Arizona Glossy Snake

Arizona elegans noctivaga


Considered harmless to humans.


Adults 46–107 cm (18–42 in)[1] average total length (TL). A moderately slender snake with smooth shiny scales in 25–29 rows at mid body but most often numbering 27[2]. 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 one or two preocular scales[2].

The basic coloration and pattern is composed of an average of 66 brown to dark brown body blotches with slightly darker colored borders over a light brown to reddish brown ground color. The blotches are the same width or slightly wider than the spacing between them. The total number of blotches can vary from 53–77[2]. The venter is a uniform light tan 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 areas where the range of the Arizona Glossy Snake Arizona elegans noctivaga overlaps that of the Desert Glossy Snake Arizona elegans eburnata, and the Painted Desert Glossy Snake Arizona elegans philipi, distinction between the subspecies can be difficult, especially in areas where the two subspecies may frequently mate with one another and produce intermediate forms.

Basically, noctivaga differs from eburnata in that it is generally darker in color than eburnata and has larger blotches that are as wide or wider than the space that separates them. Noctivaga differs from philipi in its proportionately shorter tail length in comparison to its body length.

Similar Species

Quick ID Notes


Elevation 305–1067 m (1000–3500 ft) (Klauber, 1946)[1]. May be found in a variety of habitats including, barren desert, creosote flats, sagebrush flats, grasslands, and rocky areas.


This snake is primarily nocturnal but may sometimes be found during the day[3]. 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. Desert Glossy Snakes are usually very docile when handled and seldom attempt to bite when captured.


Oviparous. Adult females may deposit a clutch of 2–24 eggs in late June or early July. Eggs hatch in August or September[3]. Hatchlings measure 23–28 cm (9–11 in) TL.


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


Historical occurrence in USA: Arizona west and south of the Central Mountains, southeast into Cochise County, but excluding the Yuma Mesa and Yuma Desert. Mex: northwestern Sonora Mexico.

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.[4]
(Latin) fine or elegant.[4]
nocti (Latin) of the night + vaga (Latin) wanderer - Noctivaga, as the name implies, is nocturnal.[4]

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 taxon: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. Bartlett, R.D. & Tennant, Alan. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000
  3. Brennan, Thomas C., Holycross, Andrew T. A Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles in Arizona, Arizona Game & Fish Department 2006
  4. Beltz, Ellin. Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained,, 2006

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