Are you wondering what reptiles you can find in Arizona?
This is a great question! Although these reptiles are widespread, they can be difficult to find. Most reptiles, including snakes, turtles, and lizards, are secretive and shy. But observing and finding reptiles is a really fun experience!
Below you will find a list of the most common and interesting reptiles that live in Arizona. In addition, you will find detailed pictures, along with range maps for each species to help with your identification!
12 COMMON Reptiles in Arizona:
#1. Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
- Crotalus atrox
- Adults typically grow to about 4 feet in length.
- Coloring 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. Elliptical pupils and pits between eyes and nostrils.
- A rattle on the tail alternates between black and white-colored bands.
This famous VENOMOUS snake is a well-known reptile in Arizona!
You might spot them in deserts, grassy plains, forested areas, coastal prairies, rocky hillsides, and river bottoms. But your best chance to see one might be on a rural road in the evening because of the pavement’s heat.
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake Range Map
The Western Diamond-backed feeds on small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, prairie dogs, rabbits, mice, and rats. They also consume birds that fly within reach. Like other pit vipers, they ambush their prey and track them while the venom takes effect.
When threatened, these reptiles typically stand their 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 reptiles can deliver a lot of venom in a single bite! Untreated bites have a 10 – 20% mortality rate, so make sure to get to the hospital quickly if struck!
#2. 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.
- They have a broad triangular head, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and a tail rattle.
Prairie Rattlesnakes have a more varied habitat than many reptiles in Arizona. These venomous snakes can be found in open prairies, grasslands, semi-desert shrublands, and forested environments. They can even be found at elevations up to 9500 feet!
The Prairie Rattlesnake hibernates during the winter, often in communal dens. These dens are typically rock crevices, caves, or old mammal burrows. Individual snakes return to the same den each winter and migrate up to seven miles to their hunting grounds in the spring.
When they feel threatened Prairie Rattlesnakes may also quietly crawl away to cover. If approached, they 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.
#3. Terrestrial Garter Snake
- Thamnophis elegans
- Adults range from 18 to 41 inches in length.
- Most adults have three yellow, light orange, or white stripes; one down their back and two down their sides.
- Coloration is widely variable. Individuals may be brownish or greenish. Some have red and black spots between the stripes, and occasionally all black individuals are found.
Although they’re common in Arizona, these reptiles can be difficult to identify!
Even trained herpetologists have issues! Its coloration varies widely, and there are believed to be six subspecies, although scientists still debate this.
Terrestrial Garter Snakes occupy various habitats, including both grasslands and forests. They can even be found in mountainous areas up to 13,000 feet above sea level. As the name suggests, they’re primarily found on land. But interestingly, these reptiles are great swimmers!
This species is the only garter snake with a tendency to constrict prey! Most garter snakes grab their prey quickly and just swallow, rubbing their prey against the ground if necessary.
Terrestrial Garter Snakes aren’t aggressive or dangerous, but they possess mildly venomous saliva! It can cause a muscle infection or even kill some muscle tissue. Most bites on humans just cause pain and some swelling.
#4. California Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis californiae
- Adults range from 36 to 48 inches in length.
- Most individuals are black or brown, with whitish bands running down their bodies.
California Kingsnakes are among the toughest reptiles in Arizona!
Most of the year, these California Kingsnakes are found out during the day, except during cold weather when they retreat underground to enter a hibernation-like state called brumation.
California Kingsnake Range Map
Do you know how kingsnakes got the name “king?”
It refers to their ability to hunt down and eat other snakes! Incredibly, California Kingsnakes will even go after venomous rattlesnakes.
This species has the incredible adaptation to constrict its prey. In fact, California Kingsnakes have the strongest squeeze compared to their body’s size! It’s thought they evolved this trait since their main diet consists of other reptiles, which don’t require as much oxygen as mammals.
#5. Western Whiptail
- Aspidoscelis tigris
- 2.5 to 5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Body coloring is gray-brown to yellowish, with dark bars or spots that form a web-like pattern.
- Skin folds are present on the neck, making the throat appear wrinkled.
- Rust-colored patches are often present on the sides of the belly.
You can find this reptile in Arizona in sandy, rocky, or firmly packed soil.
Their habitat preferences range from open forest to arid scrubland. Western Whiptails eat other reptiles, scorpions, spiders, termites, and beetles. As you can see, this lizard is anything but picky!
Their physical characteristics and habitats are so varied that there are sixteen distinct subspecies! As you can see in the map above, five subspecies are present throughout the Southwest.
#6. Common Sagebrush Lizard
- Sceloporus graciosus
- 1.9 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is gray or brown with a light stripe on each side, a black bar at the shoulder, and blue patches on the belly.
- They have unusually long, almost spidery back claws.
As the name suggests, look for this common reptile in sagebrush in Arizona.
