There are A LOT of snakes in Arizona!
And what’s interesting is that they are all incredibly unique and have adapted to fill many habitats and niches.
You’ll see that the snakes that live in Arizona are very different from each other.
For example, some species are venomous, while others use constriction to immobilize their prey. Or the fact that certain snakes are rarely seen because they spend most of their time underground, but others are comfortable living EXTREMELY close to humans.
Today, you’re going to learn about the 21 types of snakes in Arizona!
#1. 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. Elliptical pupils and pits between eyes and nostrils.
- A rattle on the tail alternates between black and white-colored bands.
This famous VENOMOUS snake has a wide range of habitats in Arizona!
You might spot them in deserts, grassy plains, rocky hillsides, and river bottoms. But your best chance to see one might be on a rural road in the evening because of the heat the pavement retains.
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 snakes typically stand their ground. They rattle and coil, lifting themselves off the ground to prepare to strike.
If you hear their characteristic rattle, make sure to leave the area slowly! Due to their specialized fangs and large venom glands, these snakes 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. Hopi Rattlesnake
- Crotalus viridis nuntius
- Adults typically range between 3.3 and 5 feet in length.
- Coloration is pink, red, or reddish-brown. Darker blotches along the back and sides.
- Broad triangular head, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and a tail rattle.
The Hopi Rattlesnake is actually a subspecies of the Prairie Rattlesnake and is also called the Arizona Prairie Rattlesnake. They get their name from the Native American Hopi tribe, which also inhabits the region.
These venomous snakes can be found in eastern Arizona in desert plataeus. 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 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, trying to use 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. They have faced pressure from habitat fragmentation and hunting.
#3. 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.
- Being rattlesnakes, look for the rattle at the end of their tail.
The Western Massasauga is a rattlesnake and one of the smallest venomous snakes 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
These snakes are secretive and not often seen in southeast Arizona.
When detected, they often freeze rather than 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 compared to larger venomous snakes. 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!
#4. 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.
This snake can be difficult to identify in Arizona!
Even trained herpetologists have issues! Its coloration varies widely, and there are believed to be 6 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 garter snakes are great swimmers!
This species is the only garter snake in Arizona 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 do 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.
#5. Black-necked Garter Snake
- Western Black-necked Garter Snakes are dark olive with an orange-yellow stripe down the back and a yellow to white stripe down each side. It can be up to 42 inches long.
- Eastern Black-necked Garter Snakes are smaller and only grow up to 20 inches in length. They have a checkered pattern of black and yellow on their body, between their three stripes.
- Both subspecies have a gray head, contrasting strongly with the body. In addition, there is a dark blotch on each side of the neck.
This species is found in many habitats, including desert scrub, plains, arid grasslands, and pine-oak woodlands. They’re almost always associated with water sources such as streams, ciénegas, and cattle tanks.
There are two subspecies of this snake: the Western AND Eastern. They look different (see photo above), but they also behave uniquely. The Western subspecies (Thamnophis cyrtopsis cyrtopsis) are water snakes and most often found in the water. The Eastern (Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus) subspecies prefers to live on DRY LAND very close to water.
The Black-necked Garter Snake’s preferred prey is frogs, toads, and tadpoles, including poisonous species like the Sonoran Desert Toad. However, they have been known to feed on a wide range of other prey, including earthworms, skinks, salamanders, crustaceans, and birds.
#6. 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.
These snakes are widespread across many types of habitats in Arizona.
Look for them in woodlands, grasslands, deserts, marshes, and even suburban areas! 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 when compared to the size of their body! It’s thought they evolved this trait since their main diet consists of other reptiles, which don’t require as much oxygen as mammals.
#7. Arizona Coral Snake
- Micruroides euryxanthus
- Adults are typically between 11 and 24 inches long.
- Smooth scales with bands of red and black, which are divided by narrower bands of light yellow or white.
- The head is black, and the red bands are typically absent from the tail.
Arizona Coral Snakes, which are also called Sonoran Coral Snakes, can be found in desert scrublands, semi-desert grasslands, rocky canyons, and oak woodlands. Due to their secretive nature and the fact they are nocturnal, these venomous snakes are not often seen.
These snakes rarely harm people in Arizona, despite being highly venomous.
They are generally considered non-aggressive and have small, fixed fangs that make it difficult for them to deliver venom to larger animals. However, they should still be treated with care if found!
