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Scientific name: Sistrurus catenatus edwardsii


The average size of a mature Desert Massasauga is 1.5 - 2.5 feet in length.


The Desert Massasauga is a heavy-bodied snake. The body of the snake is light grey. The snake is marked by dark brown blotches along its spine, and two or three rows of dark brown on its sides. The blotches are sometimes outlined in black and often form into crossbands near the tail. The belly of the Desert Massasauga is mostly white or cream, and often has scattered black markings. The end of the tail has a rattle on it.

There is a cheek-stripe on both sides of the head that starts at the eye and runs diagonally down and backwards to the jaw. The top of the head is marked by two stripes that continue on to the neck.

The Desert Massasauga is categorized as one of several primitive rattlesnakes in the genus Sistrurus. Unlike other rattlesnakes, these rattlesnakes have 9 enlarged scales on the top of their head.

The Desert Massasauga has elliptical pupils that look like cat's eyes and like all pit vipers, has a heat-sensing pit between the nostril and eye on each side of its head. The Desert Massasauga has a large, triangular head that is wider than the neck when viewed from above.


In the United States, the Desert Massasauga is found in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Map of US states the Desert Massasauga is found in.
Map does not show area of true distribution, only the states in which there is a population.
Actual distribution in any highlighted state may be limited.

Desert Massasauga
Photo used by permission:
© 2003 Dr. Stephen P. Mackessy
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Northern Colorado

Desert Massasauga
Photo used by permission:
© 2011 Wolfgang Wuster

Desert Massasauga
Photo used by permission:
© 2011 Wolfgang Wuster

For more information on venomous snakes, please see the Venomous Links page.

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