Arizona elegansarenicola

Geographic Range

Glossy snakes are found in the United States and Mexico. In the U.S., their range encompasses central and southern California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, southwestern and eastern Colorado, southern Nebraska, all of Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In Mexico, they are found along the Baja Penninsula to just north of La Paz, as well as extending south in the main part of the country to Aguascalientes and Tamaulipas. (Dixon, 1959; Hammerson, et al., 2007; Luiselli, 2006)


Glossy snakes occupy semi-arid grasslands, barren, sandy deserts and scrub, and rocky washes, preferring open areas and sandy or loamy soil. They can be found from below sea level to approximately 2,220 meters above sea level; most are found slightly above sea level. (Dixon, 1959; Hammerson, et al., 2007; Luiselli, 2006; "Arizona elegans (Kennicott, 1859): Glossy Snake", 2012)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2,200 m
    0.00 to ft

Physical Description

Glossy snakes are medium-sized (75-130 cm total length on average, with records of individuals up to 178 cm), non-venomous constrictor snakes. Their common name reflects their smooth, shiny scales, which distinguish them from related species. Body color is typically light beige or gray, while the scales have dark edges surrounding either gold, brown, or olive-gray scale patterns. Juveniles are similar to adults, but often have darker markings, which lighten over time. Glossy snakes also have a countersunk lower jaw, specialized for stopping sand from entering the mouth while burrowing. Other distinguishing features include a prominent eye stripe, lidless eyes with slightly vertical pupils, and a single anal scale. ("Arizona elegans: Glossy Snake", 2012; Aldridge, 1979a; Aldridge, 1979b; Dixon, 1959; Feller, 1996; Hammerson, et al., 2007; Luiselli, 2006; Mendelson III and Jennings, 1992; Rodriguez-Robles, et al., 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    75 to 178 cm
    29.53 to 70.08 in


Spermatogenesis is seasonal and occurs in late summer, with temperature as the main trigger even in the absence of photoperiods. Vitellogenesis (yolk deposition) begins in the spring and ovulation can occur in June. Embryos develop within eggs laid underground by females. In general, snakes that hatch from eggs have an egg tooth on their upper lip which they use to chew their way out of the eggshell. Sex is determined by the ZW system, in which sex is determined by the egg rather than the sperm (as in the XY system); females are ZW while males are ZZ. Juveniles are precocious and independent; they do not undergo metamorphosis. Snakes grow throughout their lifetimes although rate slows drastically once maturity is achieved, typically in 1-9 years. (Aldridge, 1979a; Aldridge, 1979b; Matsubara, et al., 2006; Perry, 2004)


No specific information exists regarding the mating system of glossy snakes. Generally, when a female snake is ready to have her eggs fertilized, she excretes hormones that can be detected by males through their vomeronasal organs. Males follow this scent and court the female by crawling over her. If she accepts, she raises her tail, allowing internal fertilization through the cloaca. Males and females have multiple mates. (Aldridge, 1979a; Aldridge, 1979b; Perry, 2004)

Glossy snakes are oviparous and breed in the spring and summer after awakening from hibernation. In early July, females typically lay clutches of eggs (anywhere from 2-23, though most often under 12, with an average of 8) that hatch from late August to mid-September. The hatchlings are approximately 25 cm long at birth. Females produce only one clutch of eggs per year and there is evidence that a female will lay eggs only every other year. (Aldridge, 1979a; Aldridge, 1979b; Hammerson, et al., 2007; Matsubara, et al., 2006; "Arizona elegans (Kennicott, 1859): Glossy Snake", 2012)

  • Breeding interval
    Glossy snakes breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Glossy snakes breed in the spring and summer.
  • Range number of offspring
    3 to 23
  • Average number of offspring

Female glossy snakes have been observed protecting their offspring for a few days after birth. There is no parental investment from males. (Feller, 1996; Perry, 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • protecting
      • female


No information exists regarding the lifespan of glossy snakes; generally speaking, snakes live from 4-25 years in the wild. (Perry, 2004)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 to 25 years


Glossy snakes are not known to participate in hierarchies or any form of social behavior aside from mating. There are no distinguished patterns of coexistence or community dynamics in terrestrial-temperate snakes. Glossy snakes are known to be gentle and calm, and are not known to defend territories or create hierarchies. (Feller, 1996; Hammerson, et al., 2007; Luiselli, 2006; Mendelson III and Jennings, 1992; Rodriguez-Robles, et al., 1999)

Glossy snakes move using a serpentine motion known as lateral undulation. They are crepuscular and noctural and are generally most active between April and September (this can vary slightly depending on latitude and elevation). Glossy snakes are excellent burrowers and often use crevices or rodent burrows as retreats during the day. (Feller, 1996; Hammerson, et al., 2007; Luiselli, 2006; Mendelson III and Jennings, 1992; Rodriguez-Robles, et al., 1999)

Home Range

Glossy snakes are not known to defend a territory or occupy a specific home range. (Feller, 1996)

