The 13 Types of Rattlesnakes in Arizona! (ID Guide)
Believe it or not, you can find THIRTEEN types of rattlesnakes in Arizona!
But please don’t live in fear, thinking that you are going to be bitten. In general, rattlesnakes try to avoid any contact or interaction with people. The whole reason they have a rattle is to warn you to stay away! As long as you leave them alone, you shouldn’t have any trouble.
Today, you will learn what each rattlesnake species looks like, along with detailed pictures to help you make a correct identification. In addition, you will learn the habitat in which they can be found, along with some interesting facts!
Here are the 13 rattlesnake species that live in Arizona!
*If you come across any of these species, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB! Rattlesnakes are dangerous animals and should be left alone. The more you agitate them, the more likely you could get bitten. DO NOT RELY ON THIS ARTICLE to correctly identify a rattlesnake that has recently bitten you. If you have recently been bitten, GO DIRECTLY to the nearest hospital to get help and determine if the snake is venomous.*
RELATED: The 50 Types of SNAKES Found in Arizona! (ID Guide)
#1. Prairie Rattlesnake
- Crotalus viridis
- Adults typically range between 3.3 and 5 feet in length.
- Coloration is highly variable and can be greenish-gray, olive green, greenish-brown, light brown, or yellow. All variations have dark blotches on the body that turn into rings near the tail.
- Broad triangular head, elliptical pupils, and a tail rattle.
These rattlesnakes can be found in Arizona in open prairies, grasslands, semi-desert shrublands, and forested environments. They can even be found at elevations up to 9500 feet (2900 m)!
The Prairie Rattlesnake hibernates during the winter, often in communal dens. These dens are typically rock crevices, caves, or old mammal burrows. Individual snakes will return to the same den each winter and migrate up to seven miles to their hunting grounds in the spring.
When they feel threatened, these snakes will freeze, using their camouflage to avoid detection. They may also quietly crawl away to cover. If approached, they may coil and rattle their tail as a warning before striking. Their potent venom has both hemotoxic and neurotoxic properties and, although rare, can be fatal to an adult human.
Prairie Rattlesnakes are listed on the ICUN Red List as a species of least concern. However, they are considered threatened and declining in parts of their range. Their biggest threats are pressures from habitat fragmentation and hunting.
#2. Western Massasauga
- Sistrurus tergeminus
- Adults range from 14 to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is gray to light brown with dark brown blotches on the back.
- Thick body, large triangular head, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, elliptical pupils, and rattle on the tail.
The Western Massasauga is one of the smallest rattlesnakes in the country! They primarily inhabit grassland habitats but can also be found in open sagebrush prairie, rocky hillsides, prairie hillsides, open wetlands, and grassy wetlands.
Western Massasauga Range Map
This rattlesnake is secretive and is not often seen in Arizona.
When detected, they often freeze rather than make a rattle. However, when they do rattle, Western Massasaugas make a distinctive sound. Their rattle is significantly higher pitched than larger rattlesnakes and has earned this small snake the nickname “buzz tail.”
Though their venom is highly potent, the small quantity they deliver makes their bites much less likely to be fatal in humans than some larger rattlesnakes. However, you still need to respect them as their venom is hemotoxic and will cause localized swelling, extreme pain, and necrosis. Medical attention should be sought immediately if bitten!
#3. Western Rattlesnake
- Crotalus oreganus
- Adult size varies widely over their range, with the largest individuals being 6 feet long.
- Coloration varies greatly and can be dark brown, yellowish, dark gray, or olive-brown.
- Triangular head. A dark stripe with white borders that runs from the eye towards the jaw.
Also known as the Northern Pacific Rattle Snake, this species occupies a wide range of habitats. They can be found in mountainous areas, woodlands, and grasslands. They often occur in close proximity to humans.
Western Rattlesnakes have excellent camouflage and unique coloring, as these snakes show considerable variation. When they’re young, they have a distinct color pattern, but it fades over time as the snakes mature.
These snakes may be active during the day or night and are often curled, waiting to ambush various prey. They’ll feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They may also eat bird eggs, and young snakes often feed on insects.
Like other rattlesnakes, this species gives birth to live young. Healthy, sexually mature females can give birth to up to 25 babies!
#4. Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
- Crotalus atrox
- Adults typically grow to about 4 feet in length.
- Coloration ranges from brown, gray, brick red, pinkish, and chalky white. Look for the darker diamond-shaped blotches down its back, outlined by white scales.
- Broad, spade-shaped head with a black mask over the eyes.
- A rattle on the tail alternates between black and white-colored bands.
This famous rattlesnake has a wide range of habitats in Arizona!
You might spot them in deserts, grassy plains, forested areas, rocky hillsides, or river bottoms. But your best chance to see a Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake is probably on a rural road in the evening because of the heat the pavement retains.
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake Range Map
These rattlesnakes feed on small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, prairie dogs, rabbits, mice, and rats. They will also consume birds that fly within reach. Like other pit vipers, they bite their prey and track them while the venom takes effect.
