Painted Desert Glossy Snake

Arizona elegans philipi


Non-Venomous - Considered harmless to humans.

Adults 41–94 cm (16–37 in)[1] average total length (TL). A moderately slender snake with smooth shiny scales usually 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.

The basic coloration and pattern is composed of an average of 64 dark brown body blotches[2] with darker blackish colored borders over a light brown, tan or buff ground color. The total number of blotches can vary from 53–80[2]. 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 areas where the range of the Painted Desert Glossy Snake Arizona elegans philipi overlaps that of the Arizona Glossy Snake Arizona elegans noctivaga 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.

Painted Desert Glossy Snake Arizona elegans philipi is seen to be a transition form between the eastern and western Glossy Snakes. Philipi has a low number of 27 scale rows like the western Glossy Snakes, but has a longer tail in proportion to its body length like those of the eastern Glossy Snakes. It can be distinguished from noctivaga by the comparative length of its tail. The tail length (vent to tip of tail) of philipi is equal to approximately 14% if its TL (snout to tip of tail).

In the eastern part of its range, philipi can be distinguished from the Kansas Glossy Snake Arizona elegans elegans and the Texas Glossy Snake Arizona elegans texana in that philipi has only 27 scale rows, while elegans and texana have 29 or 31.

Similar Species

Quick ID Notes


Historical occurrence in USA: southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado, southward into northeastern Arizona, and eastward into New Mexico. Occurs in most of central New Mexico and into southeastern Arizona in the west and El Paso County, TX in the east. MEX: Extreme northeastern Sonora and northern Chihuahua.


Elevation- 1128–1829 m (3700–6000 ft)[1]. May be found in a variety of habitats including, barren desert, creosote flats, sagebrush flats, chaparral grasslands, and pinion-juniper, oak or pine woodlands. Generally prefers open areas with soft or loamy soil.


Glossy Snakes in general are very secretive nocturnal animals that are 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 occurs as the weather warms in March with peak nocturnal activity occurring in April, May and early June. As the summer temperatures rise in the Sonoran Desert, the activity levels usually slow down until the arrival of the summer monsoon rains that can spur an increase in nocturnal activity on warm humid nights. Glossy Snakes are generally very docile when handled, and seldom attempt to bite when captured.


Oviparous. Adult females may deposit a clutch of 2–24 eggs. Eggs are deposited June or early July and hatch in August and September. Blanchard and Klauber combined had records of four hatchlings measuring 249 mm, 254 mm, 272 mm and 299 mm (9.8–117 in) TL[1].


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.[3]
(Latin) fine or elegant.[3]
honors Philip M. Klauber[3], son of Laurence M. & Grace G. Klauber

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. Beltz, Ellin. Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained,, 2006

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