At seventeen inches or less, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake may be small, but with scorpions being one of its primary prey, it is an impressive predator. Typically, Tucson shovel-nosed snakes seize scorpions at the base of the stinger and then back into the sand to align the scorpion in a U-shape and allow the head and stinger to be swallowed last. The snake may have some resistance to scorpion venom.
As one of the most beautiful and interesting snakes of the upper Sonoran Desert, the Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake is an important component of Arizona’s natural heritage. Like other shovel-nosed snakes, the Tucson Shovel-nose is uniquely adapted to literally swim through sandy soils using its spade-shaped snout. In part related to this adaptation, the Tucson Shovel-Nose is dependent on very specific habitat requirements, including sandy soils found on level terrain of valley floors. Combined with a limited distribution, the narrow habitat requirements of the snake make it particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction from either agriculture or urban sprawl. Unfortunately, the snake’s historic range includes portions of northern Pima County, northern and southwestern Pinal County, and southeastern Maricopa County—an area that has been heavily altered by historic agriculture and is rapidly being squeezed by urban sprawl from both Phoenix and Tucson.
Much of the range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has not been recently or systematically surveyed. Where surveys have occurred, they indicate sharp decline. Up until the early 1970s, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake was regularly seen in the Avra Valley. The species, however, has not been seen in the Valley since 1979 and surveys in 2003 failed to find the species, indicating that the species has at the very least become exceedingly rare or may be extirpated in Avra Valley.
Declines in Tucson shovel-nosed snake populations relate directly to destruction of habitat from agriculture and urban sprawl. Tucson shovel-nosed snakes won’t inhabit areas where the soils have been disturbed by plowing or blading and it is unknown how long, if ever, it will take for habitat to recover. Based on maps of probable Tucson shovel-nosed snake habitat and agricultural and urban areas, we determined that 72% of the snake’s habitat in its core range has already been lost (Link to Map). If the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is to survive, it needs immediate protection of remaining habitat, particularly occupied habitat.
To protect the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, the Center for Biological Diversity and Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection filed a petition to protect the snake as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act on December 15, 2004. Protection of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake under the Endangered Species Act will provide additional funding to determine where Tucson shovel-nosed snakes still survive and protection for these areas. This is essential to ensure the survival of this unique species.