Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the October 27, 2013 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

One warm afternoon this week as I biked the paved road below Juniper House I almost ran over a crack in the asphalt, which was odd, since there'd never been a crack there before, plus the crack was straight, while most cracks snake about. After turning around the bike I saw that something was indeed snaking about, as shown above.

How odd that this snake lay there with such a straight body. It's hard to see how he could move forward. He was a small one, only about 15 inches long (38cm), but his markings were so distinct that I thought I might be able to identify him. A closer shot of the head showing a distinctive dark bar running diagonally up through the eyes and across the upper snout, and with a neat circle of spots crowning the head, is shown below:

Glossy Snake, ARIZONA ELEGANS, front end from above

A close-up detailing the critical-for-identification head scales appears below:

Glossy Snake, ARIZONA ELEGANS, head from side

A similar shot from the top appears below:

Glossy Snake, ARIZONA ELEGANS, head from top

It's always good with an unidentified snake to see if the body scales each have a little ridge, or "keel," running down their backs. Below, you can see that this snake's scales are "smooth," with no keels:

Glossy Snake, ARIZONA ELEGANS, smooth scales

Another diagnostic feature to look for is whether the scale above the anus is divided or else consists of a single broad scale. This snake's "anal plate" is shown below:

Glossy Snake, ARIZONA ELEGANS, anal plate

At first I thought that the anal plate -- the scale in the picture's center -- was "divided," but looking more closely it was clear that no definite division slanted across the scale's center. At one side of the scale there's a sunken-in oval spot I can't explain, but that's not a division. Well, with my old Audubon field guide for North American reptiles and amphibians it was easy to figure out the snake's ID, and this species has an undivided anal plate.

This is a Glossy Snake, ARIZONA ELEGANS, found throughout much of the arid, northern half of Mexico and the US Desert Southwest. Sometimes they're also called Faded Snakes, because of their pale, "bleached" look. They certainly were well camouflaged on the asphalt pavement. Nine subspecies are recognized, with a good bit of overlap between them. Most subspecies are capable of growing to about 50 inches (130cm), so our individual is a young one.

The literature says that Glossy Snakes occupy dry, open, sandy areas and a variety of habitats from coastal chaparral to oak-hickory woodlands and creosote-mesquite desert, to which we now can add oak-juniper hills. They often burrow into loose soil quickly, which explains their pointy snouts and recessed lower jaws. They are described as mostly nocturnal, though ours turned up in mid afternoon. They feed on small mammals, lizards, and other snakes