To remain safe, all Arizonians need to know the different types of venomous snakes that might be encountered in their backyard or while out hiking in the wilderness. There are more than a dozen venomous species of snake in Arizona that you must learn to recognize correctly.
Rattlesnakes are found from the furthest northern reaches of Arizona, all the way south to the border. This means that you can encounter deadly American snakes no matter where you go. However, the species varies depending on where you are in the valley of the sun.
- 1 How Many Venomous Snakes are in Arizona?
- 2 Most Venomous Snakes in Arizona
- 3 Can Arizona’s Venomous Snakes Kill You?
- 4 Arizona Venomous Snake Laws
- 5 Best Place to Find Snakes in Arizona
- 6 How to Avoid Snakes in Arizona
How Many Venomous Snakes are in Arizona?
Arizona is home to a wide range of venomous snakes, more than in most states. Some of these snakes can be found elsewhere in the country. The following rattlesnakes can be found in Arizona:
- Sidewinder Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes)
- Arizona Black Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus)
- Great Basin Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus lutosus)
- Grand Canyon Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus abyssus)
- Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake (Crotalus pricei)
- Tiger Rattlesnake (Crotalus tigris)
- Rock Rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus)
- Banded Rock Rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus klauberi)
- Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)
- Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)
- Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchelli)
- Northern Blacktail Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)
- Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
- Hopi Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis nuntius)
- Ridge-nosed rattlesnake (Crotalus willardi)
While they’re beautiful reptiles, rattlesnakes aren’t good pets. Only even consider them as an option if you’re highly experienced at handling venomous snakes. It’s also illegal to keep them as a pet without a permit.
But these aren’t the only venomous snakes you can find there. Aside from rattlesnakes, the most deadly snakes in Arizona are western coral snakes.
These snakes are separated from the other coral snake species in Texas and on the east coast. Coral snake venom is just as deadly as that of a rattlesnake.
And besides rattlers and coral snakes, there are a few other species that have reasonably potent venom. They include:
- Southwestern Blackhead Snake
- Western Shovel-nosed Snake
- Lyre snake
- Night Snake
- Banded Burrowing Snake
- Brown vine snake
- Mexican vine snake
- Tropical vine snake
Naturally, some of these snakes are more venomous than others. The western diamondback rattlesnake, for example, is exceptionally dangerous.
The night snake is a rear-fanged colubrid, a group of snakes that aren’t usually venomous. However, it is slightly venomous, and uses its venom to subdue small lizards and amphibians.
Here’s some advice on how to tell if a snake is venomous.
Most Venomous Snakes in Arizona
The most venomous snakes in Arizona are without a doubt the many rattlesnake species you can find. Rattlesnakes are pit vipers, a subfamily of snakes which are usually very dangerous.
Aside from the many rattlesnake species in Arizona, you can find two species of coral snake. These are the western coral snake and the Arizona coral snake.
Coral snakes are extremely venomous, although they aren’t as dangerous as rattlesnakes. No fatalities have been reported for the Arizona coral snake despite its deadly venom.
That’s because while their venom is very potent, their fangs are short and their venom glands are small, and so can’t hold much venom by volume. Rattlesnakes, by contrast, have long fangs and large venom glands which make them far more dangerous to people.
Most Common Rattlesnakes in Arizona
Of the rattlesnakes in our list above, some are found almost anywhere in Arizona, while others have only a very limited range. Western diamondback rattlesnakes have the largest range, from Mohave County in the northwest to Cochise County in the southwest. You can find them everywhere in between, except for the northern and north-eastern parts of the state.
Northern black-tailed rattlesnakes also have a broad range, which is roughly the same as that of the western diamondback. The Mojave, too, has the same range.
Ironically, you can’t find it everywhere in Mohave County, but you can find them wherever you go in Maricopa County or La Paz County. Other rattlesnake species are far rarer.
- The twin-spotted rattlesnake is only found in isolated communities in Cochise County and Santa Cruz County, in the far south-east of the state. However, their range extends for perhaps a thousand miles south into Mexico.
- The banded rock rattlesnake shares almost the same habitat as the twin-spotted rattlesnake. However, it has larger communities spread across a slightly bigger area. Like the twin-spotted rattlesnake, they can also be found in Mexico, as well as New Mexico and Texas.
- The Desert Massasauga lives in the far southeast of the state, too. It’s not a rattlesnake, although it looks a little like one. Like the other rare snakes in this list, it’s actually quite common in New Mexico, Texas, and even in north-eastern Mexico.
The differences between these species are primarily cosmetic. While one snake is a dark black, another is a lighter tan to dark brown color. It doesn’t matter which one you meet when you’re on your travels. You still have to be careful.
Can Arizona’s Venomous Snakes Kill You?
