A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Western Glossy Snake - Arizona elegans

Mohave Glossy Snake - Arizona elegans candida

Klauber, 1946
Click on a picture for a larger view
glossy snakes range mapPurple: Range of this subspecies in California
Arizona elegans candida - Mojave Glossy Snake

Range of other subspecies in California:

Red: Arizona elegans eburnata - Desert Glossy Snake

Orange: Arizona elegans occidentalis - California Glossy Snake

Click on the map for a topographical view

Map with California County Names

observation link

Mohave Glossy Snake Mohave Glossy Snake
Adult, San Bernardino/Inyo County line © Zeev Nitzan Ginsburg
Mohave Glossy Snake Mohave Glossy Snake
Mohave Glossy Snake
Adult, Kern County Adult, Kern County
© John Stephenson
Adult, Los Angeles County
© Jeremiah Easter
Mohave Glossy Snake Mohave Glossy Snake Mohave Glossy Snake
Adult, San Bernardino County
© Zeev Nitzan Ginsburg
Adult, San Bernardino County © Harold De Lisle
Mohave Glossy Snake  
Adult, Inyo County © Rob Schell    
Mohave Glossy Snake Mohave Glossy Snake  
Juvenile, Inyo County © Chris Morrison  
Mohave Glossy Snake Habitat Mohave Glossy Snake Habitat Desert Tortoise Habitat
Habitat, Inyo County desert Habitat, Inyo County desert Habitat, desert flats, Kern County

Not Dangerous - This snake does not have venom that can cause death or serious illness or injury in most humans.

Commonly described as "harmless" or "not poisonous" to indicate that its bite is not dangerous, but "not venomous" is more accurate. (A poisonous snake can hurt you if you eat it. A venomous snake can hurt you if it bites you.)

Adults are 26-70 inches in length (66-178 cm). (Stebbins, 2003) Average length is 3 - 4 feet.

A medium-sized muscular snake with smooth, glossy scales, a faded or bleached-out appearance, and a short tail.
Color and Pattern
Smooth, glossy scales with a faded or bleached-out appearance - a light brown, gray, cream, or pink ground color with tan brown or gray blotches on back and sides with black edges and a pale, unmarked underside.

An average of 63 narrow blotches on body.
Similar Snakes
Comparison of the 3 subspecies of Arizona elegans in California,
along with sympatric species similar in appearance:
Pituophis catenifer
- Gopher Snake,
Trimorphodon biscutatus
- Lyre Snake,
- Night Snakes,
Coluber constrictor mormon
- Western Yellow-Bellied Racer (juvenile).

Life History and Behavior
Hides underground in daytime under rocks, in exsisting burrows, or uses its specialized nose to make its own burrow.
Diet and Feeding
Preys mostly on sleeping diurnal lizards, but also eats small snakes, terrestrial birds, and nocturnally-active mammals.
Hunts active mammals at night by waiting in ambush.
Kills prey by direct swallowing or constriction.
Females are oviparous - laying from 3 - 23 eggs (more often 5-12) in June and July. (Stebbins, 2003)
Eggs most likely hatch in late summer and early fall.

Inhabits barren open sandy desert, desert scrub, rocky washes, grasslands.
Appears to prefer microhabitats of open areas and areas with soil loose enough for easy burrowing.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Arizona elegans candida - Mohave Glossy Snake, occurs from Inyo County south through much of the Owens Valley and most of the Mojave Desert, and east into southwestern Nevada.

The species Arizona elegans - Western Glossy Snake, has a very wide range, occurring through most of the southwest, and the southeastern part of the Midwest, and south into Mexico, including northern Baja California.

Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
The species is found from below sea level to around 7,218 ft. (2,200 m). (Stebbins, 2003)

Notes on Taxonomy
'The spelling of the word "Mojave" or "Mohave" has been a subject of debate. Lowe in the preface to his "Venomous Reptiles of Arizona" (1986) argued for "Mohave" as did Campbell and Lamar (2004, "The Venomous Reptiles of the Western Hemisphere"). According to linguistics experts on Native American languages, either spelling is correct, but using either the "j" or "h" is based on whether the word is used in a Spanish or English context. Given that this is an English names list, we use the "h" spelling (P. Munro, Linguistics, UCLA, pers. comm.).'

(Taxon Notes to Crotalus scutulatus, SSAR Herpetological Circular no 39, published August 2012, John J. Moriarty, Editor.)

Collins elevated the western Glossy Snakes - A. e. occidentalis, A. e. eburnata, and A. e. candida - to specific status (Arizona occidentalis) (1991, Herp. Review 22:42-43) with the eastern Glossy Snakes remaining Arizona elegans, but this change has not been widely accepted.

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Arizona elegans candida - Mojave Glossy Snake (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012)
Arizona elegans candida - Western Mojave Glossy Snake (Wright & Wright 1957)
Arizona elegans candida
(SDNHS 1946)
Arizona elegans -
Faded Snake (Rhinechis elegans; Coluber arizonae. Smooth-scaled Coluber) (Grinnell and Camp 1917)
Arizona elegans (Kennicott, 1859)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Arizona Glossy Snakes Kennicott, 1859
Species elegans Western Glossy Snake Kennicott, 1859

candida Mohave Glossy Snake Klauber, 1946
Original Description
Arizona elegans - Kennicott, 1859 - in Baird, U.S. Mex.
Arizona elegans candida - 1946 - Trans. San Diego Soc. Nat. Hist., Vol. 10, p. 364, pl. 8, fig. 2, text fig. 1, map

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Arizona - 1.) Latin - areo - to be dry and zona - belt of earth - refers to the geographical distribution
                2.) arizonac - place of springs - American Indian word, refers to the Arizona region
- Latin - fine or elegant- refers to the color pattern
candida - Latin - shining white or bright - "subspecies characterised by its light color..."

Related or Similar California Snakes
A. e. eburnata - Desert Glossy Snake
A. e. occidentalis - California Glossy Snake
P. decurtatus - Spotted Leaf-nosed Snake
P. c. deserticola - Great Basin Gophersnake

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.

Flaxington, William C. Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Field Observations, Distribution, and Natural History. Fieldnotes Press, Anaheim, California, 2021.

Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.

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.

Joseph Grinnell and Charles Lewis Camp. A Distributional List of the Amphibians and Reptiles of California. University of California Publications in Zoology Vol. 17, No. 10, pp. 127-208. July 11, 1917.

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the January 2024 State of California Special Animals List and the January 2024 Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California list (unless indicated otherwise below.) Both lists are produced by multiple agencies every year, and sometimes more than once per year, so the conservation status listing information found below might not be from the most recent lists. To make sure you are seeing the most recent listings, go to this California Department of Fish and Wildlife web page where you can search for and download both lists:

A detailed explanation of the meaning of the status listing symbols can be found at the beginning of the two lists. For quick reference, I have included them on my Special Status Information page.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either 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 also go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.
Organization Status Listing  Notes
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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