Arizona Snakes Identification Guide: Species Info & Pro Advice

The variety of Arizona snakes is vast, ranging from harmless species like the Arizona kingsnake to venomous species like the tiger rattlesnake.

Colors range from red snakes in Arizona to an orange and black snake, or gray and brown snakes.

In this article, we’ll share some Arizona snakes in pictures, and other things you need to know, including:

  • What kind of snakes are in Arizona
  • How to react if you discover a snake
  • Keys to Arizona snakes identification
Coastal Rosy Boa crawling on the ground next to a flowerbed
The rosy boa is one of the many species that live in Arizona.

We’ll also share useful resources at the end of the article to help you deal with snakes.

Arizona Snakes Identification Basics

When trying to identify a snake found in Arizona, there are a few things to bear in mind. The most essential characteristics include:

  • Size
  • Habitat and location
  • Head and pupil shape
  • Coloration and patterning

Snakes have specific distribution ranges, and where you find the snake can lead to successful identification.

If you’re trying to identify snakes in Phoenix, then you won’t start with a list of northern Arizona snakes.

Most species also have habitat preferences. The habitat you find them in can help identify them.

Let’s say that the snake you find is bright red and short. This further narrows down the list. Species like the speckled rattlesnake aren’t red and are quite long.

If you take a closer look at the head and pupil shape, it will give you further clues.

The Arizona coral snake has round pupils and a bullet-shaped head. Arizona rattlesnakes have slit-shaped pupils and broad heads.

Alone, none of the identifying characteristics can give you an answer. However, if you consider all the characteristics, you’ll soon identify the species.

Identifying Venomous Species

Arizona has quite a lot of venomous species compared to some of the other states. From the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake to the coral snake.

Let’s take a closer look at how to spot venomous snakes.

Identifying Rattlesnake Species

Most of the venomous snakes in Arizona are rattlesnakes. Fortunately, these snakes have a set of characteristics that make them easy to spot.

Western diamondback rattlesnake with its tongue out
Pit vipers like the Great Basin rattlesnake and Prairie rattlesnake have elliptical (slit-shaped) eyes.

These identifying characteristics set these snakes apart from other snake species:

  • Stubby, robust bodies
  • Broad, shield-shaped heads
  • Elliptical (slit-shaped) pupils
  • A large “rattle” at the end of the tail
  • Large heat pits located between the eyes and nostrils

No other snake has the signature rattle.

Identifying Coral Snakes

If you’re afraid of coral snakes, it’s easy to confuse species like the ring-necked snake, Western ground snake, or milksnake for it at first glance.

Diagram depicting the Scarlet Kingsnake and Eastern Coral Snake's colorations
A drawn comparison between the Scarlet Kingsnake and Eastern Coral Snake.

However, if you take a good look, it’s fairly easy to distinguish the coral snake from similar species.

It’s the only snake that has its particular configuration of banding. People that live in areas where coral snakes occur have created a rhyme for it.

Red next to yellow, kill a fellow. Red next to black, friend of Jack. If the red bands lie next to the yellow ones, it’s probably a coral snake.

In most other species, there’s a black band between the red and the yellow bands.

Coral snakes also have complete bands running to their undersides. Most other species’ bands break off on their sides somewhere.

Identifying Vine Snakes and Lyre Snakes

Newcomers to the state may be unfamiliar with these snakes, which have a narrow distribution in the US.

Fortunately, these snakes are easy to identify since they have a pretty unique shape.

Vine snakes have round pupils and distinctive two-tone coloration. Their heads also have a unique shape that resembles the knobbly part of a branch.

Their surface color is dark brown, and the rest of the body (from just below the eye) is white or tan).

Vine snake about to strike while in a tree
Vine snakes have a distinctive head shape.
Image credit: Sylvère Corre (via CreativeCommons.org)

Unlike vine snakes, lyre snakes are terrestrial. They have broad heads and narrow necks which make them quite distinctive.

These snakes also sport a v-shaped marking on their heads, which supposedly resembles a lyre. Their pupils are elliptical.

What Kind of Snakes Are in Arizona?

