The American dream of owning a suburban home has led millions to settle on the outskirts of Tucson and Phoenix; today, more than 80 percent of Arizona's swiftly growing population lives in the Sonoran Desert. This is bad news for the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, a highly adapted animal that swims through sandy desert soils and preys on everything from beetle larvae to scorpions. Its specialized nature and narrow habitat requirements make it vulnerable to habitat destruction from agriculture and urban sprawl.



At 17 inches or less, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake may be small, but it makes the most out of its size. Living in the sandy soils found on valley floors in the upper Sonoran Desert, the snake has adapted to swim through sandy desert soils using its spade-shaped mouth. It deftly captures and restrains scorpions, which it includes among its primary prey.

Dependent on specific ecological requirements in an area that's been heavily altered by agriculture and urban sprawl, the species has lost almost three-quarters of its habitat in its core range. And once desert has been bulldozed for development or agriculture, the snake does not return.


To protect the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, the Center and the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection first petitioned to protect it under the Endangered Species Act in 2004. In 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally found the snake warrants protection — but merely added the species to the “candidate list” to await actual protection indefinitely. While the snake is considered a priority vulnerable species in the draft Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan — and the plan could eventually provide some protection for the snake — most of its remaining occupied habitat is outside Pima County's jurisdiction, so the species needs immediate habitat protection on the federal level.

In 2011 the Center reached a landmark agreement compelling the Service to move forward on protection decisions for 757 species, including the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. The agreement established a 2014 deadline for action.

But forward movement on protection still hadn't happened six years after the deadline. So the Center filed our second Endangered Species Act petition with the Service in 2020 — and filed a notice of intent to sue the Service in 2022 after it denied protection. We won't stop fighting for this incredible animal till it gets the safeguards it needs for survival.

Photo by Erik Enderson