Given the standard of healthcare that we have today, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll experience severe complications. But, if you leave the bite untreated, can venomous Arizona snake kill you?
Rattlesnakes are pit vipers, which have some of the most potent venom known to science. They also have large venom glands, which means they have lots to spare.
If bitten and you didn’t treat the bite, then it’s possible that you could die. Rattlesnake venom is both neurotoxic and hemotoxic. Most species only have one kind of venom, but some have both.
Neurotoxins destroy nerve tissue, meaning that your body can’t function properly, while hemotoxins cause necrosis (tissue death) and disrupted blood clotting.
The effects of rattlesnake venom include:
- Difficulty breathing. You start by finding it difficult to draw deep breaths. If the impact is severe, you find it difficult to breathe at all. That’s because the nervous system is damaged, so your brain can’t tell your lungs to keep breathing.
- Tissue death. The tissue around the bite mark will start to turn black and die. You may need to get your limb amputated to prevent the corruption from spreading.
- Nausea. You may feel a strong urge to vomit.
- Dizziness and trouble balancing. The venom is affecting your nervous system. Your brain is struggling to tell your body what to do, because your nerve endings are coated with venom.
Can All Rattlesnakes Kill You?
Just because you’re bitten by a rattlesnake, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to experience these complications. There are reasons why rattlesnake bites don’t usually kill humans.
- Older rattlesnakes are more deadly than younger ones. That’s because their venom is more potent, and they can store more of it in their larger venom glands. Younger snakes are more prone to biting without serious provocation, though.
- If the rattlesnake only bit you once, then their bite is less likely to be deadly. If they bite you several times, this gives them more of a chance to use larger volumes of venom. The more venom used, the deadlier the bite.
- Not all species of rattlesnake are equally deadly. Some are limited by their size. Banded rock rattlesnakes are rarely longer than two feet. Western diamondbacks can grow to four or five feet. The longer the snake, the longer their fangs and the bigger their venom glands.
- Besides these rattlesnake facts, there’s also the fact that medical science is on your side. There’s antivenom that counteracts the effects of rattlesnake venom.
- Venomous snakes don’t always release venom when they bite. This is called a dry bite.
Rely on your intuition and senses. If you’re out hiking, stay aware at all times so that you avoid stepping on any snakes.
And if you see one up ahead, don’t approach it, and don’t antagonize it. Steer clear, and you’ll steer clear of potential bites too.
Can Coral Snakes Kill You?
Arizona’s coral snakes have venom just as potent as a rattler. Their venom is neurotoxic, just like that of the rattlesnake. However, they’re not going to be able to deal you serious damage. That’s because their fangs and venom glands are small.
So, why haven’t coral snakes evolved to defend themselves against humans? It’s because snakes developed venom to hunt prey. Coral snakes, being quite small, only eat tiny frogs and lizards. They have more than enough venom to kill their prey.
The point is that they need to feed much more frequently than they need to defend themselves.
Rather than relying on their venom to defend themselves, coral snakes will try and avoid people. If they see you approaching them, they’ll burrow to try and get away from you. Snakes like these are called ‘fossorial’ snakes.
They’ll only defend themselves if they feel truly cornered. As such, bites are very infrequent, and can be avoided if you take proper precautions.
Can Venomous Colubrids Kill You?
They aren’t known for their venom. Take the brown vine snake, for example. This is a species that’s common across Mexico and Central America (hence their other name, the Mexican brown snake). They’re colubrids, and have rear-facing fangs.
According to a paper in the Journal of Toxicology, colubrids don’t have venom glands like elapids (e.g., coral snakes) and pit vipers (e.g., rattlesnakes) have. Instead, they have a gland called Duvernoy’s gland. It produces venom, but lacks a large reservoir, so they have hardly any.
Their bite is nowhere near fatal (at least not for you). When they hunt and bite their prey, their venom has an incapacitative effect. If they were to bite you, though, all that you would get is a stinging and itching sensation.
Arizona Venomous Snake Laws
Many laws apply to snakes in Arizona. There are the federal laws which apply across the country. These usually dictate which animals can’t be interacted with due to their protected endangered status. Other federal laws govern trade in wildlife.
Then, there are the many state laws which typically regulate whether you’re allowed to capture or kill a particular snake species. Since different states have different needs, these laws differ significantly across the country, so while a snake may be protected in New Mexico, they may not be in Arizona.
There are municipal laws. Many cities and small towns have laws, typically regulating snake ownership. These laws frequently ban the ownership of snakes perceived to be dangerous, either venomous or exceptionally large.
What Snakes are Protected in Arizona?
Arizona’s state laws when it comes to snakes are a little different to those elsewhere in the country. For starters, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission don’t use the terms ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ when they classify a snake as worthy of protection.
