There are various types of snakes species found in deserts. Some of the most common snakes that live in the desert include black mambas, sidewinders, desert horn vipers, and Arizona coral snakes, among others.
Due to their cold-blooded nature, snakes do well in this kind of environment.
They can be found in diverse regions, including the United States’ major deserts: the Mojave, Sonoran, great basin, and the Chihuahua.
In the eastern side of the world, we have the semiarid desert of Australia, the Gobi, Karakum, and that of Asia. We also have snakes living in the Sahara desert, the Sinai Peninsula in Africa, and the Arabian desert in the Middle East.
Venomous Snakes from the Desert
1. Arizona Coral Snake (Micruroides euryxanthus)
Arizona coral snakes are found in southern and central Arizona, southwest of New Mexico, and south of Mexico Sinaloa.
This snake is pretty colored with red and black rings separated by white or yellow. They are vicious and very venomous. The snake is usually small, reaching 13 to 21 inches (33-53 cm) in length.
Surprisingly, other snake species such as Kingsnakes usually mimic the appearance of coral snakes to scare away predators. This is a common practice among snakes, and it is known as Batesian mimicry.
Related Article: 13 Snakes That Hibernate
2. Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
The black mamba is a large and highly venomous snake belonging to the family Elapidae. It is native to sub-Saharan Africa with the highest range of distribution.
The snake is feared due to its toxicity, size, and speed. Additionally, it is the second-longest venomous snake after king cobra growing up to 3 m (9 ft 10 inches). However, larger specimens ranging from 4.3 to 4.5 m have ever been reported.
Black mambas are predominantly found across sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, and Mozambique. However, animal enthusiasts, zookeepers, and animal organizations have exported the snake to regions such as the United States over recent years.
Fun Fact: It only takes two drops of a black mamba venom to kill a human. The snakes account for more than 20,000 deaths each year.
3. Desert Cobras (Walterinnesia aegyptia)
Desert cobras are found in countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the northern side of Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. They are also found in Syria and the deserts of Qatar.
Compared to other cobras such as king cobra, the snake is relatively shorter and only grows to about 0.5 meters to 1.8 meters. Another distinguishing feature is their color. The snake is entirely black and has shiny scales.
They live in deserts but not entirely on sandy areas like the ad-Dahna desert. Additionally, they are also often found near human habitation in agricultural irrigation areas.
4. Desert Horn Vipers (Cerastes vipera)
These snakes are found in Sahara and Sinai Peninsula, while the Arabian horn viper lives in the Arabian Desert in the Middle East. They can sense the heat of their prey with the help of the heat-seeking pits on their head. That is why they are known as pit vipers.
They are also the most distinct of the North African desert snakes. This species is short in length, between 30 to 60 cm, where females are larger though they have the same body structure. Desert horn vipers are also very venomous but only bite when threatened.
One distinct feature about this snake is the horns that protrude from the top of their heads. Interestingly, not all horned vipers have horns. The same clutch of eggs might yield some with horns and some without.
Scientists haven’t yet pinpointed the purpose of these horns. However, most believe that they aid in camouflage.
5. Nubian Spitting Cobras (Naja nubiae)
This is a species of spitting cobra native in Africa in the family elapids. They are medium-sized cobras frequently found in Sahara desert.
Their maximum recorded length is 148 cm. These snakes are capable of spitting venom at the eyes of their predators to protect themselves.
Fun Fact: These snakes can accurately spit their venom from 8 feet away. If the venom lands on your eyes, it can cause severe stinging pain and can even lead to blindness on rare occasions.
6. Saw Scaled Vipers (Echis carinatus)
There are seven known saw-scaled vipers species. The snakes are primarily found in the Sahara desert. These small viper snakes, usually less than 2 feet, are among the most dangerous snakes in the world.
They are also found in the Middle East and South Asia. Their virulent venom varies by species, although none of them is less harmful. They are also known for their habit of rubbing their bodies against each other, producing loud raspy sounds to warn potential predators of the snake’s venomous bite.
7. Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes)
This is a small rattlesnake with tan, white, and black patterned scales and two horns at the front of its head. The adult grows up to 76.2 cm (30″) long.
They are found in the Mojave Desert, stretching from southwest of North America to the northwest of Mexico. Sidewinders are also common in the Sonoran desert.
While the snake is venomous, its toxicity is 16 times less than that of the Mojave rattlesnake. As such, it poses little to no threat to adult humans. That said, the venom is still potent enough to kill any animal/child below 30 pounds.
8. Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)
Western diamondback, also known as Texas diamondback, is a venomous species of rattlesnake found in Mexico and the southwestern side of the USA. It is a heavy-bodied snake with a triangular-shaped head and has dark diamond-shaped patterns along its back. The tail has black and white bands just above the rattles.