Arizona has approximately 60 species of snake. Of these, around 16 are dangerous to humans, including:

  • Rattlesnakes
    • Sidewinder – Crotalus cerastes
    • Rock Rattlesnake – Crotalus lepidus
    • Tiger Rattlesnake – Crotalus tigris
    • Prairie Rattlesnake – Crotalus viridis
    • Mojave Rattlesnake – Crotalus scutulatus
    • Western Rattlesnake – Crotalus oreganus
    • Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake – Crotalus willardi
    • Twin-spotted Rattlesnake – Crotalus pricei
    • Arizona Black Rattlesnake – Crotalus cerberus
    • Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake – Crotalus pyrrhus
    • Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake – Crotalus atrox
  • Pygmy Rattlesnakes
    • Western Massasauga – Sistrurus tergeminus
  • Vine and Lyre Snakes
    • Brown Vinesnake – Oxybelis aeneus
    • Sonoran Lyre Snake – Trimorphodon lambda
  • Coral Snake
    • Sonoran Coralsnake – Micruroides euryxanthus

Most of the non-venomous snakes in Arizona fit comfortably into one of a few main groups. These include:

  • Shovel-nosed Snakes
    • Mohave Shovel-Nosed Snake – Chionactis occipitalis
    • Sonoran Shovel-nosed Snake – Chionactis palarostris
    • Resplendent Desert Shovel-Nosed Snake – Chionactis annulata
  • Hook-nosed Snakes
    • Thornscrub Hook-nosed Snake – Gyalopion quadrangulare
    • Chihuahuan Hook-nosed Snake – Gyalopion canum
  • Nightsnakes
    • Desert Nightsnake – Hypsiglena chlorophaea
    • Chihuahuan Nightsnake – Hypsiglena jani
  • Kingsnakes and Milksnakes
    • Desert Kingsnake – Lampropeltis splendida
    • Eastern Milksnake – Lampropeltis triangulum
    • Western Milksnake – Lampropeltis gentilis
    • California King Snake – Lampropeltis californiae
    • Arizona Mountain Kingsnake – Lampropeltis pyromelana
    • Chihuahuan Mountain Kingsnake – Lampropeltis knoblochi
  • Rosy Boas
    • Desert Rosy Boa – Lichanura trivirgata
    • Coastal Rosy Boa – Lichanura orcutti
  • Whipsnakes
    • Coachwhip – Masticophis flagellum
    • Striped Whipsnake – Masticophis taeniatus
    • Sonoran Whipsnake – Masticophis bilineatus
  • Leaf-Nosed Snakes
    • Saddled Leaf-nosed Snake – Phyllorhynchus browni
    • Western Leaf-nosed Snake – Phyllorhynchus decurtatus
  • Threadsnakes
    • Western Threadsnake – Rena humilis
    • New Mexico Blind Snake – Rena dissecta
  • Patchnose Snakes
    • Big Bend Patchnose Snake – Salvadora deserticola
    • Eastern Patch-nosed Snake – Salvadora grahamiae
    • Western Patch-nosed Snake – Salvadora hexalepis
  • Black-headed Snakes
    • Yaqui Black-headed Snake – Tantilla yaquia
    • Plains Black-headed Snake – Tantilla nigriceps
    • Southwestern Blackhead Snake – Tantilla hobartsmithi
    • Chihuahuan Black-headed Snake – Tantilla wilcoxi
  • Garter Snakes
    • Mexican Garter Snake – Thamnophis eques
    • Checkered Garter Snake – Thamnophis marcianus
    • Narrowhead Garter Snake – Thamnophis rufipunctatus
    • Black-necked Garter Snake – Thamnophis cyrtopsis
    • Western Terrestrial Garter Snake – Thamnophis elegans
  • Gopher Snakes
    • Gopher Snake – Pituophis catenifer
    • Gopher Snake – Pituophis melanoleucus

The other snakes that lack venom are singular representatives of their genera. These species include:

  • Sand Snake – Chilomeniscus stramineus
  • Glossy Snake – Arizona elegans
  • Western Ground Snake – Sonora semiannulata
  • Green Rat Snake – Senticolis triaspis
  • Long-nosed Snake – Rhinocheilus lecontei
  • Ring-necked Snake – Diadophis punctatus
  • Banded Watersnake – Nerodia fasciata
  • Brahminy Blindsnake – Indotyphlops braminus
  • Mexican Hognose Snake – Heterodon kennerlyi

Most Common Snakes in Arizona

According to iNaturalist, the following ten species are the most commonly sighted snakes in Arizona:

