While plenty of states are host to a variety of poisonous creatures, the state with the largest number of venomous reptiles is Arizona. The state's deserts, mountains and woodlands provide the ideal habitat for its 19 species of poisonous reptiles, including 13 rattlesnake species, several lyre snake species, the Mexican vine snake, the western coral snake and the Gila monster. Texas follows Arizona with 15 species.
Rattlesnakes belong to the pit viper family. In Arizona, 13 rattlesnake species exist, including the black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus), the Mojave rattlesnake (C. scutulatus), the prairie rattlesnake (C. viridis), the sidewinder (C. cerastes), speckled rattlesnake (C. mitchellii). tiger rattlesnake (C. tigris), western diamondback rattlesnake (C. atrox) and western rattlesnake (C. oreganus or C. viridis). All of the Crotalus species have small scales on their heads, separating them from Sistrurus-genus rattlesnakes.
The only species of Sistrurus rattlesnake native to Arizona is the desert massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus edwardsii). The large scales on the top of the snake's head separates it from the Crotalus rattlesnake species. Like other rattlesnakes, it is a carnivore, eating amphibians, birds, eggs, insects, other reptiles, rodents and small mammals. On hot days, rattlesnakes hide from the heat under boards, rocks and wood piles, and in holes.
Arizona is within the range of the Chihuahuan lyre snake (Trimorphodon vilkinsonii), Sonoran lyre snake (Trimorphodon lambda), western lyre snake (Trimorphodon biscutatus) and Mexican vine snake (Oxybelis aeneus), also known as the brown vine snake. These are known as rear-fanged snakes. A pair of grooved teeth and venom glands in the back of the snake's mouth require that the snake chew on its prey to release the venom. In addition, lyre snakes constrict their prey. While the lyre snakes are desert creatures, living amid the rocky hillsides and canyons, the vine snake prefers forests and jungles. Vine snakes are as thin as pencils, making them hard to see among the vines as they slither around in the treetops.
The Western coral snake (Micruroides euryxanthus), also known as the Arizona coral snake and the Sonoran coral snake, inhabits Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. It is a small, secretive snake that is normally active in the evening and at night. A member of the elapidae family, which includes cobras and mambas, the coral snake's venom is similar to the cobra's. Unlike the cobra, the coral snake is less likely to bite a human due to its small mouth, short fangs and smaller size. Take any snake bite seriously. The coral snake's bite is no exception; if you get bitten, see a doctor immediately.
The Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) is one of only two venomous lizard species. Native to Arizona and Mexico, the Gila monster's range extends slightly into California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. A desert dweller, the Gila monster eats birds, eggs, frogs, lizards and small mammals. Living mostly underground, the Gila monster hunts at night during the hot summer months and in the morning in spring and fall. It hibernates during winter. The lizard's bite is painful. The venom is as potent as a western diamondback rattlesnake's, but under normal circumstances the Gila monster releases less venom when biting the victim. Gila monsters are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and protected by Arizona law.
- University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: Venomous and Poisonous Animals in Arizona: A Quick Reference
- Texas Poison Center Network: Venomous Animals of Texas
- Arizona Game and Fish Department: Arizona Rattlesnakes
- Arizona State University Biology Department: Desert Massasauga (Sistrurus Catenatus Edwardsii)
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: Lyre Snake (Trimorphodon Biscutatus)
- Reptiles and Amphibians of Arizona: Sonoran Lyresnake Trimorphodon Lambda
- Mexican Fauna: Mexican Vine Snake (Oxybelis Aeneus)
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: Arizona Coral Snake (Micruroides Euryxanthus)
- Reptiles and Amphibians of Arizona: Gila Monster Heloderma Suspectum
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Gila Monster
With degrees in fine and commercial art and Spanish, Ruth de Jauregui is an old-school graphic artist, book designer and published author. De Jauregui authored 50 Fabulous Tomatoes for Your Garden, available as an ebook. She enthusiastically pursues creative and community interests, including gardening, home improvement and social issues.