Instead, they state that there’s no open season on whichever snakes they’re trying to protect. In total, eight snakes enjoy protected status in Arizona state law, and one that also has protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. These snakes are as follows:
- The Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake (which is also protected under the ESA, and listed as threatened)
- The rock rattlesnake
- The twin-spotted rattlesnake
- The desert massasauga
- The milksnake (but only in Cochise County)
- The Sonoran shovel-nosed snake
- The Mexican garter snake
Aside from these species, there are two lizards, two turtles and eight amphibians that are protected too. Again, these are protected as there is no open season on them.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to catch anybody who captures or kills these snake species, so poaching is still common. According to the High Country News, poachers regularly patrol the habitats of these snakes on the pretense of photographing them, but are catching them instead.
Best Place to Find Snakes in Arizona
If you want to find rattlesnakes, your best bet is to look in the south of the state. The further south you get, the more likely it is that you’ll find most rattlesnake species.
However, you can go anywhere you like in Arizona to find snakes. There are fewer rattlesnake species in the north of the state, but there are a few. The Arizona black rattlesnake lives from east to west in the middle of the state, and to an extent in Coconino County.
By contrast, the Great Basin rattlesnake lives in the north-western corner of the state. The Grand Canyon rattlesnake lives in and around the Grand Canyon.
You can find fascinating deadly snakes no matter where you go in Arizona.
How Common are Snakes in Arizona?
Arizona does have plenty of snake species. But unless you hike every weekend, you’re unlikely to encounter them frequently. If you hike trails out in the desert, or regularly walk near the border with Mexico, you’ll hardly see any.
You may also have heard scare stories about snakes invading people’s yards. It does happen, but nowhere near frequently. The suburbs of a city aren’t a rattlesnake’s favorite place to be. They prefer being out in nature, far away from cars and people.
The most dangerous snakes in Arizona are the many rattlesnake species. Rattlesnakes tend to live out in the country. They live near their dens, called ‘hibernacula,’ where many rattlesnakes sleep and brumate over the winter.
These hibernacula are typically in rock formations or old mammal dens. Because of that, they’re much more likely to be located out in the country. There are far fewer rock formations and mammal dens in the suburbs. You’ll likely only meet them out in the country.
When Do Snakes Come Out in Arizona?
In cooler climates, snakes come out in the spring, stay out during the summer, and head back to their hiding places during fall before the lowest temperatures hit. But in Arizona, snakes don’t follow that same pattern.
Snakes are active throughout the summer. But they’ll frequently have to find hiding places to get out of the summer sun, which is too hot for them.
They’ll wait until the Fall, especially September, when the temperatures are a little cooler for them. They’re also more active in the Spring, which is mating season for them.
As for the time of day when snakes come out, it varies by species.
- Some snakes are nocturnal, and only come out at night, when it’s cool. Rattlesnakes aren’t typically nocturnal, and their vision works best in the daylight. However, they can hunt at night using their heat pits.
- Snakes that usually come out during the day are diurnal. Coral snakes are an example of a diurnal snake.
- Then, there are ‘crepuscular’ snakes. These snakes are most active during either dawn or dusk, when it’s light enough to see, but not too hot to move around comfortably. Whip snakes are crepuscular snakes.
You can encounter snakes no matter what the time of day. But, in the daytime, you should look out for coral snakes. At dawn and dusk, you should stay alert for rattlesnakes. But, if you’re hiking, you should be on the lookout for snakes all the time anyway.
How to Avoid Snakes in Arizona
If you want to hike a trail in Arizona, you won’t be able to find anywhere that’s guaranteed to be snake free. Learn how to avoid snakes, and find out what you should do if you encounter one.
- Wear protective clothing. Snake-proof chaps and leggings provide protection against snakes trying to bite your ankles and feet. Snake-proof boots do much the same. Considering that most snake bites are to the lower leg or ankle—unless you’re fool enough to pick up a rattlesnake unprotected—these prevent almost all snake bites.
- If there’s a snake on the trail ahead, there are ways to make your situation less dangerous. Find another path. Turn back, and try a different way. Avoid approaching the snake, especially if it’s acting defensive, e.g., by rattling its tail.
- Stick to the middle of the path. If there’s lots of long grass and undergrowth along the sides of the path, then there may be snakes hiding there.
- Hike well-maintained trails. There’s less likely to be hiding places for snakes, plus any dangerous (poisonous) snakes will be dealt with by park rangers.
If you do take another path, or give the snake a wide berth, bear in mind that rattlesnakes live in clusters. They aren’t social animals, but they share ‘hibernacula,’ i.e., hiding places. If you see one snake, you can guarantee that there will be more nearby.