Black-Tailed Rattlesnake
Black-Tailed Rattlesnake

Dr. Erika Nowak

There are rattlesnakes in the Verde Valley. At Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, and Tuzigoot National Monument, many have been the subjects of a long-term research project conducted by Dr. Erika Nowak of Northern Arizona University. By capturing, releasing, and tracking individual snakes for almost three decades, Dr. Nowak's study has furthered our understanding of these secretive and amazing creature. It's unlikely, but one may see a rattlesnake here any time of the year. A valuable component of the southwestern environment, they play a vital role in controlling rodent populations. Their venom is primarily for killing and digesting prey, so they are not eager to bite people. They avoid predators, including us, using camouflage - if the snake can evade detection, it can save its venom for hunting.

While rattlesnakes can be dangerous, it is possible to have an enriching encounter with this iconic symbol of the desert. Here are some tips to make your next sighting memorable for all the right reasons.
  • Treat the snake with respect. Do not throw rocks or poke it with a stick.
  • Give it some space. About six feet is the minimum for safety.
  • If a snake wants to retreat, do not chase it.
  • If you hear a rattle but do not see the snake, do not back up. Turn around and calmly walk forward in the direction from which you came. You do not want to trip and fall on a rattlesnake because you could not see where you were going.
  • Always photograph and observe rattlesnakes from a safe distance.

As a general rule in the desert, remember to never put your hands or feet anywhere your eyes have not been first. If you are ever bitten by a snake, do not attempt to treat yourself. Many folk remedies do more damage than good. Call 911 and go to the hospital immediately.

Finally, if you find a rattle snake on park trails, note the location and report the sighting to a ranger as soon as possible. Rangers are trained to capture and relocate rattlesnakes in a way that is safe for them and the public.

Non-Venomous Snakes

Arizona Mountain Coachwhip

CC0 1.0
Alan Schmierer

Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum)

The coachwhip is a species of nonvenomous colubrid. They range throughout the southern United States from coast to coast. They vary greatly in color and have thin bodies with small heads and large eyes. Their prey consists of lizards, small birds, and rodents. They subdue prey by grasping and holding them with their jaws and do not use constriction. Coachwhips are fast snakes and can move faster than a human. They are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Gopher Snake

United States Fish and Wildlife Service
Elizabeth Materna

Gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer)

The Gophersnake is a nonvenoumous colubrid snake endemic to North America. They can grow to 5 or 6 feet in length and will often times mimic a Western Diamond-backed rattlesnake when it feels threatened by shaking it's tail. Generally they have calm personalities and will not strike unless provoked. Primary prey includes small mammals and frogs. This species is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Rattlesnakes Around Montezuma Castle

Only the Diamond-backed and Black-tailed Rattlesnakes live in or around Montezuma Castle National Monument on a regular basis. The Mohave rattlesnake was documented only once in 2020 at Tuzigoot National Monument.
Arizona Black Rattlesnake
Arizona Black Rattlesnake

CC BY-SA 2.0
Dyan Bone
U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region, Kaibab National Forest

Arizona Black Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus)

This species of rattlesnakes can grow to an average length of 3 feet with a color pattern that consists of a dark grayish, brownish black, or reddish brown color. Arizona Black Rattlesnakes undergo morphological color relatively quickly. This ability is shared with chameleons, lizards, and some other snake species. The primary prey is usually other reptiles, birds, eggs, and mammals.
Black-tailed Rattlesnake
Black-tailed Rattlesnake

CC BY 2.0
Greg Schechter

Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)

This medium sized species can reach up to 42 inches in length and ranges in color from yellows and olive greens to browns and blacks. Their most distinguishing feature is their black tail scales. The Black-tailed Rattlesnake is found in the southwestern United States, Gulf of California, and Mexico. Their primary food source is mammals and birds. This species is considered to be one of the most docile rattlesnakes because of its calm demeanor and curious nature. Bites are rare. This species is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
A Mohave Rattlesnake
Mohave Rattlesnake

CC BY 2.0
Geoff Gallice

Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)

This rattlesnake is highly venomous and typically found int he deserts of the southwest. It is considered one of the worlds most potent rattlesnakes. They are not found near Montezuma Castle; however, there was one documented at Tuzigoot National Monument in 2020. Primarily found in high deserts or lower mountain slopes hunting small mammals and reptiles. This speicies is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake

Jim Porter

Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

This species can be found in the southwestern United States and Mexico and is responsible for the majority of snakebite fatalities of the southwest. It thrives in flat coastal plains to steep rocky canyons and hillsides. Western Diamond-backed rattlesnakes are social during mating season and are usually inactive in October through March. Their prey consists of anything they can wrap their head around and are not picky eaters. This species is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There is a good chance to see this snake during your visit to Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well National Monument within the summer months.
Western Rattlesnake
Western Rattlesnake

CC BY-SA 3.0
Kameron Perensovich

Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus)

A venomous pit viper species which preys on small mammals, ground nesting birds, and occasionally amphibians and reptiles. The Western Rattlesnake can grow up to 3 feet long with a maxium size up to 5 feet. The snake lives on the land but will sometimes climb trees or bushes. They are typically active diurnally in cooler weather and nocturnally during hot weather. Western Rattlesnakes can produce from 1 to 25 young each season, this is highly dependent on the availabilty of food. This species is classififed as Least Conern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Last updated: March 3, 2021

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