Coral snakes use their toxic venom to immobilize and kill prey. Interestingly, this species feeds primarily on other snakes, with Thread snakes being their most favorite victims. However, they also consume various types of lizards.
#8. Rock Rattlesnake
- Crotalus lepidus
- Adults rarely exceed 32 inches in length.
- Robust snake with a tail rattle, elliptical pupils, and a heat-sensing pit between the eyes and nostrils.
- 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 venomous snakes inhabit arid habitats in southeastern 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. The venom can cause swelling, bleeding, extreme pain, and local necrosis in humans.
Unfortunately, these venomous snakes are often seen in the exotic animal trade for their beauty and relatively docile nature. Rock Rattlesnakes are known to be declining and are considered threatened in some parts of their range. Additionally, they are listed as a species of least concern on the ICUN Red List.
#9. 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.
- Elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between eye and nostril, and distinctive uniform black or dark gray tail with a rattle.
Black-tailed Rattlesnakes inhabit deserts, grasslands, and rocky mountainous areas. 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.
In the spring and fall in Arizona, these venomous snakes are more likely to be seen during the day. As the weather gets hotter in summer, they become more nocturnal to avoid the heat.
They are generally considered docile venomous snakes, and bites to humans are very rare. They’re believed to be less toxic than other species like the Western Diamondback. However, a bite should still be treated at a hospital!
#10. 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, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the nostrils and eyes, and a black and white banded rattle at the end of the tail.
Sometimes called the Mojave Green, these venomous snakes 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
The Mojave Rattlesnake is one of the most venomous snakes in Arizona!
Their venom contains both neurotoxins that attack the nervous system and hemotoxins that attack the blood. These snakes are ambush predators and use their camouflage to wait unseen for unsuspecting lizards, rodents, toads, and snakes. Their potent venom means that you should give them distance and respect. If someone is bitten, chances of survival are good so long as medical attention is sought immediately.
Interestingly they are sometimes confronted by California Ground Squirrels. These ground squirrels are resistant to snake venom and adept at dodging strikes. They will defend their pups from the Mojave Rattlesnake with vigor!
#11. 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 venomous snake is ONLY found in Arizona and is 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 tending to be 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 snakes 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 these snakes are considered relatively docile, they’re very dangerous. The Arizona Black Rattlesnake’s venom is over twice as toxic as Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes. Their bites are life-threatening, and medical attention should be sought immediately.
#12. 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.
- Large triangular head and heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils.
Look for this venomous snake in western 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’ll 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 venomous snakes are most active in southwestern 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. If you see “J” shaped tracks leading to a depression in the sand, be careful as there may be a dangerous snake 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 also 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 venomous snakes are known to be somewhat aggressive. They should be treated with caution, and bites should be handled as a medical emergency.
#14. 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, heat-sensing pit between the eyes and nostrils, elliptical pupils, and a large rattle.
The Tiger Rattlesnake is a small to moderately sized venomous snake found in southern Arizona! They inhabit a wide range of habitats, including rocky slopes, desert scrubland, chaparral, semi-desert grasslands, canyons, and oak woodlands.
This incredible species possesses the most toxic venom of any rattlesnake! Its venom is 40 times more toxic than that of the Eastern Diamondback, which is the largest venomous snake in Arizona. The Tiger Rattlesnake’s venom contains a potent mycotoxin that causes muscle necrosis and a neurotoxin similar to that of the Mojave Rattlesnake.
Lastly, their small head size may be an important adaptation that goes along with their potent venom. If their prey crawls into a small space after being bitten, these snakes are able to pull them out easily.
#15. 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, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, elliptical pupils, and tail rattle.
These reclusive venomous snakes are typically found in the southernmost part of Arizona at mid to high elevations in pine, oak, and juniper woodlands. 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.
#16. Twin-spotted Rattlesnake
- Crotalus pricei
- Adults range from 20-24 inches in length.
- Coloration is typically gray, pale brown, blueish-gray, or reddish-brown. 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 venomous snakes are found at high elevations in southern Arizona.
Because of this unique habitat and distinctive two rows of dark spots, they are hard to confuse with any other species. 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 venomous snakes causes serious and life-threatening symptoms. Medical attention should be sought immediately.
#17. Western Rattlesnake
- Crotalus oreganus
- Adult size varies widely over their range, with the largest individuals being 6 feet in length.
