In this post, I’d like to tell you about some of the common reptiles that live in my neighborhood in the Sonoran Desert.
Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum cingulum) is a slender nonvenomous snake with variable coloring to help in camouflage. In Tucson, Arizona, coachwhips that are pink to red in color are called Red Racers. The pattern on the scales give the snake a braided look, like an old-time leather coach whip. Their large eyes provide good eyesight. In times of trouble, they prefer to rapidly slither away (considered one of the fastest snakes) but, if cornered, they will rise up, hiss, vibrate the tips of their tails to simulate the sound of a rattlesnake, and strike quickly and repeatedly.
The coachwhip is associated with several Western fables. One is that the snake bites its own tail to form a hoop, then rolls in pursuit of its prey. Another is that a coachwhip will chase a person, coil around him, and then lash him to death with its tail. The snake checks the person for life by inserting its tail into the person’s nose. If the person isn’t dead, the snake will continue the lashing. Of course, none of these stories are true.
Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) is a large, stocky lizard of southwestern Arizona. The male’s body features a purple stripe near the neck.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) This snake is known for its distinctive rattle when threatened. The keratin rattle mechanism at the tip of the tail twitches up to 100 times per second. The dark diamond-shaped pattern on its back identifies this common Tucson rattler.
Rattlesnakes belong to a group of venomous snakes called pit vipers and are found in a wide range of habitats. The pits, located between the nostrils and the eyes, are used in sensing the heat of other animals, and are sensitive enough to detect a body only a fraction of a degree warmer than the ambient air. Rattlers usually hunt at night, preferring small nocturnal mammals. Rattlesnakes are important in controlling the populations of disease-carrying rodents.
If you want to learn about this fascinating snake, I recommend my picture book, Don’t Make Me Rattle! You’ll also find a 46-page Diamondback Workbook here, which is used by teachers, tutors and parents to supplement children’s educations.