf puff adder
- Namib desert viper
- Namib dwarf sand adder
This adder is an ambush predator. It hides beneath the sand but keeps its eyes and tail exposed. Once a prey comes close, it seizes the prey and kills it with venom.
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4. Arabian Horned Viper
This viper is a subspecies of the Saharan horned viper. Its scientific name is C. gasperetti. It is relatively short and grows up to 50 centimeters only. It is common in the Middle East and Arabia.
There are no subspecies for the Arabian horned viper, but its habitat does not overall the Saharan one. Its color is light, but some have shades of tan and orange. Some have shades of orange and gray.
Like other vipers in the desert, they hide under the sand and ambush prey. They eat lizards, birds, and rodents.
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5. Sahara Sand Viper
Not to be confused with the Saharan horned viper, this one is endemic to North Africa. There are no subspecies, and they can grow up to 14 inches.
They come in many names like:
- Avicenna viper
- Common sand viper
- Egyptian asp
- Cleopatra’s asp
- Sand viper
- Avicenna’s sand viper
- Lesser cerastes
Its hunting strategy is a little different from its cousins. Instead of using ambush as an exclusive hunting technique, they also use active hunting.
They use active hunting before brumation. This snake seeks prey before brumation so it can store energy before it goes dormant for a while.
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What are the Three Other Types of Snake Locomotion?
Apart from sidewinding, snakes move with what is called serpentine locomotion, concertina, and rectilinear.
- Serpentine – this movement makes the snake and other lizards take the S-shaped loop. As the head moves forward, the body contracts to make the shape of an S. It is also called lateral undulation.
- Concertina – a movement that resembles an accordion, the snake moves the head forward and pulls the rest of the body. As this happens, the body also forms many letters S. As such, the body looks like a coil of spring.
- Rectilinear – this is the most common movement where the snake simply drags itself forward. They use their belly muscles to anchor themselves on the ground.
Not all snakes can move in the same way. The way they move forward is a product of evolution according to their natural habitat.
Summary: Snakes That Move Sideways
Sidewinding is one of the fours ways by which snakes propel themselves forward. The other three forms of snake locomotion are rectilinear, concertina, and serpentine.
Snakes that do the sidewinding movement are caenophidian snakes. In common parlance, when people say sidewinder, they are talking about the horned viper.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.