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Compiled by Yvette Boulier. HERPETOLOGY IDENTIFICATION LIST. Snakes. There are 2,700 known snake species, and the reptiles all share the following characteristics: •They have thin, linear and limbless bodies. •They are meat-eaters (carnivores).

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There are 2,700 known snake species, and the reptiles all share the following characteristics:

•They have thin, linear and limbless bodies.

•They are meat-eaters (carnivores).

•They are cold-blooded (ectothermic), meaning their inner temperature varies with the temperature in the environment.

rosy boa lichanura trivirgata
Rosy BoaLichanuraTrivirgata

Active mostlyat night, the rosy boa eats birds and mammals. Boas and pythons, unlike most snakes, have a vestigial pelvic girdle complete with rudimentary femur bones. These can be seen as anal spurs located on either side of the anal opening. Females give birth to as many as twelve young in late fall. The young are about 1 foot long at birth.

garter snake thamnophis spp
Garter SnakeThamnophis spp.

Garter snake habitat is disappearing throughout the Sonoran Desert due to habitat destruction and fragmentation. Garter snake numbers have also declined due to competition with and predation by introduced species such as bullfrogs and sunfish. These introduced animals eat small snakes as well as the fishes and tadpoles which are food for garter snakes.

common kingsnake lampropelitis getulas

In most of the Sonoran Desert it is a dark brown or black snake with narrower bands of yellow, white, or cream going around the body, widening on the belly. In some parts of the range (southern Arizona) the common kingsnake is entirely dark with no light bands, while in other areas the bands degenerate into a speckled appearance. When confronted, the common kingsnake may hiss, strike, and rattle its tail or hide its head in coils of its body, releasing a foul-smelling musk.

Common KingsnakeLampropelitisgetulas


longnose snake rhinocheilus lecontei
Longnose SnakeRhinocheiluslecontei

This snake is easily confused with the venomous coral snake due to the similarity in color banding pattern. The longnose snake can be distinguished from the coral snake by its long nose, its light colored flecking on the nose (within dark fields) and by body bands that do not completely encircle the body. Additionally, color sequencing is generally different. When disturbed, the longnose snake writhes and twists its body, vibrates its tail, and defecates feces and blood from its anal opening.

coachwhip snake masticophis flagellum

Variable in color, it can be tan, gray, pink, black, reddish-brown, or any combination of these colors. The scales are smooth and the eyes large; the head is distinct from the body. A speedy snake, it has been clocked at 3.6 miles per hour. The coachwhip is a nervous snake and may retreat into rocks or rodent burrows when threatened, but it is just as likely to approach an intruder hissing, striking, and possibly shaking its tail; it will bite if handled.

Coachwhip SnakeMasticophis flagellum
sonoran whipsnake masticophis bilineatus

When hunting, the Sonoran whipsnake may elevate its head off the ground and scan the surrounding area for possible prey. When a bird, lizard or frog is spotted, the snake will seize and swallow the prey without killing it first. The Sonoran whipsnake bites readily if handled.

Sonoran WhipsnakeMasticophisbilineatus
western hognose snake heterodon nasicus

The western hognose snake has one of the most elaborate bluff behaviors in the snake world. When threatened, heflattens the skin on its neck giving it a hooded appearance. It then takes a huge breath, inflating its body dramatically, and releases the air with a loud hissing noise. The snake may strike at the intruder, but the mouth is closed. If the snake is not left alone, it will go into convulsion-like motions, turning over on its back, pretending to die;the mouth is open and the tongue sticks limply out. When the snake is picked up, it is limp.

Western Hognose Snake Heterodonnasicus
gopher snake pituophis melanoleucus

Large and heavy-bodied, the gopher snake is reported to reach 9 feet in length, but 4 feet is more common. On its back are 33 to 66 light- to dark-brown or reddish blotches. Male gopher snakes engage in ritualistic combats during the spring mating season. The combatants remain on the ground, entwined from tail to neck. This is one of the most widespread snakes in North America.

Gopher SnakePituophismelanoleucus
regal ring snake diadophis punctatus

The Ring-necked Snake is a primarily diurnal and crepuscular ground-dweller. The scales are smooth and the body is uniformly slim and long relative to most other snakes. The pupils are round. The dark markings on its belly and its blue-gray coloration distinguish this snake from the similar looking ChihuahuanBlack-headed Snake.

Regal Ring SnakeDiadophispunctatus
arizona coral snake micruroides euryxanthus

It is brightly colored with broad alternating bands of red and black separated by narrower bands of bright white or yellow. Many people use a rhyme to remember the coral snake: “Red touch yellow, harmful fellow.” Unfortunately, this rhyme does not always work in our region We have several non-venomous snakes in our region that have red bands touching yellow bands. The best way to identify 1) a very blunt head that is black to behind the eyes, and 2) bands that completely encircle the body, along with the yellow or white bands occurring on both sides of the red bands.

Arizona Coral SnakeMicruroideseuryxanthus
western dimoundback rattlesnake crotalus atrox

Legendarily perceived to be aggressive and deadly; but, threat to humans is grossly exaggerated. Rattlesnakes are among the most highly specialized organisms on the planet, they may be among nature’s best examples of efficiency and economy of motion. The use of venom to capture prey conserves considerable energy. Rattlesnakes also have heat vision; highly effective in detecting differences in temperature even yards away, within a foot or so, minute differences may be perceived. Heat given off by an animal creates a heat image; therefore, rattlesnakes have “heat vision.”

Western Dimoundback RattlesnakeCrotalusatrox
mohave rattlesnake crotalus scutulatus
Mohave Rattlesnake crotalusscutulatus

While other areas have larger rattlesnakes, the Sonoran Desert region is blessed with more species of rattlesnakes than is any other region in the world—and many of them will bite large beasts like us if we are perceived to be a threat. These animals are the natural predators of a suite of other animals (e.g., mice and rats) that can cause plant damage, carry diseases, and so on.

blacktail rattlesnake crotalus molossus

This rattlesnake is capable of delivering large amounts of potent venom. If encountered it should be left alone. A large percentage of envenomationsoccur when a snake is handled or abused.

Blacktail RattlesnakeCrotalusmolossus
tiger rattlesnake crotalus tigris
Tiger RattlesnakeCrotalustigris

While this snake is active from spring through late fall, its peak of activity correlates with the summer monsoons. Though not rare, it is rarely seen; it is primarily nocturnal. The tiger rattlesnake fang is proportionately shorter than that of other rattlesnakes; the venom is strong. Most specimens are either blue-gray or orange-brown.

sidewinder crotalus cerastes
Sidewinder Crotaluscerastes

While many snakes use the method of locomotion called “sidewinding, ”the sidewinder is particularly adept at it. Sidewinding is a method of locomotion adapted for areas with loose, hot, sandy soils where traction is difficult. To the observer, the sidewinding snake appears to be going sideways While sidewinding is the primary form of locomotion, it can also use all othercharacteristic of motion of snakes.

Horn-like projection over each eye

rock rattlesnake crotalus lepidus
Rock RattlesnakeCrotaluslepidus

This snake inhabits many of the "sky island" ranges of southeastern Arizona including the Chiricahua, Peloncillo, Dragoon, Whetstone, Santa Rita, Huachucas, and Canelos. It is found at elevations ranging from about 4,000' to 8,500'.