A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake -
Chionactis occipitalis talpina

(Hallowell, 1854)

(Chionactis occipitalis [Hallowell, 1854] - Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake)
Click on a picture for a larger view

Shovel-nosed Snakes Range Map
Range in California: Orange

Click the map for a guide
to the other subspecies.

observation link

Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake
Adult, Inyo County
Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake
  Adult 2, Inyo County  
Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake
Adult 3, Inyo County
Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake  
Adult 4, Inyo County  
Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake Habitat Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake Habitat Red Racer Habitat
Habitat, Inyo County Habitat, Inyo County Habitat, desert on the CA Border,
Nye County, Nevada
Similar Snakes
Comparison chart of the 3 subspecies of Chionactis occipitalis in California,
along with the similar sympatric species - Sonora semiannulata,
and the similar species - Chilomeniscus stramineus.


Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  -  This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Adults are 11 - 17 inches long (25 - 43 cm)

A small rounded snake with smooth, unkeeled, shiny scales.
The head is narrow with a large spade-like scale on the tip of a flat shovel-like snout, a countersunk lower jaw, and nasal valves.
Color and Pattern
The ground color is cream or yellowish and the body is circled with dark brown bands, usually with faint brownish crossbands between them which might show some red color.
Some of the dark bands completely encircle the body, though many do not.

Life History and Behavior

Burrows underground in daytime, but occasionally found by day in shaded areas.
Smooth scales, flat shout, concave abdomen, and nasal valves are adaptations that allow for a quick swimming movement through loose sand, with an s-shaped, side-to-side movement.
Often seen crossing desert roads at night.
Diet and Feeding
Eats invertebrates: insects, scorpions, spiders, centipedes, larval insects and moths, often while the snake is burrowing.
Lays eggs late spring through summer.

Inhabits dry desert habitats with loose sand and often with little vegetation - washes, dunes, sandy flats, rocky hillsides.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Chionactis occipitalis talpina - Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake, is found in east central California from the northern Panamint valley to the general area of Death Valley National Park and east into southwestern Nevada.

The species Chionactis occipitalis - Western Shovel-nosed Snake, occurs from the Southern California deserts into Nevada, western Arizona, to Baja California and northern Sonora, Mexico.

Full Species Range Map
Notes on Taxonomy
SSAR Herpetological Circular No. 43, 2017, recommends a change in the currently accepted taxonomy of
Chionactis occipitalis

"Wood et al. (2008, Conserv. Gen. 9: 1489–1507) demonstrated, using mtDNA and morphological data, that population structure was not concordant with the traditional subspecific taxonomy. They also revealed two potentially independent evolutionary lineages. A phylogeographic study from Wood et al. (2014; PLoS ONE e97494) using mtDNA and microsatellites indicates that C. o. annulata should be elevated to species status, while retaining two subspecies
C. a. annulata
and C. a. klauberi, that conform to patterns of genetic structure. The authors found no support for
C. o. talpina
and place it in synonomy with C. occipitalis."

C. o. annulata becomes: C. annulata annulata (Baird, 1859 “1858”) - Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake
C. o. klauberi becomes: C. a. klauberi (Stickel, 1941) - Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake
C. o. occipitalis becomes: C. occipitalis (Hallowell, 1854) - Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake
C. o. talpina becomes: C. occipitalis (Hallowell, 1854) - Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

C. o. talpina -
Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003,2012)
C. o. talpina -
Northern shovel-nosed ground snake (Wright & Wright 1957)
C. o. talpina -
(Stebbins 1954)
C. o. talpina -
Northern shovel-nosed ground snake (Klauber 1951)
Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Family Colubridae Colubrids
Genus Chionactis Shovel-nosed Snakes
Species occipitalis Western Shovel-nosed Snake

talpina Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake
Original Description
Chionactis occipitalis - (Hallowell, 1854) - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 7, p. 95
Chionactis occipitalis talpina - Klauber, 1951 - Trans. San Diego Soc. Nat. Hist., Vol. 11, p. 172, pl. 10, fig. 1, map

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Chionactis - Greek - chion - snow and aktis - ray or beam
- Latin - pertaining to the back of the head
talpina - Latin - talpa - a mole and -ina belonging to - "Mole-like" to denote its fossorial habits"

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related or Similar California Snakes
C. o. annulata - Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake
C. o. occipitalis - Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake
S. s. semiannulata - Variable Groundsnake
R. l. lecontei - Western Long-nosed Snake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

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

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

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.

Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.

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

Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1957.

Hall, Clarence A., editor. The Natural History of the White-Inyo Range Eastern California. Herpetology section by J. Robert Macey and Theodore J. Papenfuss. University of California Press, 1991.
Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the April 2018 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List, both of which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status, you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.

This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None


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