  1. Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake – Crotalus atrox
  2. Gopher Snake – Pituophis catenifer
  3. Western Black-Tailed Rattlesnake – Crotalus molossus
  4. Mojave Rattlesnake – Crotalus scutulatus
  5. Long-nosed Snake – Rhinocheilus lecontei
  6. Coachwhip – Masticophis flagellum
  7. California King Snake – Lampropeltis californiae
  8. Sidewinder – Crotalus cerastes
  9. Black-necked Gartersnake – Thamnophis cyrtopsis
  10. Western Terrestrial Garter Snake – Thamnophis elegans

Venomous Snakes in Arizona

Arizona has more venomous snakes than most other states. Let’s take a look.

Lyre Snake

Sonoran Lyre Snake
The lyre snake has disconcerting slit-shaped eyes.
Image credit: guppiecat (via CreativeCommons.org)

Scientific Name:

Trimorphodon lambda

Range:

Southern, West Central, and Northwest Arizona

Adult Size:

18 to 47 inches

Description:

Slit-shaped pupils

A distinctive v-shaped marking on the head

Brownish snakes with darker brown markings that are almost diamond-shaped

Habitat:

Deserts and scrublands

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Vine Snake

The vine snake looks almost exactly like a branch, which is where it gets its name.

Brown Vinesnake against a green background
Unlike pit vipers, the vine snake has round pupils.
Image credit: brian.gratwicke (via CreativeCommons.org)

Scientific Name:

Oxybelis aeneus

Range:

Mostly in Western Arizona

Adult Size:

Up to six feet

Description:

Brown upperside, and a light underside

Round pupils and a pointy elongated head

It has a very long tail, and the snake is slender

Habitat:

Anywhere with sufficient vegetation

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Coral Snake

The coral snake is one of the prettiest deadly snakes on the planet. Its coloration is truly striking.

Sonoran Coral Snake
The Sonoran Coral Snake has bright colors to warn off potential predators.
Image credit: David A Jahn (via CreativeCommons.org)

Scientific Name:

Micruroides euryxanthus

Range:

Southeast to central Arizona

Adult Size:

13 to 21 inches

Description:

Round pupils, and a rounded head

A black snake with solid red and white bands that continue to the snake’s underside

Habitat:

Generalists, prefer dry areas with sandy soils

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Arizona Rattlesnakes

Arizona has more rattlesnake species than several of the other states combined.

We’ll take a look at this group as a whole, then discuss a few significant species.

Scientific Name:

Genera Crotalus and Sistrurus

Species:

Sidewinder – Crotalus cerastes

Rock Rattlesnake – Crotalus lepidus

Tiger Rattlesnake – Crotalus tigris

Hopi Rattlesnake – Crotalus viridis

Mojave Rattlesnake – Crotalus scutulatus

Western Rattlesnake – Crotalus oreganus

Black-Tailed Rattlesnake – Crotalus molossus

Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake – Crotalus willardi

Twin-spotted Rattlesnake – Crotalus pricei

Arizona Black Rattlesnake – Crotalus cerberus

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake – Crotalus pyrrhus

Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake – Crotalus atrox

Western Massasauga – Sistrurus tergeminus

Range:

Across Arizona

Adult Size:

22 inches (Western Massasauga) to 66 inches (Western diamondback rattlesnake)

Description:

The Arizona Black Rattlesnake is solid black

Broad, shield-shaped heads and elliptical pupils

Stout-bodied, robust snakes in shades of grey and brown

Final scales on the tails adapted to form a stiff “rattle”

Habitat:

Ranges from desert to prairie and grassland

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

The Western diamondback rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox, is the largest species of rattlesnake.

It’s also responsible for most of the rattlesnake bites in the US every year.

Western diamondback rattlesnake curled up
The Western diamondback rattlesnake is the largest species of rattlesnake.

The Western diamondback rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox, is common in Nevada since it prefers habitats like deserts and scrublands.

Tiger Rattlesnake

The tiger rattlesnake, Crotalus tigris, is a medium to large snake with a vibrant striped design.

Tiger rattlesnake crawling on a fallen tree trunk
The tiger rattlesnake gets its name from the alternating gray and brown stripes.

These snakes commonly reside in rocky canyons and foothills in a desert environment.

Mojave Rattlesnake

The Mojave rattlesnake is a long species, reaching lengths of 54 inches.

