Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake - Illustration by Bill Singleton

Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake
Chionactis occipitalis klauberi


The Tucson shovel-nosed snake is a subspecies of the western shovel-nosed snake (C. occipitalis). It is a relatively small (10-17 inches long), dark and light banded snake with a shovel-shaped snout which is flatter than most other snakes. The body is whitish or yellow in color with dark brown or black crossbands which are saddle-like or encircle the body. A secondary set of small, brown or red bands are located between the primary bands.1 Like other shovel-nosed snakes, C. o. klauberi is harmless to humans.

Habitat: Tucson shovel-nosed snakes are restricted to the desert, occurring primarily in its driest parts. The primary habitat is sandy-silty flats on valley floors and, where they occur in southern Arizona and southwestern California, sand dunes.2 This species will also frequent washes and rocky hillsides where there are sand gullies or pockets of sand among the rocks.1 There may be limited vegetation, consisting mostly of creosote, desert grasses, cacti, mesquite and other shrubs.

Range: The Tucson shovel-nosed snake is found only in the deserts of south-central Arizona (within Pima and Pinal counties). Other subspecies of western shovel-nosed snakes can be found from southwest Nevada to the upper end of the Gulf of California and from southern Arizona to the base of the mountains in southern California.1

Biology: C. o. klauberi is a burrowing and surface crawling species that can "swim" rapidly through loose sand. Its "smooth scales, inset lower jaw, nasal valves and angular abdomen are adaptations for 'sand swimming' which consists of wriggling through sand rather than tunneling into it."1 It will usually stay underground during the heat of the day and roam the desert surface when temperatures are moderate (dusk, dawn and night). It leaves smooth, sinusoidal wave-like tracks on loose soil between shrubs.2

Reproduction: Tucson shovel-nosed snakes will lay a clutch of two to four eggs during the summer.

Diet: The diet consists of cockroaches, crickets, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, buried moth larvae and other insects.

Status: Currently, there is no federal or state status identified for the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. However, it may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act sometime in the near future due to a decline in its habitat.

Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake in Pima County: C. o. klauberi was formerly found in Avra Valley but is believed to be eliminated from this area due to habitat loss. Most of its range now lies in southern Pinal County. The Tucson shovel-nosed snake exists only in lowland valley floors which are rapidly diminishing due to clearing for agriculture and development. Preservation of this habitat is the biggest factor in halting the decline of this subspecies and insuring its continued absence from the Endangered Species Act.



1. Stebbins, R. C. 1985. A field guide to western reptiles and amphibians. Second edition, revised. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

2. Schwalbe, Cecil. 1999 Personal communication. School of Renewable Natural Resources, University of Arizona. September 10, 1999.

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