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Ophioghagy in A Captive Sonoran Desert Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes cercobombus)


Thomas C. Houston

In June 2002 an adult female Sonoran desert sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes cercobombus), being held for educational display at Oklahoma State University, was introduced into an enclosure containing one adult male of the conspecific. The enclosure was furnished with sand substrate and multiple rocks for cover and measured 61 x 31 x 41 cm. Both animals were fed weekly on pre-killed weanling lab mice weighing between 13-18 g. Each specimen was superficially healthy and equivalent in body weight and length, the female had a SVL of 44 cm. The two specimens were successfully housed together for a period of approximately two months. In August 2002, it was noticed that the male was missing from the enclosure, and it was assumed that the female, whose body was considerably expanded, had cannibalized him. Each animal had accepted food two days prior, without an incident.

It is known that cannibalism occurs in captive vipers Atheris chloroechis (Pareti 1994), as well as Bothriechis schlegelii (Bridegam et al. 1990). There are also reports of other members of the subfamily Crotalidae exhibiting ophiophagous behavior such as, Agkistrodon contortrix (Mitchell 1977), Bothrops asper (Buttenhoff 1995) and an isolated case where on Crotalus cerastes laterorepens adult, 59 cm, consumed a conspecific juvenille, 22 cm (Funk 1965). An account of a captive C. c. cercobombus consuming a conspecific has not been previously recorded. Typically, this species preys upon small mammals and lizards. Funk (1965) reported Cnemidophorus tigris was found to have the highest percent frequency of occurrences in C. cerastes diets. Although, ophiophagy, specifically of conspecifics, is not significantly reported in this species (Funk 1965) caution should be taken when housing specimens communally.


The author would like to thank K. McBee for critically reviewing this paper prior to submission. Many thanks to M. J. Sanders for assistance with the specimen measurments.


Bridegam, A. S., B. E. Smith, C. M. Carrett, and D. T. Roberts. 1990. Cannibalism in two species of arboreal pitviper, Trimeresus wagleri and Bothriechis schlegelii. Herpetol. Rev. 21(3):54-55.

Buttenhoff, P. A., and R. C. Vogt. 1995. Bothrops asper (Nauyaca) Cannibalism. Herpetol. Rev. 26(3): 146-147.

Funk, R. S. 1965. Food of Crotalus cerastes laterorepens in Yuma County, Arizona. Herpetologica. 21(1): 15-17.

Mitchell, J. C. 1977. An instance of cannibalism in Agkistrodon contortrix (Serpentes:Viperadae). Bull. of the Maryland Herp. Soc. 13(2):119-120.

Pareti, K. S. 1994. Cannibalism in a captive west African bush viper (Atheris chloroechis). Herpetol. Rev. 25(1): 17.

Date submitted 03 Sep 2008

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