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Commonly Encountered Snakes of Arizona

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Year-round warm temperatures and an incredibly diverse landscape make Arizona a reptile paradise. Home to over 50 species of native snakes, and many more varieties of lizards and desert-loving amphibians, it isn't difficult to find them even in your own backyard.

This is certainly not a complete list of all of the snakes found in Arizona, but the commonly seen snakes - animals that we've relocated or are asked to identify as they are seen in the outdoors. If you're unsure of what you have seen, email us and we'll identify it for you.

Venomous

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Crotalus atrox

The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is the most commonly encountered snake in the Phoenix area, and can be found anywhere where neighborhoods get close to native desert habitat. These are also sometimes called “coon-tail” rattlesnakes. They can be identified by the rattle, white and black striped tail, and white-lined diamond pattern on the back. Coloration is usually drab shades of brown or grey. They are often mistaken for the Mojave Rattlesnake. A large adult diamondback in our area would be in the 3.5’ to 4’ range, with most being smaller. They are generally quick to be defensive, and quite venomous, so keep your distance and leave it alone if encountered.

Venomous

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake

Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus

Speckled Rattlesnakes live in rocky areas near mountains or hillsides. They’re common in the Camelback Mountain region, South Mountain area, and other parts of the valley adjacent to similar habitat. The Speckled Rattlesnakes is highly variable in color, from a white/grey in the South Mountain and White Tanks areas, brown in North Phoenix, and orange and red going North into Cave Creek and the Anthem areas. They have a loosely banded pattern that is highly flecked to resemble granite within their habitat, and are usually small, with adults being typically around 2’ in length. They have a highly toxic bite and should always be left alone when seen.

Venomous

Northern Blacktailed Rattlesnake

Crotalus molossus molossus

The Blacktailed Rattlesnake lives in mountainous areas and surrounding foothills, and are more rarely found in flat desert areas in between. They are often mistaken for Mojave Rattlesnakes by vacationers, being a common sight near Sedona and other popular tourist areas. The Blacktailed Rattlesnake found near Phoenix is mostly brown, tinted with yellow, orange, or green. Unlikle other large-bodiedrattlesnakes in the area, they have a solid black tail area just before the rattle, as opposed to rings or stripes. They are usually calm, but will stand their ground when threatened. They should always be left alone if encountered.

Venomous

Tiger Rattlesnake

Crotalus tigris

The Tiger Rattlesnake lives in many of the same rocky, mountainous areas as the Speckled Rattlesnake. They are seldom seen, but live in most of the Phoenix mountain areas and desert parks. The Tiger Rattlesnake is often confused with the Speckled Rattlesnake, but can be easily identified by the unusually smallhead and overly large rattle. The banding is more apparent throughout the body, which is usually grey with varying degrees of pink, orange, or brown. This is a small rattlesnake, reaching a size of about 2.5 feet. The Tiger Rattlesnake has an unusually potent venom and should always be left alone if encountered.

Venomous

Arizona Black Rattlesnake

Crotalus cerberus

The Arizona Black Rattlesnake is sometimes mistakenly referred to as “Timber Rattlesnake” throughout it’s range due to generally being found at higher altitudes in wooded areas. They are commonly seen in mountains North of Phoenix. This is a thick-bodied, large rattlesnake. Coloration is light as a young snake, being tan or grey with brown circles down the back. A the snake matures, it will darken to a deep brown color to completely black. They can also change color to some degree,becoming more light or dark depending on various circumstances. This snake can deliver a large amount of highly toxic venom and should be left alone if encountered.

Venomous

Sonoran Sidewinder

Crotalus cerastes cercobombus

Sidewinders have a famous name and are extremely common where they are found, yet are quite uncommon to see for most. They live in flat, sandy scrubland desert, and avoid rocky areas and hills. They're very small snakes, reaching an adult size of only around 2 feet. They can be most easily identified by their distinct sideways motion (sidewinding), where the snake throws a loop of its body forward and pulls the rest along rather quickly. They also have two very visible 'horns' above the eyes, which helps the sidewinder live in sandy environments. Although they are small, this snake can give a very bad bite and should never be bothered.

Venomous

Mojave Rattlesnake

Crotalus scutulatus

The mojave, or "mojave green" as people like to say, is often confused for the similar-looking western diamondback, and visa versa. The mojave is very commonly seen in flat, sandy desertscrub areas, and less likely seen in mountainous or rocky regions. It's a large snake, reaching about 4' in length as an adult. It can be distinquished from the western diamondback by the striping on the tail. The mojave's stripes are 2:1 white to black, while the diamondback are 50:50 white to black. The mojave also has a generally more 'clean' appearance, with more distinct diamonds and less black speckling throughout the body. This snake has a reputation of being an overly dangerous snake, as it is quick to become defensive and has a powerful neurotoxin. These snakes should always be avoided if seen.

Venomous

Gila Monster

Heloderma suspectum

The gila monster is one of the most iconic animals of the Sonoran desert. It lives across Arizona’s desert and grassland regions below the Mogollon rim, and is common throughout its range, despite being rarely seen on the surface. The gila monster is often confused with other large, desert lizards, such as the chuckwalla and desert iguana, but can be easily distinguished by it’s high-contrast black and yellow pattern. Although highly venomous, they should not be considered dangerous. Slow-moving and non-aggressive, bites are easily avoided simply by not approaching or attacking one when encountered. They are protected by state law and should always be left alone.

Harmless

Sonoran Gophersnake

Pituophis catenifer

Next to the western diamondback, this is the most commonly snake seen in Arizona. This is not only due to it being incredibly common, but also because it has adapted very well to life in the city. They can be found on golfcourses, parks, alleyways, and back yards throughout the city. They can be very large, with adults commonly exceeding 5' or more in length. They are often mistaken for rattlesnakes because of their superficial likeness, and tendency to quickly become defensive when approached. They will open their mouths to hiss, and even rattle their striped tail while striking out towards a perceived threat. While they are not at all venomous, they may bite if handled, the worst result being a few cuts on the hand. They are great pest control (which can actually help keep other, venomous species away), and are great to have around for that reason.

Harmless

Desert Nightsnake

Hypsiglena chlorophaea

Nightsnakes are the most common snake to see inside of the home, in our experience. They are great at getting into small cracks and even get through pipes, and end up on kitchen counters, in bathroom sinks, and all kinds of surprising places. They are very small, generally less than a foot long, and are often mistaken as baby rattlesnakes due to their triangular head and vertical eye slits. In fact, they are completely harmless, and it would be a challenge to try to get one to try and bite. When they are scared, they coil into a tight ball and hide their head under the body. They eat scorpions, spiders, and are great to have around the yard.