Communication and Perception

Glossy snakes use pheromones and scent marking during mating. A female leaves a trail of pheromones marking the ground, allowing potential mates to find her. Males perceive this scent through their vomeronasal organ. Males initiate copulation by moving over females. Both males and females flick their tongues out to grab air, bringing chemical odors into the mouth, pressing the air against the roof of their mouths and under their noses where the vomeronasal organ is located. Glossy snakes are burrowing animals, remaining underground during the day, and have relatively small eyes. These eyes are mainly used to perceive a difference between light and dark and are not the primary sensory channel used for detecting prey. (Feller, 1996; Luiselli, 2006)

Food Habits

Glossy snakes are carnivorous. About half of their diet is composed of other reptiles, including zebra-tailed lizards (Callisaurus draconoides), western whiptails (Cnemidophorus tigris), desert iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis), spotted leaf-nosed snakes (Phyllorhynchus decurtatus), coast horned lizards (Phrynosoma coronatum), greater short-horned lizards (Phrynosoma hernandesi), desert spiny lizards (Sceloporus magister), common side-blotched lizards (Uta stansburiana), and desert night lizards (Xantusia vigilis). The remainder of their diet is comprised of small mammals such as long-tailed pocket mice (Chaetodipus formosus), Merriam's kangaroo rats (Dipodomys merriami), Ord's kangaroo rats (Dipodomys ordii), eastern moles (Scalopus aquaticus), Salinas pocket mice (Perognathus inornatus), and small birds. Alternative hunting techniques may exist for capturing different prey types. Percentages of prey types within diet are directly correlated to the size and mass of a given snake: Glossy snakes that consume more birds are larger than those that consume more mammals, which are larger than those that mainly consume small lizards. (Luiselli, 2006; Rodriguez-Robles, et al., 1999)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles


Glossy snakes are nocturnal and hide in burrows during the day, making them less susceptible to many predators. Their smooth scales serve as camouflage. Known predators include owls, mammals, and other snakes. (Hammerson, et al., 2007; Luiselli, 2006; "Arizona elegans (Kennicott, 1859): Glossy Snake", 2012)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic
  • Known Predators
    • Owls
    • Mammals
    • Snakes

Ecosystem Roles

Glossy snakes control the populations of many small rodents, reptiles and mammals. As burrowing animals, they also serve to aerate the soil. They are known hosts of a number of endoparasitic flatworms and nematodes. (Goldberg and Bursey, 2001; Hammerson, et al., 2007)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Mesocestoides sp. (Order Cyclophyllidea, Class Cestoda)
  • Oochoristica osheroffi (Order Cyclophyllidea, Class Cestoda)
  • Physaloptera abjecta (Order Spirurida, Phylum Nematoda)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Glossy snakes eat rodents and lizards, therefore controlling potential pest populations. (Hammerson, et al., 2007; Rodriguez-Robles, et al., 1999)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of these snakes on humans. (Feller, 1996; Hammerson, et al., 2007)

Conservation Status

Though currently not considered threatened, some populations of glossy snakes have been progressively reduced due to agricultural development and urbanization. No conservation plans have been developed to maintain populations due to this species' stable distribution, number of sub-populations, and population sizes. However, some populations are protected as they live national and state parks. ("Arizona Elegans", 2012; "U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service", 2012; Hammerson, et al., 2007)

Other Comments

It has been suggested that this species includes a subspecies, Arizona elegans occidentalis. (Hammerson, et al., 2007)


Kristen Batko (author), The College of New Jersey, Matthew Wund (editor), The College of New Jersey, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


an animal that mainly eats meat


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


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NatureServe. 2012. "Arizona elegans (Kennicott, 1859): Glossy Snake" (On-line). Nature Serve Explorer. Accessed February 23, 2013 at

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Aldridge, R. 1979. Seasonal spermatogenesis in sympatric Crotalus viridus and Arizona elegans in New Mexico. Herpetologica, 13, 2: 187-192. Accessed October 13, 2012 at

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Ezaz, T., R. Stiglec, F. Veyrunes, J. Graves. 2006. Relationships between vertebrate ZW and XY sex chromosome systems. Current Biology, 16: R736-R743. Accessed February 23, 2013 at

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Goldberg, S., C. Bursey. 2001. Helminths of six species of colubrid snakes from southern California. Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences, 100/2: 109-116. Accessed February 23, 2013 at

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Luiselli, L. 2006. Resource partitioning and interspecific competition in snakes: the search for general geographical and guild patterns. Oikos, 114, 2: 193-211. Accessed October 13, 2012 at

Matsubara, K., H. Tarui, M. Toriba, K. Yamada, C. Nishida-Umehara, K. Agata, Y. Matsuda. 2006. Evidence for different origin of sex chromosomes in snakes, birds, and mammals and step-wise differentiation of snake sex chromosomes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103: 18190-18195. Accessed November 12, 2012 at

Mendelson III, J., W. Jennings. 1992. Shifts in the Relative Abundance of Snakes in a Desert Grassland. Journal of Herpetology, 26, 1: 38-45. Accessed October 13, 2012 at

Perry, L. 2004. "How Snakes Work" (On-line). How Stuff Works. Accessed November 12, 2012 at

Rodriguez-Robles, J., C. Bell, H. Greene. 1999. Food Habits of the Glossy Snake, Arizona elegans, with Comparisons to the Diet of Sympatric Long-nosed Snakes, Rhinocheilus lecontei. Herpetologica, 33, 1: 87-92. Accessed October 13, 2012 at