A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Glossy Snakes found in California


observation link


Not Dangerous
Glossy Snakes do not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Glossy snakes are fairly large, slow-moving nocturnal snakes inhabiting deserts and open dry places, such as grassland and chaparral.
They are often observed crossing a road on a warm night.

Check the map below to determine which subspecies occurs in your area.

snake snake snake  
Mohave Glossy Snake -
Arizona elegans candida
Desert Glossy Snake -
Arizona elegans eburnata
California Glossy Snake -
Arizona elegans occidentalis
Red: Arizona elegans eburnata - Desert Glossy Snake

Orange: Arizona elegans occidentalis - California Glossy Snake

Purple: Arizona elegans candida - Mojave Glossy Snake

Key to the 3 Subspecies of Arizona elegans  found in California *
  Mohave Glossy Snake
Arizona elegans candida
Desert Glossy Snake
Arizona elegans eburnata
California Glossy Snake
Arizona elegans occidentalis
Number of
Preocular Scales
2 1 1 or 2
Scale Rows at Midbody 27 or fewer 27 or fewer 27
Number of Dark
Dorsal Blotches
Average 63 (53-73) Average 68 (53-85) Average 63 (51-75)
Size of Dark
Dorsal Blotches
Width about 9 scales wide at dorsal midline Width about 7 scales wide at dorsal midline. Small and narrower than light spaces between blotches. About equal in width to the light spaces between blotches.
Other Useful Details Small lateral blotches alternate with the dark dorsal blotches   Lower labials are often spotted

Ground color is darker than
other CA subspecies

Dark marks on edges of ventrals
Prefrontal Scales

Sympatric Species Similar to Arizona elegans *
  Western Glossy Snake
Arizona elegans
Gopher Snake
Pituophis catenifer
North American Nightsnakes
Juvenile Western
Yellow-bellied Racer

Coluber constrictor mormon
Trimorphodon biscutatus
Dorsal Scales Smooth Keeled Smooth Smooth Smooth
Anal Plate Undivided Undivided Divided Divided Divided / Undivided
Pupils Round or
slightly vertical
Round Distinctly vertical Round Distinctly vertical
Other Useful Details Head not flattened   Head Flattened   Thin neck, broad head with lyre-shaped mark
on top
scales eyes vents  
Top: Gopher Snakes have
Keeled Scales

Bottom: Glossy Snakes have
Smooth Scales
Top: Glossy Snakes have Round or
Slightly Vertical Pupils

Middle & Bottom: Nightsnakes and Lyresnakes have Vertical Pupils
Top: NIghtsnakes and Western Yellow-bellied Racers have a Divided Anal Plate.

Bottom: Western Glossy Snakes have a Single Anal Plate.

(no enlagement of this picture)

* Based on information from:

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

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.

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

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