When threatened, the Western Diamond-backed will typically stand its ground. They rattle and coil, lifting themselves off the ground to prepare to strike.
If you hear their characteristic rattle, leave the area slowly! Due to their specialized fangs and large venom glands, these Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes can deliver a lot of venom in a single bite! Untreated bites have a mortality rate of 10 – 20%, so make sure to get to the hospital quickly if struck!
#5. Rock Rattlesnake
- Crotalus lepidus
- Adults rarely exceed 32 inches in length.
- Robust rattlesnake with a tail rattle.
- Coloration reflects the local environment and is typically gray to green with dark brown or black banding. There may be dark speckles between the bands.
These small rattlesnakes inhabit arid habitats in Arizona, including grasslands and mountainous areas up to 9,600 feet of elevation. They’re often spotted in rocky outcrops and rocky man-made roads. They will shelter in animal burrows, under rocks, and in or under rotting stumps and logs.
Rock Rattlesnakes are a diurnal species, which means you’re most likely to see them out during daylight hours. However, they’re somewhat secretive and hard to spot due to their excellent camouflage.
Rock Rattlesnakes primarily feed on lizards but will also consume centipedes, small mammals, birds, and other snakes when available. Like other rattlesnakes, they use their venom to subdue their prey before consuming it. In addition, their venom can cause swelling, bleeding, extreme pain, and local necrosis in humans.
Unfortunately, these rattlesnakes are often seen in the exotic animal trade for their beauty and relatively docile nature. As a result, Rock Rattlesnakes are declining and are considered threatened in parts of their range.
#6. Black-tailed Rattlesnake
- Crotalus molossus
- Adults range from 32 to 40 inches in length.
- Coloration is mixtures of yellow, olive green, brown, or black with darker blotches, diamonds, or bands with light edges.
- Distinctive uniform black or dark gray tail with a rattle.
Black-tailed Rattlesnakes inhabit deserts, grasslands, and rocky mountainous areas in Arizona. They prefer warm and rocky areas like the sides of canyons and caves where they can easily find shelter. They hibernate in animal burrows or rock crevices during the winter.
These rattlesnakes are more likely to be seen during the day in the spring and fall. However, as the weather gets hotter in summer, they become more nocturnal to avoid the heat.
They are generally considered docile rattlesnakes, and bites to humans are very rare. In addition, they’re believed to be less toxic than other species like the Western Diamondback. However, a bite should still be treated at a hospital!
#7. Mojave Rattlesnake
- Crotalus scutulatus
- Adults range from 2 to 4 feet in length.
- Coloration is green, gray, brown, tan, or yellow with darker diamond or diamond-like markings down the back.
- Heavy-bodied, triangular head, and a white-banded rattle at the end of the tail.
Mojave Rattlesnakes are generally found in arid habitats. They prefer desert flatland with sparse vegetation, high desert, mountain slopes, grassy plains, Joshua tree woodlands, and scrub brush areas.
Mojave Rattlesnake Range Map
This species is one of the most dangerous rattlesnakes in Arizona!
Their venom contains neurotoxins that attack the nervous system and hemotoxins that attack the blood. Mojave Rattlesnakes are ambush predators and use their camouflage to wait for unsuspecting lizards, rodents, toads, and snakes.
When disturbed, they give the characteristic tail rattle as a warning. Their potent venom means that you should give them distance and respect. If someone is bitten, chances of survival are good as long as medical attention is sought immediately.
#8. Arizona Black Rattlesnake
- Crotalus cerberus
- Adults range from 31 to 43 inches in length.
- Coloration is typically dark brown, dark gray, dark olive, or reddish-brown.
- Thick body, triangular head, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and a tail rattle.
This rattlesnake is ONLY found in Arizona and can be difficult to identify.
They are often confused with the Western Diamond-backed or the Mojave Rattlesnake, which have overlapping ranges. The Arizona Black Rattlesnake changes color as it ages, with juvenile snakes being much lighter in color. Adult snakes also can lighten or darken their color pattern in less than one hour to match their surroundings.
Arizona Black Rattlesnake
These rattlesnakes ambush a wide variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, and lizards. They’re often spotted under Velvet Mesquite, and some scientists believe that the mesquite seed pods may attract small mammals that these snakes prefer to hunt.
Although they are considered relatively docile, they’re very dangerous. The Arizona Black Rattlesnake’s venom is twice as toxic as Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes. Their bites are life-threatening, and medical attention should be sought immediately.
#9. Speckled Rattlesnake
- Crotalus mitchellii
- Adults typically don’t exceed 39 inches in length.
- Coloration is a faded tan or light brown.
- The end of the tail has white coloration with narrow black rings that end in a rattle.
Look for this rattlesnake in Arizona inhabiting rocky, arid country, including canyons, rocky hillsides, and rock ledges. Their color usually matches the color of the rocks and soil in their habitat.