Overview shot of a Mojave rattlesnake curled up
Many experts consider the Mojave rattlesnake to be the most toxic US snake species.

Many experts consider the Mojave rattlesnake to be the most toxic snake species in the US.

Speckled Rattlesnake

Unlike the tiger rattlesnake and the Western diamondback rattlesnake, this species is light.

Speckled rattlesnake curled up on top of pebbles
The speckled rattlesnake has unusual coloration compared to other snakes in this genus.

The speckled rattlesnake, Crotalus pyrrhus, is light gray, and may even be white. Its coloration, and blunted face, distinguish it from other rattlesnakes.

Sidewinder Rattlesnake

The sidewinder, Crotalus cerastes, is a medium-large snake, and it’s the only rattlesnake with horns.

Sideview of a Sidewinder rattlesnake's head
The sidewinder is the only rattlesnake species with horns above its eyes.

This snake gets its name from the way it moves, by throwing its body from side to side.

Western Massasauga

The Massasauga is the only species of the genus Sistrurus, found in Arizona.

Western massasauga
The Western massasauga is a close relative of the pygmy rattlesnake.
Image credit: 2ndPeter (via CreativeCommons.org)

In many US states a closely related species, the Pygmy Rattlesnake, is well-known.

Snakes in this genus are much smaller than those in the genus Crotalus, and this species reaches lengths of up to 36 inches.

Non-Venomous Snakes in Arizona

Most of the snakes in Arizona are non-venomous. Let’s take a look at one or two of them.

Saddled Leaf-Nosed Snake

The saddled leaf-nosed snake, Phyllorhynchus browni, is a relatively small species. It prefers areas with sandy soils.

Saddled leaf-nosed snake on sand next to a shrub
The saddled leaf-nosed snake is a beautiful desert-dweller.
Image credit: u/touchmyrattlesnakes (via Reddit.com)

Scientific Name:

Saddled Leaf-nosed Snake Phyllorhynchus browni

Western Leaf-nosed Snake Phyllorhynchus decurtatus

Range:

Southwest Arizona

Adult Size:

Six to 20 inches

Description:

The tail tapers to a point

A striking snake with a blunt, rounded head

A light background with dark black blotches, including a mask-like marking over the eyes

Habitat:

Desert Scrublands

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Long-Nosed Snake

The long-nosed snake is a distinctive-looking species that you’re unlikely to confuse with another snake.

Long-nosed snake in a person's open palm
The long-nosed snake Rhinocheilus lecontei is a gorgeous black and orange snake.
Image credit: u/[deleted] (via Reddit.com)

Scientific Name:

Rhinocheilus lecontei

Range:

Southern and Western Arizona, stretching into the Northwest

Adult Size:

Averages around 30 inches

Description:

A medium-length snake with a sharp snout

Yellowish base color with orange and black bands which break into speckles on the side of the snake

Habitat:

Deserts, grasslands, and prairies

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Gopher Snakes

The gopher snakes are harmless terrestrial hunters.

Pacific Gopher Snake crawling on a branch
Gopher snakes are also known as bull snakes in some regions.

Scientific Name:

Genus: Pituophis

Species:

Pituophis catenifer

Pituophis melanoleucus

Range:

Throughout Arizona

Adult Size:

Up to eight feet

Description:

Robust snakes

Light brown with dark grey-brown blotches or stripes

Habitat:

Flat, dry habitats without dense cover

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-Venomous

Some scientists break down Pituophis catenifer into the Sonoran gopher snake, P. c. affinis, and the Great Basin gopher snake, P. c. deserticola.

The Great Basin gopher snake lives in the Great Basin, while the other species exists in the Sonoran desert.

Iconic Arizona Snake Species

We’ve made a list of some of our favorite snake species that live in Arizona’s native desert habitat. These guys belong on your bucket list.

Thornscrub Hook-Nosed Snake

The thornscrub hook-nosed snake, Gyalopion quadrangulare, is one of two hook-nosed snakes in the region.

Thornscrub Hook-nosed Snake
The thornscrub hook-nosed snake is one of two hook-nosed snakes in the region.
Image credit: amdubois01 (via CreativeCommons.org)

Scientific Name:

Gyalopion quadrangulare

Range:

Southeast Arizona

Adult Size:

Up to ten inches

Description:

Short, thick-bodied snake with orange and brown banding.

