Online Field Guide to The Reptiles and Amphibians of Arizona

PLAINS BLACK-HEADED SNAKE  (Tantilla nigriceps) Arizona

Cochise County, AZ

 PLAINS BLACK-HEADED SNAKE  Tantilla nigriceps
Mildly Venomous
DESCRIPTION: A small (up to 380 mm or 15″ in total length), slender tan or cream colored snake with a dark gray-brown or black head cap. The head cap tapers to a point on its rear edge and extends back more than 3 small scales behind the parietal furrow (central seam between rear-most large head scales). A red, pink, or orange stripe runs down the center of the belly. The scales are smooth and the small head is barely distinct from the neck. There are enlarged, grooved teeth in the rear upper jaw.

DISTRIBUTION: This snake is found in the valleys of southeastern Arizona at elevations ranging from 3,200′ to about 6,000′.

HABITAT: It inhabits Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Semidesert Grassland, and the lower extremes of Madrean Evergreen Woodland communities. It is usually found below the steep terrain on gently sloping bajadas and low valley bottoms.

BEHAVIOR: This secretive, nocturnal ground-dweller is occasionally encountered on the surface at night but spends the majority of its time in underground burrows. Most near-surface activity seems to occur on moist spring and summer days when this snake can be found under rocks, logs, and surface debris. It hibernates during the cold months of late fall and winter.

Venom is delivered to prey via enlarged, grooved teeth in the rear upper jaw (not considered to be dangerous to humans). It eats a variety of invertebrates including centipedes, scorpions, beetle larvae, and other insects.

REPRODUCTION: A clutch of up to 3 eggs is laid in late spring or early summer. Hatchlings begin to emerge 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

Degenhardt, W. G., Painter, C. W., and Price, A. H.. 1996. Amphibians and Reptiles of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque.

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,

PLAINS BLACK-HEADED SNAKE  (Tantilla nigriceps) Arizona Range Map

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