Chionactis occipitalis klauberi — Overview

Tucson Shovelnose Snake learn more about names for this taxon

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This snake has a cream colored whitish or yellowish body with approximately 21 or more black or brown bands across the back that is saddle like, but may encircle the body. Between these bands are black or brown smaller bands. The snout is flattened and shaped somewhat like a shovel. The lower jaw is deeply inset and the upper jaw (snout) does not jut below the lower jaw. The scales are smooth, in 15 rows and the anal plate is divided. The hatchlings are about 4 inches (10 cm) and the adults are 10-17 inches (25-42 cm).

Its total range is south central Arizona, in Pima, western Pinal and eastern Maricopa counties.

Highly adapted to burrowing with its small shovel-shaped head, valved nostrils, flattened belly and smooth scales. Originally thought to be primarily nocturnal in activity, Tucson Shovel-nosed snakes have been documented as being active during crepuscular anddaylighthours(FWS2010). They are predominantly active in air temperatures between 70 and 90 Fo (21 and 32 Co). Rosen et al. (1996, in FWS 2010) notes that activity seems to be highest when the summer and spring temperature are moderate, and when the relative humidity is high. When active it is generally foraging for such prey as insects, centipedes and scorpions which it often stalks from beneath the surface of the sand or loose soil. It has a natural resistance to scorpion stings.

The approximately required home range for this snake is 5 acres. It has no known corridor or migratory needs but potential barriers may include highways, major roads and streams. This snake moves by a swimming, sideways swaying motion under or on the surface of sand or loose soil. It usually rests by day under hiding cover such as shrubs including creosote bush, although it may occasionally be found under surface objects such as boards. It roams above and below the ground surface at night, but will flee from bright light such as a lantern or flashlight and away from disturbance. It typically explores an area of some 10 or 15 square feet next to the bush and may climb the bush in search of food or when frightened. If approached by an individual, the snake may flee in a more-or-less direct route to another bush or climb the nearest bush. The males are found to engage in contact with each other.

Reproductive activity for shovel-nosed snakes in general occurs in April through July, with clutch sizes ranging from 2-4(-9) eggs.

Shovel-nosed snakes are nocturnal, and often forages for insects, centipedes, spiders, buried moth pupae and scorpions which many times it stalks from beneath the surface of the sand or loose soil. It has a natural resistance to scorpion stings. In captivity, this species was observed to eat crickets, scorpions, coleopteran and lepidopteran larvae, silverfish, termites, immature grasshoppers, small native cockroaches, spiders and earwigs. Food animals accepted ranged from 4-32mm in length; hard-bodied prey such as beetles is not preferred. Feeding behavior of captive snakes was observed by Glass (1972). Snakes subdued prey by one of two means: striking and grasping with the mouth, or looping the anterior third of the body in a single loop over the prey and pressing it against the substrate, then seizing the prey with the mouth. Missing was common when striking was used, but not when looping was used.

While other subspecies of shovel-nosed snakes are found in scattered sand hammocks, crowned with mesquite or other desert shrubs, Rosen (2003 in FWS 2010) suggests that the Tucson Shovel-nosed snake is found in more productive creosote-mesquite floodplain habitats, with soils described as soft, sandy loams, with sparse gravel.

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