Biologists believe there are 47 reptile species within Grand Canyon National Park including a variety of lizards, snakes, geckos and tortoises. Interestingly, the various species thrive in the different ecosystems within the Canyon. While most reptiles prefer the wet, riparian habitat, rattlesnakes and gila monsters can be found in the desert regions.
Of all the snakes in the Grand Canyon, there is only one species that’s poisonous, the rattlesnake. The Grand Canyon is home to a few rattlesnake species including the Diamond Back and the Great Basin, but perhaps the most interesting is the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake. Found only where it name indicates, it has developed to blend in perfectly with its environment. Its body is a pale, tanish-pink with large dark splotches up its body that fade toward the middle. They are relatively shy and non-aggressive. That said, they are indeed poisonous so don’t press your luck. Give any snake a wide berth for safety’s sake and by all means, do not attempt to feed them.
One of the more exciting spotting of snakes in the Grand Canyon is that of the pink rattlesnake because the Grand Canyon is the only place you’ll find it. A relative of the Western Diamondback, it is considered a medium-large size snake with dark splotches typically found near its tail.
Great Basin Gopher Snake
A lengthy snake in size, the Great Basin Gopher Snake hangs around dry, sandy land and often be found curled up under brush. Feeding on rabbits and other rodents, gopher snakes avoid the extreme heat.
Other snakes in the region include rodent eating snakes like king snakes.
The other venomous reptile found in the Grand Canyon is the Gila Monster. They can grow to be between four and five feet in length, quite large for a lizard! Their venom is a neurotoxin released in the saliva and while bites are not life threatening, they are extremely painful. It’s unlikely you’d experience one, though. Unless provoked, this reptile isn’t very interested in human beings. Gila’s are egg hunters and will also eat baby mammals that are left unattended.
Gila Monsters spend the majority of their lives underground but can sometimes be seen sunbathing in the warm sunshine. They’re not camouflaged like the rattle snake. You’ll easily spot their black bodies mottled with gold. The Gila Monster is considered a threatened species. Habitat loss has created problems for the species, but the Grand Canyon is a protected habitat where they can live relatively undisturbed.
While visiting the Canyon, you may also see the smaller chuckwalla, a lizard about a foot or more in length that likes to bask on rocks to warm up in the mid-day sunshine. They’re herbivores, so there is really nothing to worry about with these guys. Chuckwallas are shy so you’re more likely to see them tail first as they hightail it away from you. In fact, if they feel threatened, chuckwallas will scurry into rock crevasses and inflate themselves with air, securely “trapping” themselves into the tight spaces.
Chuckwallas have extra skin around their necks and a thick tail. You’ll most likely find them in and around rocky terrain closer to the river basin.
An ancient species, the Desert Tortoise is slow to move its heavy, dark green shell. What it lacks in speed, it makes up for in stamina as they’ve inhabited the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts for millions of years and are known to be excellent burrowers.
Known for sprinting away from predators on its hind legs with its tail in the air, the Collard Lizard sports colorful, spotted skin and feeds on other lizards, small mice and insects.