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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California





California Shovel-nosed Snakes

 










observation link

 


Not Dangerous
(Non-poisonous) 
Shovel-nosed Snakes do not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Small, harmless, nocturnal snakes of open sandy deserts, rocky washes. Found mostly at night, often on desert roads.

Three subspecies are found in California. Check the range map to determine which one is in your area.

This snake, especially the Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake, might look like the venomous coral snake (it has red bands touching yellow bands), but there are no Coral Snakes found in California.

The long, flat snout will help differentiate this snake from other similar snakes - the Long-nosed snake, the Variable Groundsnake, and even the Variable Sandsnake,
which may occur in California in the same habitat as the Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake.

Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake

Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake

The snout is long and shovel-like Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake
Chionactis occipitalis annulata
Mojave Shovel-nosed Snake
Chionactis occipitalis occipitalis
Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake
Chionactis occipitalis talpina
Range

Blue: Chionactis occipitalis annulata -
 Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake
 

Red: Chionactis occipitalis occipitalis -
 Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake

Orange: Chionactis occipitalis talpina -
 Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake



Similar Species
california kingsnake

california kingsnake
California Kingsnake Range Map Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake
Shovel-nosed Snake

california kingsnake
California Kingsnake - Lampropeltis californiae The California Kingsnake is much larger and its bands are less rounded, more triangular. The head is not long and flattened. Head markings are different.
Long-nosed Snake

Long-nosed Snake
Long-nosed Snake Range Map Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake
Shovel-nosed Snake

Long-nosed Snake
Long-nosed Snake - Rhinocheilus lecontei The Long-nosed Snake is larger and the bands are typically black and red, with no bands inbetween. Some have only black and white bands, but the bands are much wider. The nose is long but not as flattened, and head markings are much different.
Variable Groundsnake

Variable Groundsnake
Variable Groundsnake California Range Map Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake
Shovel-nosed Snake

ground snake
Variable Groundsnake - Sonora semiannulata semiannulata The head is not long and flattened.
       
This species has been reported from the extreme southeast corner of the state where it occurs just across the Colorado River, but its presence has not been confirmed. Variable Sandsnake Variable Sandsnake Possible Range
Variable Sand Snake - Chilomeniscus stramineus


 
Species Comparisons
Western Shovel-nosed Snake and
Variable Groundsnake
Western Shovel-nosed Snake and
Variable Sand Snake
Variable Sand Snake and
Variable Groundsnake
Variable Groundsnake and
Tantilla
 
Comparison of the 3 subspecies of Chionactis in California,
along with the similar sympatric species - Sonora semiannulata, and the similar possibly sympatric species - Chilomeniscus stramineus  *
  Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake
Chionactis occipitalis annulata
Mojave Shovel-nosed Snake
Chionactis occipitalis occipitalis
Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake
Chionactis occipitalis talpina
Variable Groundsnake
Sonora semiannulata semiannulata
Variable Sand Snake
Chilomeniscus stramineus
Dark Primary Crossbands Black
Many crossing belly
Brown,
Most not crossing belly
Brown   19 - 49
Secondary Dark Crossbands No No Dark scales are present in light spaces between the broad bands which may form brownish secondary bands    
Red Crossbands Usually narrow red bands between black bands Faint or absent Some red coloring may be present in light areas    
Scale Rows Usually 15 rows Usually 15 rows Usually 15 rows 15 scale rows towards front  
Internasal Scales Not separated by rostral Not separated by rostral Not separated by rostral Not separated by rostral Separated by rostral
Head Slightly wider than neck Slightly wider than neck Slightly wider than neck Slightly wider than neck Not wider than neck
Snout Flattened Flattened Flattened Less Flattened Flattened
Lower Jaw Countersunk Countersunk Countersunk Not Countersunk Countersunk
Dorsal Scales       Dark pigment at base of most dorsal scales, especially noticable
on sides
 

* Based on information from:

Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Brennan, Thomas C., & Andrew T. Holycross. A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles in Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish Department, 2006.





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