TUCSON SHOVEL-NOSED SNAKE} Chionactis occipitalis klauberi
FAMILY: Colubridae

DESCRIPTION: Shovel-nosed snakes are small (less than 17 inches long) and have a flattened head, a shovel-shaped snout, an inset lower jaw, and coloring that mimics coral snakes. The Tucson shovel-nosed snake is characterized most clearly by black or brown secondary bands on its tail.

HABITAT: Tucson shovel-nosed snakes live in the driest parts of the Sonoran Desert. Their primary habitat is sandy-silty flats on lowland valley floors with sparse gravel. The species will also frequent the sandy areas of washes and rocky hillsides, as well as areas of limited vegetation like mesquite, desert grasses, cacti, and creosote and other shrubs.

RANGE: Native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is believed to have been eliminated from much of its range due to habitat loss from agricultural and urban development. Historically, its range included portions of northern Pima County, northern and southwestern Pinal County, and southeastern Maricopa County. The current extent of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake's habitat is poorly known, but the species is believed to exist only in the tip of southern Pinal County.

MIGRATION: This snake does not migrate.

BREEDING: The snake is most likely similar to other shovel-nosed subspecies that have been found to lay a clutch of two to four eggs in the summer. The breeding period is believed to be from May to June, but not all females breed every year.

LIFE CYCLE: Due to the relatively obscure nature of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, there have been few studies on its reproduction and life cycle.

FEEDING: The recorded diet of the shovel-nosed snake consists of small invertebrates such as beetle larvae, scorpions, spiders, crickets, centipedes, and buried moth larvae. It catches prey by either striking and grasping with its mouth or looping its body over the prey and then seizing it with its mouth.

THREATS: The main threats to Tucson shovel-nosed snake populations relate directly to destruction of habitat from agriculture and urban sprawl.

POPULATION TREND: Much of the range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has not been recently or systematically surveyed, but where surveys have occurred, they indicate a sharp decline.


Photo by Erik Enderson