- Triangular head, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, dark stripe with white borders that runs from the eye towards the jaw.
- Two different subspecies live in Arizona – Great Basin and Grand Canyon.
You can find two different subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake in Arizona, and they look different. The Great Basin variety is a typically pale yellow, light gray, or tan, with brown and blackish blotches. Grand Canyon Rattlesnakes are red or salmon-colored with slightly darker body blotches.
This venomous species occupies a wide range of habitats. They can be found in mountainous areas, woodlands, and grasslands. They also 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 a variety of prey. They’ll feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They may also eat bird eggs, and young snakes often feed on insects.
#18. Checkered Garter Snake
- Thamnophis marcianus
- Adults are typically 18 to 24 inches in length.
- Coloration is typically greenish. They have three yellow or orange stripes; one down the center of the back and one down each side.
- Look for a distinctive black checkerboard pattern on its back.
- Cream or yellow crescent marks on each side of the head are followed by a dark blotch on the neck.
The Checkered Gartersnake is most commonly found in southeastern Arizona in desert and grassland habitats. Look for them near water sources, such as rivers, lakes, wetlands, cattle tanks, canals, and ditches. Living in arid conditions, these garter snakes are incredibly good at finding water sources.
Checkered Gartersnakes are opportunistic predators who feed on a wide variety of prey. They typically consume frogs, salamanders, toads, earthworms, small fish, lizards, snakes, slugs, and crayfish. However, they’ve also been reported to eat mice, raw horse meat, and other snakes of their own species in captivity!
Their populations are not currently threatened. Luckily, they tolerate human development relatively well, although draining wetlands and other water sources harm their population. These garter snakes are also able to co-exist with introduced species like the American Bullfrog.
#19. Mexican Garter Snake
- Thamnophis eques
- Adults may grow up to 44 inches in length. Coloration is black, brown, olive, tan, or rust.
- Three creamy yellow stripes, one down the back and one down each side, may have dark blotches on each side of the neck.
- Noticeably large head compared to other garter snakes, black outlined scales on the lower face.
This secretive garter snake is hard to find in Arizona! Their preferred habitats are near water sources with DENSE vegetation.
The best time to find Mexican Garter Snakes is in the morning, when they’re often active or basking in the sun, or in the early evening. They are highly aquatic and primarily feed on frogs and fish. Try walking close to a water’s edge, where you may see one fleeing into the water!
Sadly, this snake has been listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 2014. Their decline was believed to have been caused by habitat destruction and the introduction of non-native species.
#20. Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis pyromelana
- Adults reach up to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is red, black, and yellow, white, or cream bands with the black bands bordering the red.
- The head is white with a black band over the eyes.
These snakes are primarily found in mountainous areas in Arizona, with elevations between 3000 and 9000 feet above sea level. They occupy chaparral, conifer forests, juniper woodlands, and rocky areas and are frequently spotted along streams or near springs.
Sonoran Mountain Kingsnakes are very secretive and often spend their days under rocks, logs, or in dense clumps of vegetation. They hunt at night, and like other kingsnakes, this species is a powerful constrictor. Lizards, birds, rodents, and other small snakes make up the majority of their diet.
Despite their mimicry of coral snakes, Sonoran Mountain Kingsnakes are NOT venomous!
So how do you tell the difference between a dangerous coral snake and a harmless Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake in Arizona?
Just remember this rhyme and you’ll never have to worry! “If red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow; if red touches black, you’re all right, Jack.”
#21. Green Rat Snake
- Senticolis triaspis
- Adults may grow up to 72 inches in length.
- Coloration is green to olive green.
- Slender body, elongated head, and light yellow underside.
Green Ratsnakes are primarily terrestrial even though they are excellent at climbing trees. Look for them in oak woodlands, savannas, mesquite semi-desert grasslands, Sonoran desert scrubs, and rocky canyons in southern Arizona. They prefer areas with rocky, east-facing slopes and spend much of their time under the talus.
These snakes are most active in the morning and late afternoon but are occasionally spotted on roadways in the evening. Their diet includes small mammals, birds, bird eggs, lizards, and bats.
When disturbed, these snakes will typically freeze in an attempt to avoid detection. They’re considered to be non-aggressive.
Do you need additional help identifying snakes in Arizona?
Try this field guide!
Which of these SNAKES have you seen before in Arizona?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides!