WESTERN SHOVEL-NOSED SNAKE
A small (up to 369 mm or 15" in total length) snake with more than 20 dark brown to black bands on a cream to light yellow background. Some subspecies have secondary orange saddles between the black bands (see subspecies descriptions below).
The orange saddles are separated from the black by a margin of cream to light yellow background color. The posterior black bands usually completely encircle the body but the anterior bands do not. The snout is cream or light yellow. A black mask crosses the top of the head and covers the eyes. The underside is cream. With its countersunk jaw, valves in the nasal passages, concaved belly, and relatively flat snout, this snake is well equipped for burrowing under fine sand and loose gravel. The pupils are round and the scales are smooth and shiny. The Western Shovel-nosed Snake's light snout distinguishes it from the similar looking Sonoran Coralsnake which has a black snout. The similar Sonoran Shovel-nosed Snake has fewer than 21 black body bands.
This snake is found in the low deserts of western and south-central Arizona at elevations ranging from near sea level to ca. 2,500'. Populations in the eastern portion of this snake's range appear to be in decline. Populations near Tucson and Paradise Valley have been extirpated.
Lower Colorado River Sonoran Desertscrub and Mohave Desertscrub communities are home to this snake. It is usually found in or near sandy washes or dunes in desert flats or on gently sloping bajadas.
This snake is a ground dweller. It is primarily crepuscular but is occasionally active into the night and on mild days. Most surface activity occurs in spring. A good burrower, this snake spends most of its time under sand or sandy soil. It hibernates under the sand or soil during the cold months of fall and winter.
The Western Shovel-nosed Snake feeds on a variety of invertebrates including insects, spiders, centipedes, and scorpions. It may occasionally eat reptile eggs.
Mating takes place in spring and a clutch of up to 9 eggs is laid in the summer.
SUBSPECIES FOUND IN AZ:
COLORADO DESERT SHOVEL-NOSED SNAKE Chionactis occipitalis annulata. This subspecies usually has relatively narrow black bands, more space between bands, and orange saddles that are "clean" (not flecked with black or brown).
TUCSON SHOVEL-NOSED SNAKE Chionactis occipitalis klauberi. The orange secondary saddles are usually heavily flecked with black or purplish-black on the sides but are usually immaculate mid-dorsally.
MOHAVE SHOVEL-NOSED SNAKE Chionactis occipitalis occipitalis. Narrow secondary saddles are usually very faint or lacking. Only the tail bands and the most posterior body bands cross the belly.