Monthly Archives: March 2018

Reptiles of the Sonoran Desert

I wanted to share some of my favorite reptiles that i find at Elaine’s house in Tucson. The Sonoran Desert has the most awesome reptiles.  here are just a few.


Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum cingulum) is a slender nonvenomous snake with variable coloring to help in camouflage. In Tucson, coachwhips that are pink to red in color are called red racers. The pattern on the scales give the snake a braided look like an old-time leather coach whip. Their large eyes provide good eyesight. In times of trouble, they prefer to rapidly slither away (considered one of the fastest snakes) but, if cornered, they will rise up, hiss, vibrate the tip of its tail to simulate the sound of a rattlesnake, and strike quickly and repeatedly. The coachwhip is associated with several Western fables. One is that the snake bites onto its own tail to form a hoop, then rolls in pursuit of its prey. Another is that a coachwhip will chase a person, coil around him, and then lash him to death with its tail. The snake checks the person for life by inserting its tail into the person’s nose. If the person isn’t dead, the snake will continue the lashing. Of course, none of these stories is true.

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) is a large, stocky lizard of southwestern Arizona that eats insects, arachnids, small lizards, and some plants. The overlapping gray and brown scales are pointed and keeled. The male’s body features a purple stripe near the neck.


This is Zoe.


Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) This tortoise has adapted to the extreme environment of the Sonoran Desert. The tortoise has powerful limbs covered with thick scaly skin for digging underground burrows where it spends much of its time. It eats a wide variety of plants including many that are indigestible to other animals. It feeds most actively during the monsoon season, and is dormant much of the rest of the year. The tortoise stores water in its bladder, allowing it to go up to a year without drinking. As a defense mechanism, the tortoise will empty its bladder to discourage a predator, like other reptiles. Unfortunately, this can deplete its water supply and result in death during a drought. For this reason, it is important to never pick up or interfere with a desert tortoise. The gravest danger to the desert tortoises is human-caused mortality. The scientific name honors Joseph Morafka for his work with tortoises.




Baby Rattles

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) This snake is known for its distinctive rattle when threatened. The keratin rattle mechanism at the tip of the tail twitches up to 100 times per second. The dark diamond-shaped pattern on its back identifies this common Tucson rattler. Rattlesnakes belong to a group of venomous snakes called pit vipers, and are found in a wide range of habitats. The pits, located between the nostrils and the eyes, are used in sensing the heat of other animals, and are sensitive enough to detect a body only a fraction of a degree warmer than the ambient air. Rattlers usually hunt at night, preferring small nocturnal mammals. Rattlesnakes are important in controlling the populations of disease-carrying rodents.