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Tucson Shovel-Nosed Snake Surveys on the Florence Military Reservation


Tucson Shovel-Nosed Snake (Chionactis occipitalis klauberi) is distinguished from other Shovel-nosed snakes by the red bands which are suffused with dark pigment, making them appear brown or partly black (Mahrdt et al. 2001). The snake is primarily nocturnal and uses “sand swimming” as its primary locomotion, moving by using asideways swaying motion while it is either on or under the sand or loose soil (Stebbins 2003).  It is found in creosote-mesquite floodplain environments, and also occurs in open creosote desert containing soils of soft, sandy loam, and sparse gravel (Rosen 2003). This snake uses venom to subdue arthropod prey, and relies on scorpions for a portion of its diet. This species is historically known from south central Arizona and portions of northern Pima County (Avra and Santa Cruz valleys), northern and southwestern Pinal County, and southeastern Maricopa County. These same areas have been heavily altered by agriculture and urban sprawl, and the habitat will be impacted further by several large developments slated to begin construction within a 275 square mile area of Arizona State Trust and private lands centered near Florence Junction.

The Tucson Shovel-Nosed Snake is listed as a species of special concern by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) and was petitioned in December 2004 to be listed as a threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.  The goal of this project will be to develop baseline, empirical data on the Tucson Shovel-nosed snake and its habitat within the Florence Military Reservation to determine its current status within the management area. 

Florence Military Reservation is located 3 miles north of Florence, Pinal County, Arizona and is approximately 60 miles northwest of Tucson, Arizona. The FMR is divided into several training areas that are used for live-fire exercises, unit maneuvers, simulated engagements, and small arms familiarization and qualification. The FMR lies within Arizona State Trust Lands and its boundary is mostly surrounded by Arizona State Trust and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.

We identified target survey locations for Tucson Shovel-nosed Snakes within FMR by developing a suitable habitat model. Our habitat model included land use, elevation, slope, and soil type. We used ArcGIS 9.2 (ESRI,Inc.) and the NRCS Arizona soil series to summarize soil texture, slope and horizon characteristics associated with the different soil types found within FMR.

Surveys were conducted by deploying 12 trap arrays using a design modified from Campbell and Christman (1982).  Each trap station consisted of two 15.2m (50ft.) long silt fences forming an L shape with 3 pitfalls (1 at each end and 1 at the center), and 4 funnel traps placed on both sides of the fences. Trapping took place during three 15 day periods; April 15-29, May 6-20, and June 4-18.

In conjunction with the Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake trap-surveys, we also monitored roadway wildlife mortalities. We monitored mortalities along a 4.4 mile segment of highway 79 between Arizona Farms Road in the north and Hunt Highway on the south end, and a 1.5 mile segment of Arizona Farms Road on the northwest boundary of FMR.

We documented 28 Tucson Shovel-nosed snakes during trapping and roadway monitoring on FMR. Of these, five individuals were live-captured in funnel traps placed along drift fence trap arrays.  The remaining 23 individuals were road mortalities. Our results indicate the serious threat to Tucson Shovel-nosed Snakes and other reptile species from vehicle strikes in the vicinity of FMR, and we suggest investigating potential mitigation strategies to reduce mortalities.  These may include use of fencing and culverts to direct movements.

For more information contact:
Ronald Mixan, Research Biologist
Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086
Phone: (520) 609-2165       E-mail:

Shawn Lowery, Research Biologist
Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086
Phone: (520) 742-1911       E-mail:

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