Desert Glossy Snake

Arizona elegans eburnata


Non-Venomous - considered harmless to humans.

Adults 43–117 cm (17–46 in)[1] average total length (TL). A moderately slender snake with smooth shiny scales in 27 rows at mid body and the anal plate is not divided. The snout is slightly elongated, and the lower jaw is inset. The pupil of the eye is round but becomes slightly vertical when it is contracted. This subspecies has two preocular scales.

This is a very pale, light colored snake and is generally lighter in color than all of the other Glossy Snake forms. The basic coloration and pattern is composed of an average of 63 gray, olive brown or tan body blotches with slightly darker colored borders over a light brown, cream or tan ground color. The blotches are rarely more than seven scale rows wide, and the spacing between the dorsal blotches is usually greater than the width of the blotch itself. The total number of blotches can vary from 53–85[2]. The venter is usually a uniform cream or white in color. There is a mask-like brown line that bridges the top of the head from eye to eye and runs from the eye to the angle of the jaw on each side of the head. In many individuals, the lateral scales may contain a spot of darker pigment that is not present in the dorsal scales. This difference in scale coloration can cause the appearance of the presence of a vaguely defined dorsal stripe beneath the dorsal blotches.[3]

In areas where the range of the Desert Glossy Snake Arizona elegans eburnata overlaps with that of the Mojave Glossy Snake Arizona elegans candida, the California Glossy Snake Arizona elegans occidentalis, and the Arizona Glossy Snake Arizona elegans noctivaga, distinction between the subspecies can be difficult, especially in areas where two subspecies may frequently mate with one another and produce intermediate forms.

Basically, eburnata differs from occidentalis in that it is generally lighter in color than occidentalis and lacks coloring both along the lower lateral scales and lower labial scales. Eburnata also differs from both occidentalis and candida in that eburnata has only one preocular scale compared to two in the other two subspecies.

Eburnata and noctivaga are very similar looking in markings except that noctivaga usually has larger blotches that are wider themselves than the space that separates them.

Similar Species

Quick ID Notes


Historical occurrence from southern Nevada, northwest Arizona and extreme southwest Utah south through the Colorado Desert region of southeastern California and southwestern Arizona into northeastern Baja California and northwestern Sonora Mexico.


Elevation 73–854 m (240–2800 ft) (Klauber)[1]. May be found in a variety of habitats including, barren desert, creosote flats, sagebrush flats, grasslands, and rocky areas.


This snake is common in its desert habitat. They are excellent burrowers and spend the daylight hours in rodent burrows, under rocks or buried in soft soil, but can be observed after sunset in washes, desert flats and foothills. They are frequently encountered in spring through early fall crossing lightly traveled desert roads after dark.

Emergence from winter hibernation has been recorded to be as early as March[1] with peak nocturnal activity occurring in May and June. Observations of captive snakes suggest that this may be one of the most cold tolerant snake species in California, which may also suggest that periods of continuous hibernation may extend only from mid December through January[1]. Desert Glossy Snakes are usually very docile when handled and seldom attempt to bite when captured.


Oviparous. Adult females may deposit a clutch of 5–23 eggs, with clutches of 5–12 eggs being most common[4]. Eggs measuring 1.6–1.8 cm by 5.7–6.3 cm long (0.63-0.70 in by 2.2–2.5 in long) are deposited June–July and hatch in 60–72 days. Hatchlings measure 20–28 cm (8–11 in) average TL[2].


A constrictor. Lizards are preferred prey. Snakes, small rodents and birds are also consumed.

Meaning of Scientific Name

Areo (Latin) to be dry + Zona (Latin) belt of earth, zone. Alternate meaning; Arizonac (American Indian) place of springs, ref. Arizona region.[5]
(Latin) fine or elegant.[5]
(Latin) made of ivory — ref. pale color[5]

Conservation Status

No known listings.

Taxonomic Notes

Glossy Snakes from the western U.S. are considered to be short-tailed forms, meaning that in proportion to their overall body length, they have tails shorter than their eastern counterparts. The short-tailed forms include the California Glossy Snake Arizona elegans occidentalis, Arizona Glossy Snake Arizona elegans noctivaga, Desert Glossy Snake Arizona elegans eburnata, and Mojave Glossy Snake Arizona elegans candida. The eastern long-tailed forms include the Texas Glossy Snake Arizona elegans arenicola, Kansas Glossy Snake Arizona elegans elegans, Chihuahuan Glossy Snake Arizona elegans expolita, and Painted Desert Glossy Snake Arizona elegans philipi.

It has been proposed to split Arizona elegans into two distinct species. The short-tailed western Glossy Snakes would become Arizona occidentalis, and the eastern long-tailed forms would remain Arizona elegans. Currently, NAFHA recognizes all North American Glossy Snake species as Arizona elegans with the exception of the Peninsular Glossy Snake Arizona pacata.


  1. Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press. 1957
  2. Lemm, Jeffrey M. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region, California Natural history Guide No. 89, University of California Press, 2006
  3. Bledsoe, S.W. personal observation
  4. Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003
  5. Beltz, Ellin. Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained,, 2006

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