Skip to Content

What is a Desert Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans)

Desert Glossy Snake

Photo from Flickr – Tom Benson [no modifications to image]

Click here to read our article on Wildlife at the Valley of Fire and here to read our article on Snakes in Nevada.

What is a Desert Glossy Snake

The glossy snake and its many subspecies are all similar in appearance to gopher snakes. However, they are smaller than gopher snakes, with narrow, pointed heads, and a variety of skin patterns and colors. They appear “washed-out” or pale, hence the common name, “faded snakes”.

Most subspecies are about 30 – 50 inches (75–130 cm) in total length. The maximum recorded total length for the species is 56 inches (42 cm).

They are shades of tan, brown, and gray with spotted patterns on their smooth, glossy skin, and a white or cream-colored unmarked ventral surface. Coloration often varies in relation to the color of the soil in a snake’s native habitat.


Habitat is normally semi-arid grasslands of the southwestern United States, from California in the west to Kansas in the east and as far south as Texas, and northern Mexico.

The Desert Glossy Snake is a nocturnal predator of small lizards, small mammals, and birds who kill their prey by constriction.

Glossy snakes are oviparous, which means they lay eggs.

Adults breed in the late spring and early summer with clutch sizes averaging from 10 to 20 eggs which bring newly hatched young that are approximately 9.8 inches (25 cm) in total length.

What is a Desert Glossy Snake

What is a Desert Glossy Snake

Below is a transcription of the above sign found at the Valley of Fire Visitor Center.

Desert Glossy Snake – Arizona elegans


Dry, open sandy areas in creosote-mesquite desert, sage-brush flats.


26 to 49 inches (65 to 120 cm) long, resembles gopher snake but has glossy scales which give the snake its name.

Pointy snout, insert lower jaw.

Color: varied, ranges from cream to light brown, yellowish-gray and pale pink.

Narrow, dark blotches along back, smaller ones along sides.


Lizards, snakes, small mammals


This sub-species is found only on the Nevada side of the Colorado River, a close cousin only on the Arizona side.

Other sub-species found from Kansas through West Texas into Mexico, and from Death Valley and southwestern Utah through Mojave Desert to Gulf of California.


An efficient burrower in soft soils, stays underground during day, hunts in early evening and night.

Wide variety of foods eaten.


Since this snake does not like water, how and when the species became separated and developed into two races on either side of the Colorado River is still a mystery.


What is a Desert Glossy Snake