They also live in grassy plains, forests along the coast, and rocky areas. The average length of the western diamondback is 4 to 6 feet and can live up to 20 years.
Related: 6 Snakes that Eat Rattlesnakes
Non-Venomous Snakes that Live in the Desert
9. Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum)
The coachwhip is a very fast non-venomous snake that grows up to 8 feet (244 cm). They are usually slender, and their color appears to be black, fading from the head to tan or cream white to the tail.
Coachwhips are found in the southern United States from Carolina to central California. They are common in open habitats with sandy soils, are usually active during the day, and love the hot weather.
10. Desert Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis splendida)
This is a Kingsnake species found in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. They usually grow 3 to 4 feet long but may exceed 6.8 feet. The Kingsnake is non-venomous and appears in yellow and black.
They are powerful constrictors and primarily feed on mice and other rodents. Although kingsnakes are non-venomous, Kingsnake can tolerate rattlesnakes’ venom and often consume rattlesnakes as meals.
They also have ways to defend themselves by hissing, playing dead, rattling leaves, discharging a bad smell, and striking.
11. Glossy Snakes (Arizona elegans)
Glossy snakes are abundantly found in the Mojave Desert. Although they are prevalent in the desert, they are also found in grasslands, chaparral slopes, and rugged washes.
They are terrestrial reptiles with moderate physicality and mostly appear to be grey, pink, or cream with darker blots. They grow up to 42 inches and mostly live underground out of human sight.
The snake is non-venomous and predominantly feeds on small rodents and lizards.
12. Gopher Snakes (Pituophis cetenifer)
Gopher snakes are members of the genus pituophis. Gophers are the longest snake species in all of Arizona and the Mojave. These snakes occupy a diverse range stretching from South Central and Western Canada to Mexico. They can also be spotted in Wisconsin and western Texas to the pacific coast.
These snakes grow between 70 to 108 inches or even bigger. They are mostly mistaken with rattlesnakes because of their appearance and defensive posture. The snake usually coils up and produces a rattling sound similar to that of rattlesnakes when threatened.
For this reason, they are mostly killed by humans thinking they are venomous rattlers, although they are non-venomous.
13. Long-Nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)
This snake is moderately long (90cm to 152 cm in length). A long-nosed snake is a non-venomous species in the family Colubridae.
They are found in northern California, Idaho, southern Colorado, and southwestern Kansas, south to Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Nayarit, and the Baja California Peninsula.
14. Patchnose Snake (Salvadora hexalepis)
The patchnose snake is closely related to the coachwhip. It is speedy when chasing prey and even faster when biting. Most patchnose snakes grow up to 45″ long.
It lives in rocky areas and sandy soils in bushy flats or desert scrub. They are found southwest of the USA and northwestern Mexico, and Baja California.
15. Rosy Boas (Lichanura trivirgata)
Probably one of the prettiest snake species on this list, the rosy boas is a small boas species native in the southwest of the United States, Baja, and Sonora. They are non-venomous and grow up to 86cm in length.
It has unique patterns that vary depending on where they are found. Experts differentiate them based on the coloration and patterning of their bodies. Those found around Morongo Valley, CA, are striped with bright orange and blue/grey, but in the Maricopa Mountains of AZ, they are striped with deep brown and cream white.
16. Sand Boas (Erycinae)
Sand boas, also known as Egyptian or East African sand boas, are found in Kenya’s semiarid deserts, scrub savannahs, and rocky outcroppings of northern Africa, Egypt.
They are smaller species of boas, with male size being 15″ inches (38cm) and females 26-32″ inches (81cm) long. They spend most of their lives buried in the sand and are non-venomous.
17. Western Ground Snake (Sonora semiannulata)
Western ground snake is a tiny snake and very harmless. It may grow to about 20-48 cm. Their color can vary widely with bright colors like red, brown, and orange with striping.
They are found in the southern North American side of the USA to Mexico. They feed on small insects, centipedes, crickets, spiders, and scorpions.
18. Western Leaf-Nosed Snake (Phyllorhynchus decurtatus)
This snake is tiny but heavy-bodied, around 12-20 inches (30-51cm). It is gray to tan with small irregular dark spots scattered on the back. The nose is enlarged and raised above the level of the scales, and the scale looks like part of a leaf folded on the nose.
This snake does not have venom harmful to humans. They are found throughout the western part of the USA, Mojave, and in parts of the Sonoran desert.
Snakes are pretty diverse and can be found almost everywhere in the world. That is why plenty of snake species live in deserts across the USA, Africa, Asia, and other regions.
However, most of the snake species found in these regions belong to the Viperidae family, which includes rattlesnakes and other vipers.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.