Why the Ridge-Nosed Rattlesnake is Arizona’s State Reptile

Written by Nixza Gonzalez
Updated: April 15, 2023
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Arizona is a arid and hot state with four different desert regions. Arizona, also known as the Grand Canyon state, is home to over seven million people. This beautiful state also has lots of animals, specifically reptiles. For example, there are about 52 species of snakes alone in the state, and 13 of them are rattlesnakes.

With so many snakes to choose from you may be surprised to learn that Arizona’s state reptile is the ridge-nosed rattlesnake. Keep reading to find out why the ridge-nosed rattlesnake is Arizona’s state reptile.

What is a State Reptile?

Not all states have a state reptile. Only 28 states have official state reptiles. A state reptile is a state symbol, like a state flower, bird, or animal. In 1969, Oklahoma became the first state with a state reptile. Its state reptile is the common collared lizard. A decade later, two states followed. Florida’s state reptile was chosen in the 1990s and it’s an American alligator. Florida also has a state saltwater reptile, the loggerhead sea turtle. The most recent state to adopt a state reptile is Utah with the Gila monster. Another interesting state reptile is the western painted turtle, which Colorado established as their state reptile in 2008.

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About the Ridge-Nosed Rattlesnake

Ridge-nosed rattlesnakes are colorful and bright. Their scientific name is Crotalus willardi. They are a species found throughout the southwest. There are four ridge-nosed rattlesnake subspecies. The subspecies in Arizona is the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake, which was first described in 1905. Keep reading to learn more about the ridge-nosed rattlesnake.

Size and Appearance

Ridge-nosed rattlesnakes are thick-bodied, venomous pit vipers. They are the most recently discovered rattlesnake species in the United States. They are also a small rattlesnake species, with the larger snakes reaching 2 feet long. These snakes have a dark brown base with pale white and yellow stripes on their bodies and white stripes across their face. As their name suggests, ridge-nosed rattlesnakes have distinctive ridges on each side of their nose.

A young Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake coiled on a flat orangish rock

Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnakes like this young one have a dark brown base color with pale white and yellow stripes on their bodies and white stripes across their face.

©Rusty Dodson/Shutterstock.com


Like other rattlesnake species, ridge-nosed rattlesnakes ambush their predators. They lie low, coil, and wait for prey to come closer. When they are in striking distinct, ridge-nosed rattlesnakes strike small mammals, birds, lizards, and large centipedes. Young ridge-nosed rattlesnakes mainly eat large centipedes and small lizards.


No one wants to be bitten by a rattlesnake. Although ridge-nosed rattlesnakes rarely bite humans or pets, you should avoid getting in the way of a rattlesnake protecting its home or hunting for prey. The snake’s venom is low since they are small. There have been no documented cases of a human dying from a ridge-nosed rattlesnake bite. Still, rattlesnake bites hurt and swell. If you are bitten by a snake, but you aren’t sure if it’s venomous, get medical assistance immediately.

Why is the Ridge-Nosed Rattlesnake Arizona’s State Reptile?

The ridge-nosed rattlesnake became Arizona’s official state reptile in 1986. This snake was discovered in Arizona and is the most recent rattlesnake species discovered in the United States. It’s very common across Arizona and the southwest, including parts of Mexico.

Arizona Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake, Crotalus willardi

As their name suggests, Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnakes have a distinctive ridge on both sides of their nose.

©Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

Common Reptiles in Arizona

Arizona is home to a diverse range of animals, including snakes. There are many reptiles in the state, but most are snakes that hide in dens. While in Arizona, it’s common to see snakes, especially during the summer. When the atmosphere is more dry and the weather is sunny, rattlesnakes venture closer to homes and neighborhoods, looking for food and water.

The most common places where you can find snakes in Arizona is near mountains and hillsides. If you see a rattlesnake near you, move away, but don’t make quick and sudden movements. Walk away slowly, without taking your eyes off of them. Rattlesnakes are venomous, and while not all species are deadly, they can still cause pain and harm.

Listed below are some of the most common reptiles throughout Arizona:

  • Desert spiny lizards
  • New Mexico whiptails
  • Sonora mud turtles
  • Arizona coral snakes
  • Narrow-headed garter snakes
  • Sand snake
  • Plains black-headed snake
  • Common chuckwalla
  • Ornate box turtle
  • Agassiz’s desert tortoise

Fun Facts About Rattlesnakes

  • Rattlesnakes have a wide range and can live anywhere from southern Canada to central Argentina.
  • Some of the largest rattlesnakes reach up to 8 feet.
  • Not all rattlesnakes have a “rattle” or make noise before they strike.
  • Rattlesnakes can handle living in high elevations up to 11,000 feet above sea level.
  • Rattlesnakes typically live between 10 and 25 years, but their lifespan varies depending on the species.
  • Some rattlesnakes, like the Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake are critically endangered.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Nixza Gonzalez is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics like travel, geography, plants, and marine animals. She has over six years of experience as a content writer and holds an Associate of Arts Degree. A resident of Florida, Nixza loves spending time outdoors exploring state parks and tending to her container garden.

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