Online Field Guide to The Reptiles and Amphibians of Arizona

Variable Sandsnake (Chilomeniscus stramineus) Arizona
Maricopa County, AZ

Variable Sandsnake (Chilomeniscus stramineus) Arizona
Maricopa Co., AZ

 VARIABLE SANDSNAKE  Chilomeniscus stramineus
Mildly Toxic Saliva
DESCRIPTION: A small (up to 285 mm or 11″ in total length), stout-bodied snake with dark brown or black saddles on an orange dorsum. The orange dorsal coloration grades into cream on the lower sides. The black saddles do not cross the venter on the body but they completely encircle the tail. The belly is pale cream with no markings. The snout is white or light gray. A broad, black mask crosses the top of the head and covers the eyes. Adaptations for burrowing in fine gravel and sand include small eyes, valves in the nasal passages, a flat and wedge-like snout, a concaved belly, and a deeply inset jaw. The head is not distinct from the thick neck. The pupils are round and the scales are smooth and shiny. The often similar looking Groundsnake has a dark spot on the anterior edge of each lateral scale. The black saddles are in contact with orange-red dorsal coloration distinguishing this snake from the similar looking Western Shovel-nosed Snake.

DISTRIBUTION: This snake is found across most of south-central Arizona. Isolated populations in the southwestern portion of the state extend as far west as the vicinity of Ligurta in Yuma County. In Arizona this snake is found at elevations ranging from 200′ to 3,000′.

HABITAT: The Variable Sandsnake is found primarily in the Arizona Upland subdivision of the Sonoran Desertscrub community. It is usually encountered above the flats in or near drainages and canyons with loose gravel or sand substrates.

This primarily nocturnal and crepuscular ground-dweller is good burrower. It spends the majority of its time under loose gravel or surface cover on the banks of washes and drainages.
It hibernates during the cold months of late fall and winter.

DIET: The Variable Sandsnake feeds on a variety of insects including roaches and grasshoppers. It also feeds on centipedes.

REPRODUCTION: Mating probably takes place in spring. A clutch of up to 4 eggs is laid in summer.

By Thomas C. Brennan

Bartlett. 2000. Snakes of North America: Western
Gulf Publishing Co. Houston, TX

Brennan, T. C., and A. T. Holycross. 2006. A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles in Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish Department. Phoenix, AZ

Brennan, T. C., and A. T. Holycross. 2005. A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Maricopa County. Arizona Game and Fish Department. Phoenix, AZ

Fowlie. 1965. The Snakes of Arizona. Azul Quinta Press, Fallbrook, California

Lowe, Schwalbe, Johnson. 1986. The Venomous Reptiles of Arizona. Nongame Branch
Arizona Game and Fish Department. Phoenix, AZ

Stebbins. 1985. Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin. New York, NY

Variable Sandsnake (Chilomeniscus stramineus) Range Map Arizona

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