Common Sagebrush Lizard Range Map:
Common Sagebrush Lizards eat a wide variety of insects and even scorpions! They hibernate during winter when temperatures drop, and food becomes scarce.
The easiest way to tell if you’ve found a Common Sagebrush Lizard is to look at its belly. The brilliant blue spots on its throat and abdomen are a dead giveaway!
#7. Great Plains Skink
- Plestiodon obsoletus
- Adults are up to 13 inches long.
- Coloring ranges from light gray or olive to tan with darker brown markings.
- The tail and feet are usually pale yellow or orange, and the belly is often marked with salmon.
- Young individuals are black with an iridescent blue tail and gold spots on the head.
Great Plains Skinks are frequently found in prairie grassland with open, low-growing plants. However, they occasionally also live in woodland or semi-arid desert areas.
Great Plains Skinks are very aggressive if threatened!
They hide under rocks, shrubs, or logs but are likely to bite if they are disturbed or handled. So, observe with caution! They’re also aggressive hunters and eat insects, snails, spiders, and even other reptiles.
#8. Greater Short-Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma hernandesi
- 1.75 to 4.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is beige, tan, or reddish, speckled with white. There are large brown blotches on the neck and sides.
- Horns are short and stubby, located on the back of the head and each side.
Greater Short-horned Lizards prefer to live in shortgrass prairies and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Their habitat is semi-arid, with long dry spells and infrequent rain.
Greater Short-horned Lizard Range Map:
Ants are a primary food source for Greater Short-horned Lizards, but they have a varied diet.
They are one of the few reptiles in Arizona that gives birth to live young!
And you may not believe this, but they can produce up to 48 babies in one birth!
#9. Common Side-Blotched Lizard
- Uta stansburiana
- 1.5 to 2.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is brownish, occasionally blue-gray, with a blue to black blotch on either side of the chest.
- This species often has white speckles dotting its back in the light color phase.
Common Side-blotched Lizards are comfortable in many different habitats. They’re abundant in their range and easy to find by concentrating on the ground where they spend most of their time.
There are three separate morphs of the male Side-Blotched Lizard, and interestingly, this plays a huge role in the mating habits of this species.
They employ a Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanism, with one morph being dominant over the second (like paper over rock) but not over the third (like scissors cutting paper). This unique mechanism causes a “rotation” of the most common morph each breeding season! The three morphs are pictured below:
#10. Eastern Collared Lizard
- Crotaphytus collaris
- 3-4.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is variable: greenish-blue, olive, brown, or yellow are common. Females are generally darker and less colorful.
You can find eastern Collared Lizards in desert shrubland, open forest, and grassland. They prefer areas with rocks, open space, and lots of sunlight. Like other reptiles in Arizona, this species is cold-blooded and uses the sun to warm itself.
The Eastern Collared Lizard is wildly territorial!
In addition, they’re also powerful predators! Their sharp teeth and strong jaws make catching a meal easy. As a result, they have been known to eat large insects, reptiles, and even other Collared Lizards!
#11. Western Box Turtle
- Terrapene ornata
- 4 to 5.75 inches long.
- The carapace is high and rounded, resembling a helmet.
- Coloring is often dark brown or black background with radiating lines or dots.
Western Box Turtles live in open prairies and woodland areas. They prefer loose soil that is easy to burrow into and seek shelter under boards, porches, or other man-made objects.
Western Box Turtle Rangemap:
Western Box Turtles will eat almost anything they can fit in their mouths!
They have even been known to search through cow droppings for beetles!
Female Western Box Turtles have a unique ability when it comes to reproduction. They can mate once with a male turtle and keep the fertilized eggs safe in their bodies for over two years! Then, when the climate and season are most suitable, they lay the eggs.
#12. Desert Tortoise
- Gopherus agassizii
- 8 to 15 inches long.
- The carapace is high and domed with no definite pattern but usually ridges in concentric circles on the plates.
- Coloring is brown, gray, or horn. The belly is yellowish or light brown.
Desert Tortoises live in arid climates and can withstand very little rain and intense heat. They prefer firm ground for building burrows and also use rocks as shelter. Their burrows have a characteristic half-moon-shaped opening.
Desert Tortoise Rangemap:
This species is one of the toughest reptiles in Arizona!
This tortoise spends 95% of its life underground, conserving water and energy and only coming to the surface to eat and breed. Yet, it can survive ground temperatures of up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit! The Desert Tortoise is one of few species that can withstand the extreme heat and lack of rain in Death Valley.
The Desert Tortoise is an “indicator species,” one that shows the health of an ecosystem by its population health. Unfortunately, this species is in widespread decline throughout its habitat. Reasons for this decline and the decline of many desert species include urban expansion, mining, natural predation, and off-road vehicle use that destroys their burrows.
What types of reptiles in Arizona have you seen?
Let us know in the comments!
And if you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of specific reptiles like snakes, lizards, or turtles, check out our ID guides to these fascinating creatures!