What is a Desert Snake?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 January 2020
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A desert snake is a type of snake that lives in desert climates and is able to thrive in an environment with limited moisture. In the United States (US), many desert snakes are found in the Mojave Desert of the Southwest in areas such as Arizona. Among these the most well known is probably the Western diamondback rattlesnake. There are a number of other species of desert snake found in the US, however, with varying levels of toxicity and different ways of hunting. Outside of the US, desert snakes can be found in areas such as the Sahara in Africa and throughout the Arabian Desert as well.

In the Mojave Desert of the US, desert snakes can be quite common, and a number of different varieties and species can be found. Rattlesnakes, typically the most commonly thought of desert snake in the US, are pit vipers, which means they have two small pits beneath their nostrils that allow them to detect heat. This allows these types of snakes to hunt for warm-blooded prey such as small rodents, even in total darkness. Rattlesnakes are usually identified by their triangular heads and the jointed rattles found at the base of their bodies.


Along with rattlesnakes, coral snakes and kingsnakes are also common types of desert snake found in the US in areas such as New Mexico and Arizona. Both coral snakes and mountain kingsnakes appear fairly similar in color, with bands of red, black, and yellow or white. Their differences are important, however, as coral snakes are highly poisonous and can be recognized by the fact that the red bands directly touch the yellow or white bands on their bodies. Kingsnakes, however, have the black on their bodies separating the red and white or yellow, and are not poisonous. In fact, kingsnakes are typically immune to snake venom and tend to feed on other snakes such as rattlesnakes, as well as birds and rodents.

In desert regions outside the US, such as the Arabian and Saharan Deserts, desert vipers are a common type of desert snake and are typically feared by those who inhabit or routinely cross such places. These include the Sahara sand viper that has a sandy brown coloration which makes it very difficult to spot until an unwary person or small animal is too close. The Arabian horned viper is also common in the Arabian Desert and is usually nocturnal, avoiding the scorching heat of the day in preference for hunting its prey in the dark of night.


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Post 3

@browncoat - Well, it doesn't always work like that. A snake which has adapted to live in the desert isn't always going to be able to adapt to other kinds of areas.

One of the reasons desert viper snakes are so venomous, for example, is that they have very little chance of survival unless they can react fast enough (to predator or prey) and kill them from one bite.

And those quick reflexes are great in the desert, but if you were constantly expending energy on jumping around biting things in an area with a greater density of creatures, you'd quickly run out of energy to spend (not to mention, you'd probably get eaten by something which came along right after you spent your venom on something harmless).

Post 2

@umbra21 - It's no wonder that snake control can be such a nightmare. It's not so much because snakes are scary, but because they are so successful. I don't know if you've ever heard of the introduced snake infestation in Guam, but it's apparently so bad that they constantly have power outages from the snakes fouling up the power-lines, and quite a few native species to that island have gone extinct.

It makes me wonder what would happen if some of the hardy desert snakes ever managed to make it to an area with more food and fewer predators than they were used to. I just hope that will never happen.

Post 1

You learn something new every day. I had no idea that was why pit vipers were called that. I had some notion that they were once put into pits, or maybe that they hunted from underground or something else. I kind of hope that comes up on a trivia night or something now!

I've always been impressed by the different adaptions that snakes have to survive in different circumstances. I mean when you think about it, they must be one of the most successful species of all time when it comes to that. There are ocean dwelling snakes and desert snakes and rainforest snakes and so forth. That's a massive amount of adaptions for them to have.

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