Western Shovel-Nosed Snake

The Western Shovel-nosed Snake, the Chionactis occipitalis is a small snake, which is usually no more than 15 inches in length, with more than 20 dark brown to black bands on a cream-to-light-yellow background.
Some subspecies have secondary orange saddles between the black bands. The orange saddles are separated from the black by a margin of cream-to-light-yellow background color. The posterior black bands usually completely encircle the body but the anterior bands do not.
The snout of this snake is cream or light yellow. A black mask crosses the top of the head and covers the eyes. The underside is cream. With its countersunk jaw, valves in the nasal passages, concaved belly, and relatively flat snout, this snake is well equipped for burrowing under fine sand and loose gravel. The pupils are round and the scales are smooth and shiny. The Western Shovel-nosed Snake’s light snout distinguishes it from the similar looking Sonoran Coralsnake which has a black snout. The similar Sonoran Shovel-nosed Snake has fewer than 21 black body bands.
Found in the low deserts of the west, this snake has been found at elevations from near sea level to approximately 2,500 feet. Populations in the eastern portion of this snake’s range, on Arizona side of the Colorado River, appear to be in decline with the snake virtually nonexistent near Tucson and Paradise Valley.
The snake yet proliferates in Arizona in the lower Colorado River Sonoran Desert scrub and Mohave Desert scrub communities. It is usually found in or near sandy washes or dunes in desert flats or on gently sloping bajadas.
A ground dweller, this snake is primarily crepuscular, that is, active during the twilight, or nocturnal, but is occasionally active into the night and on mild days. Most surface activity occurs in spring. A good burrower, this snake spends most of its time under sand or sandy soil.
It burrows underground in daytime, but occasionally is found by day in shaded areas. It has smooth scales, a flat shout, concave abdomen, and nasal valves, adaptations that allow for a quick swimming movement through loose sand, with an s-shaped, side-to-side movement. It is commonly seen crossing desert roads at night. It hibernates under the sand or soil during the cold months of fall and winter.
There is a slight variance in the appearance and physiognomy of the Mojave Shovel-nosed Snake to other Chionactis occipitalis in that its narrow secondary saddles are usually very faint or lacking. Only the tail bands and the most posterior body bands cross this snake’s body.
There is also another subspecies of this snake found in Arizona, the Colorado Desert Shovel-snake, one which normally sports relatively narrow black bands, more space between bands, and orange saddles that are not flecked with black or brown. In another subspecies, the Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake, Chionactis occipitalis klauberi, the orange secondary saddles are usually heavily flecked with black or purplish-black on the sides.
The Western Shovel-nosed Snake feeds on a variety of invertebrates including insects, spiders, centipedes, and scorpions. It may occasionally eat reptile eggs.
Mating takes place in spring and a clutch of up to 9 eggs is laid in the summer.
This is a non-venomous snake but its saliva is mildly toxic.

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