For Immediate Release, September 24, 2020


Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Petition Aims to Protect Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake Under Endangered Species Act

Rare, Beautiful Snake Threatened by Urban Sprawl From Phoenix, Tucson

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity today again petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Tucson shovel-nosed snake as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

The striking snake, which eats scorpions and is characterized by alternating black and red stripes over its cream-colored body, is severely threatened by urban sprawl from both Phoenix and Tucson. The snake has a small range limited to portions of Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties — an area sometimes referred to as the “Sun Corridor megapolitan” for its rapid urbanization. The snake is particularly at risk because it only occurs on flat, valley bottoms that are prime development areas.

“The lovely Tucson shovel-nosed snake needed protection in 2004 when we first filed a petition, and it still needs it today,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center. “Federal safeguards for this snake will mean preserving more of the natural desert we all love.”

Following the Center’s first petition, the Fish and Wildlife Service found the snake warranted endangered species protection in 2010, but rather than actually grant the snake protections, instead put it on a candidate list.

In 2014 the Service reversed course and found the snake didn’t warrant protection. In doing so, however, it misinterpreted a genetics study and found the snake had a much larger range than previously thought and thus didn’t need protection. This conclusion was directly refuted in a letter by the preeminent expert on the species, Dr. Phil Rosen, who sadly passed away last week.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bows to political pressure from special interests far too often and wrongly denies protection to critically imperiled plants and animals,” said Greenwald. “This agency badly needs reform. It needs a renewed commitment to its duty to stop extinctions by giving protection to the snake and to so many other species threatened by our ever-growing impact on the environment.”

Like other shovel-nosed snakes, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is uniquely adapted to swim through sandy soils using its spade-shaped snout. According to a study by a Center senior scientist and GIS specialist and the late Dr. Rosen, the snake has already lost 39% of its historic habitat to agriculture and urban development. The study also found the vast majority of the snake’s remaining habitat is unprotected and vulnerable to development. As but one example of threats to the snake, the proposed Interstate 11 Highway would cut through the heart of the snake’s range.

Tucson shovel-nosed snake. Photo courtesy of USGS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.