A slightly broadened, rounded head with round pupils.

A white vertebral stripe spans from the neck to the tail.

Habitat:

Desert scrublands

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Glossy Snake

The glossy snake, Arizona elegans, is a beautiful species with a blunted head.

A glossy snake on rough ground
With its large, shiny scales, it’s easy to see why this snake is called the glossy snake.

Scientific Name:

Arizona elegans

Range:

Most of Arizona, excluding a band that runs from the Northeast, through central Arizona, and into the Southeast

Adult Size:

26 – 70 inches

Description:

Round pupils

Alternating brown and tan blotches

A long, tapering tail and a blunt snout

Habitat:

Deserts and arid grasslands

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Resplendent Desert Shovel-Nosed Snake

The resplendent desert shovel-nosed snake is a beautifully colored species. It’s one of three species in the genus that occur in Arizona.

Shovel-nosed snake crawling on top of various stones
To beginners, the resplendent desert shovel-nosed snake may look similar to a coral snake.
Image credit: Greg Schechter (via CreativeCommons.org)

Scientific Name:

Chionactis annulata

Range:

Southwest and South-central Arizona

Adult Size:

Averages 11 to 17 inches

Description:

A colorful species with a pale background and red and black bands

The pupils are round, and the snake has a rounded head and tail

Habitat:

Dry, sandy deserts

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Western Patch-Nosed Snake

The Western patch-nosed snake, Salvadora hexalepis, is one of three species in the genus that occur in Arizona.

Western Patch-Nosed Snake on sand
The Western Patch-Nosed Snake Salvadora hexalepis is an iconic desert-dweller.

Scientific Name:

Salvadora hexalepis

Range:

Throughout Arizona, excluding the northeast quadrant

Adult Size:

Averages 20 to 46 inches

Description:

Elongated heads with round pupils

A long, narrow snake with two long black vertical bands alongside a wide central band

Habitat:

Sandy and rocky habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Coexisting with Arizona Snakes

Snakes are a highly beneficial group of animals in most cases.

Species like the Western ground snake play an important role in balancing the ecosystem. They do this by:

  • Acting as a food source for predators like badgers and eagles.
  • Managing the populations of rodents that transport disease-carrying ticks.
  • Preventing other small animal populations from growing to sizes that the environment can’t support.

If you know how to treat them, snakes are easy to get along with. Let’s take a closer look.

Snake Safety 101

  • Always treat snakes with respect
  • Never prod, tease, or bother a snake in any way
  • Always wear sturdy shoes when entering potential snake habitats
  • If a snake is where it doesn’t belong, contact a professional to remove it

Treading Carefully in Snake Habitat

Most of the time, people get bitten because they accidentally step on a snake.

It’s vital to tread carefully in snake habitat.

When you enter a likely snake habitat, always:

  • Stay observant and tread lightly
  • Ensure that you’re wearing sturdy shoes
  • Stick to well-used footpaths and hiking trails
  • Keep your pets on leashes, and your children near you
A sign warning that rattlesnakes may be in the area
Signs like these are common in areas where rattlesnakes are permanent inhabitants.

If You Encounter a Snake

Typically, when you encounter a snake, you won’t need to do anything. You can observe and photograph the snake from a safe distance. You can also simply back away and leave.

The only time that you need to intervene is when the snake is a threat to others, or in danger of getting hurt. In those cases, it’s best to contact a wildlife trapper.

Useful Resources

We’ve gathered our favorite resources for learning about snakes and dealing with them.

Emergency Poisoning Advice

  • Poison Control Center’s national hotline: 1-800-222-1222
  • ASPCA Poisoning Hotline: 1-888-426-4435

Snake Relocation Services

Snake handler picking up a wild snake
Calling in a professional snake handler is the responsible thing to do.

Educational Resources

  • iNaturalist – a website for identifying and learning about wildlife.
  • The Arizona Game and Fish Commission’s brochure about living with venomous snakes.
  • We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about Arizona snakes. Whether you’re looking for a black and white snake in Arizona, or something else entirely, this guide will get you started.

Related Articles to Arizona Snakes Identification Guide

If you’re interested in other identification guides, have a look at:

You can also check out our other articles on snakes – we have vital guides that you can learn from!

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Join the discussion! Leave a comment below nowx
()
x