Arizona Snakes: The Grand Canyon

picture of a Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), part of the Arizona snakes series

With 55 species of Arizona snakes, the state ranks second only to Texas in terms of snake diversity. Most, but not all of the diversity is a result of the Arizona rattlesnakes.

Caution is advised. Nothing says Arizona snakes like the twelve Rattlesnake species found in the state. That’s out of a total of 16 identified rattlesnake species in the entire United States. Because of their venomous bites, their presence in any specific area usually gets well documented.

Tourists always inquire into the Grand Canyon rattlesnakes. It’s home to six species and two subspecies. Most people who visit the Grand Canyon and walk the rim trails need not worry. All snakes, including rattlesnakes, tend to stay away from most of the high traffic trails. Tourists engaging in hiking, camping and river rafting down in the canyon ought to be ready to experience Grand Canyon snake encounters.

The remainder of the approximately two dozen Grand Canyon snakes are nonvenomous and fit into the colubrids category.

This brief review addresses all of the Grand Canyon snakes, starting with the rattlesnakes.

The Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), pictured, has a fairly broad range in the Southwest, through Texas and up to Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas. It’s found in the Grand Canyon, along with the following five species. Of not is the subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake, the grand Canyon rattlesnake, also called the pink rattlesnake. It actually has a pink hue to the body, making it easy to identify.

  • Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii)
  • Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)
  • Grand Canyon rattlesnake, Pink rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus abyssus)
  • Great Basin Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus lutosus
  • Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii)
  • Prairie Rattlesnake, Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
  • Hopi Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis nuntius

Grand Canyon Colubrid Snakes

picture of a Sonoran Mountain Kngsnake (Lampropeltis pyromelana)
The fourteen Colubrid species of Grand Canyon snakes don’t receive nearly as much attention as the rattlesnakes. Many of the have names familiar to most Americans because they have a range that extends from coast to coast.

Kingsnakes are one example. Tourists might cross paths with one of two species, the Common Kingsnake or the black and white subspecies that goes by the name California Kingsnake. The picture shows a regional specialty, the Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis pyromelana). It’s a colorful red, black and white banded snake. The white nose differentiates it from the Common Milksnake.

picture of a Red Racer Whipsnake (Masticophis flagellum), credit: Ashley Tubbs, Flickr, part of the coachwhip snakes collection
Growing up to eight feet long, the Masticophis genus of snakes called Coachwhip snakes, or whip snakes, get their name from their long, whip like appearance. Snake taxonomy changes. Of late there is debate about whether to place these snakes in the genus Masticophis or genus Coluber, the racers. Any internet search using either genera will bring up these snakes.

Racers and Whipsnakes share both physical and behavioral characteristics. Most if not all species tend to be comparatively thin and very fast movers.

Red Racers or Whipsnakes (Masticophis flagellum) can probably be found in and around the Grand Canyon.

picture of a Striped Whipsnake (Masticophis taeniatus), part of the snake identification guide
Striped Whipsnakes (Masticophis taeniatus) range through most of the Southwest, and as far north as the Oregon border. Here’s a close up of the face of a Striped Whipsnake.

picture of a Gopher Snake or Bullsnake (Pituophis melanoleucus)
Gopher Snakes or Bullsnakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) are another of the very common snakes of the West with a small population that spills over into the Midwest.

They can grow large and bulky. Because they somewhat resemble rattlesnakes and they tend to do a lot of basking in the sun, they tend to scare people. Approach the snake with caution and look for a rattle. If no rattle, think Bullsnake.

Due to location there are three subspecies of Gopher Snakes found in the Grand Canyon.

  • Bullsnake, Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)
  • Sonoran Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer affinis)
  • Great Basin Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola)

picture of a wandering garter snake, Thamnophis elegans
Five Gartersnake species have been documented in Arizona. Only the Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans) inhabits the Grand Canyon. The picture shows a typical wandering garter snake skin pattern, characterized by the light color stripes. A close up picture would show the snake’s eight upper labial scales, typical of all Thamnophis elegans subspecies.

picture of a Western Patch-nosed snake
Western Patch-nosed Snakes (Salvadora hexalepis) are fairly common in Arizona. The stripes running down the body might give is a similar look with the gartersnake. The scale across the nose resembles a patch on the nose, therefore the common name.

picture of a ring-necked snake face and neck
The Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus) is a common Colubrid species, found in most areas of the United States, including the Grand Canyon. It’s also the only member of the genus.

The dual color body, dark on the top and a bright shade of orange or yellow on the bottom serve as the best field identification clues. The picture highlights the snake’s characteristic ring neck mark. While ring-neck snake bites are rare, touching them is not recommended. They can secrete a foul smelling chemical.

Here’s a quick list of another half dozen Grand Canyon snakes.

  • Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans)
  • Nightsnake (Hypsiglena torquata)
  • Long-nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)
  • Ground Snake, Groundsnake (Sonora semiannulata)
  • Southwestern Black-headed Snake, Smith’s Black-headed Snake (Tantilla hobartsmithi)
  • Western Lyre Snake, Sonoran Lyre Snake (Trimorphodon biscutatus)

Grand Canyon Threadsnakes (Leptotyphlopidae)

Western Slender Blind Snake, Western Threadsnake (Leptotyphlops humilis)

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