California Glossy Snake

Arizona elegans occidentalis


Non-Venomous - considered harmless to humans.

Adults 51–117 cm (20–46 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.

The basic coloration and pattern is composed of an average of 63 dark brown body blotches with darker blackish colored borders over a light brown, gray brown, olive brown or tan ground color. The total number of blotches can vary from 51–75. There are dark brown markings present on the lower labial scales and the outer edges of the ventral scutes. The venter itself is usually a uniform cream or white in color. There is a dark mask-like 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.[2]

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

Basically, occidentalis differs from candida and eburnata in that occidentalis is generally darker in color with lower spots along the sides, and has larger blotches than both candida and eburnata. Occidentalis also differs from eburnata in that it generally has two preocular scales compared to one in eburnata.

Similar Species

Identification Notes

Other Common Names

Coastal Glossy Snake, Faded Snake (Van Denburgh, 1897), Western Faded Snake (Klauber, 1928)


Found at elevations from sea level to 1829 m (6000 ft)[3]. May be found in a variety of habitats including, barren desert, creosote flats, sagebrush flats, coastal sage, chaparral, grasslands, and pinion-juniper, oak or pine woodlands. Generally prefers open areas with soft or loamy soil.


Little is known about the habits of this subspecies. The is a very secretive nocturnal animal that is almost never seen active in the daytime. They are excellent burrowers and spend the daylight hours in burrows, under rocks, under artificial cover or buried in soft soil.

Emergence from winter hibernation has been recorded to be as early as late February[1] with peak nocturnal activity occurring in May and June. Later in the season during the months of September and October, hatchlings are more frequently found than adults. s 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.[3]


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


Historical occurrence in California is from the eastern part of the San Francisco Bay Area, south through the Central Valley to the Tehachapi Mountains, it is absent along the central coast. Coastal from Los Angeles County to northwestern Baja California, Mexico. There are early reports of this snake from many areas of coastal Southern California including the Santa Monica Mountains[5] but it is currently rarely encountered in much of its historical coastal range.

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.[6]
(Latin) fine or elegant.[6]
(Latin) western — ref. western distribution in the US[6]

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. Bledsoe, S.W. personal observation
  3. 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
  4. Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003
  5. Nafis, Gary, California,
  6. Beltz, Ellin. Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained,, 2006

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