Speckled Rattlesnakes spend most of the daytime in the shelter of rocks and burrows to avoid the heat of the desert during the day. They’re mostly nocturnal and spend their nights hunting small mammals, though they also consume birds and lizards.
Like other rattlesnakes, this species gives birth to live young. Mating occurs in the spring, and in late summer, the females give birth to litters of up to 12 young.
- Crotalus cerastes
- Adults are small and range from 17 to 30 inches in length.
- Coloration may be cream, buff, gray, yellowish-brown, or pink with dark blotches down the middle of the back and smaller dark blotches down the sides.
- They have distinctive supraocular scales, which look like horns over the eyes. Also commonly called Horned Rattlesnakes.
These rattlesnakes are most active in Arizona at dawn and dusk.
Sidewinders have a habit of submerging themselves in the sand with a practice called “cratering.” They shift their body from side to side to bury themselves. So if you see “J” shaped tracks leading to a depression in the sand, be careful as a dangerous rattlesnake may be buried underneath!
While buried in the sand, the Sidewinder waits to ambush unsuspecting prey. They feed on small mammals, lizards, and birds. Juvenile snakes may use caudal luring with their tail tips, mimicking the movements of moths. The young snakes feed primarily on lizards, while mature snakes feed more on desert rodents.
Sidewinders get their name from their unique form of locomotion, where it appears they are slithering sideways! This adaptation allows them to travel quickly over loose sand (up to 18 mph) and helps them stay cool in the desert heat. This movement leaves a characteristic “J” shape in the sand.
Sidewinder Rattlesnakes have moderately toxic venom and a relatively low venom yield compared to other rattlesnakes. Symptoms of a bite include pain, dizziness, necrosis, weakness, and discoloration. However, fatalities have occurred, and these rattlesnakes are known to be somewhat aggressive. They should be treated with caution, and bites should be handled as a medical emergency.
#11. Tiger Rattlesnake
- Crotalus tigris
- Adults are relatively small and range in length from 18 to 36 inches.
- Coloration is typically gray, blue-gray, buff, pink, or yellowish-brown. Look for darker crossbands down the back that may become blotches on the neck and head, which resemble a tiger’s patterning.
- SMALL spade-shaped head and a large rattle.
The Tiger Rattlesnake is a small to moderately sized rattlesnake found in Arizona! They inhabit a wide range of habitats, including rocky slopes, desert scrubland, chaparral, semi-desert grasslands, canyons, and oak woodlands.
Like many reptiles that make their home in hot climates, Tiger Rattlesnakes are usually nocturnal during the summer to avoid the heat of the day. During cooler weather in spring and fall, they’re more likely to be active during the day.
This incredible species has the most toxic venom of any rattlesnake in Arizona!
Its venom is 40 times more toxic than the Western Diamondback, which is MUCH larger than the Tiger Rattlesnake. The venom contains a potent mycotoxin that causes muscle necrosis and a neurotoxin similar to the Mojave Rattlesnake.
#12. Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake
- Crotalus willardi
- Adults are only 12 to 24 inches in length.
- Coloration is typically reddish-brown to yellowish gray and matches the color of leaf litter in its habitat. White or pale horizontal striping on its body.
- Look for two white streaks beneath the eyes and a tail rattle.
These reclusive rattlesnakes are typically found in Arizona at mid to high elevations in pine, oak, and juniper woodlands. However, their limited mountainous habitat and small size mean that sightings are rare.
Ridge-nosed Rattlesnakes are threatened across most of their habitat. Fires, mining, habitat loss from cattle farming, and deforestation are all challenges. In addition, these small snakes have to deal with getting killed and collected by humans.
During the breeding season, males compete hard for mating privileges. They raise their upper bodies, intertwine, and try to press the other male to the ground. Males are opportunistic breeders, but females can be very selective. Courting and mating occur in late summer or early fall from July to August. Females typically reproduce every second or third year.
#13. Twin-spotted Rattlesnake
- Crotalus pricei
- Adults range from 20-24 inches in length.
- Coloration is typically gray, pale brown, blueish-gray, or reddish-brown. In addition, rows of dark brown or black spots run down their body.
- Dark stripes run from the eyes down past the corners of the mouth. The tail has dark crossbands and a rattle with an orange basal segment.
These rattlesnakes are found at high elevations in Arizona.
Because of this unique habitat and distinctive two rows of dark spots, they are hard to confuse with any other species.
Twin-spotted Rattlesnakes are primarily active from March through November though they may come out to bask in the sun during the winter. They are typically diurnal and feed mainly on lizards but may also consume small mammals, birds, and occasionally other snakes, including their own species.
Twin-spotted Rattlesnakes don’t deliver a ton of venom when they bite, but it’s highly toxic! A bite from one of these rattlesnakes causes serious and life-threatening symptoms. Medical attention should be sought immediately.
Do you need additional help identifying a rattlesnake?
I recommend purchasing a Peterson Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America. These books have lots of helpful information, including pictures and range maps.
Which of these rattlesnakes have YOU seen before in Arizona?
Leave a comment below!