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Here are some of the more common reptiles you may see in Joshua Tree. The reptiles of Joshua Tree National Park include 1 tortoise species, 18 lizards, and 25 varieties of snakes.


Poisonous animals use their venom to stun the creatures they plan to eat, and will only attack humans when provoked. Bites and stings usually happen when people place their hands or feet into crevices or when they disturb or threaten the animal. Even then, most bites and stings, while painful, are not fatal. Always remember to look first before placing your hands or bare feet anywhere, especially into crevices, debris, piles of stuff like wood. And if the worst should happen, be safe rather than sorry and head for medical attention right away.It's a good idea to shake out / inspect clothing, shoes (especially), linens, towels, etc. before putting them to use. You never know when a scorpion will decide to spend the night in your favorite sneakers!




Gopherus agassizii

​Like many desert creatures, desert tortoises spend most of their lives "holed up." In spring and summer, they roam grazing on grasses and wildflowers, then head for their burrows when it gets too hot. In fall and winter, when it is cold and there is not much to eat, they stay burrowed in for six months or more at a time.If you see a desert tortoise, you are seeing an endangered species. Please watch out for them on the roads. Tortoises live in washes and valleys where the soil is soft enough for them to burrow into, yet stable enough so they do not collapse. Remember, desert tortoises are protected under the Endangered Species Act and may not be handled or removed. 




Desert Banded Gecko

Coleonyx variegatus variegatus

Most common in sandy flats; occasional in canyons and rocky areas


Northern Desert Iguana

Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis

Most common on sandy flats, dunes, and washes but also along rocky washes and on alluvial fans


Mojave Collared Lizard

Crotaphytus bicinctores

Rocky slopes, rock outcrops of gullies, and boulder-strewn alluvial fans


Long-nosed Leopard Lizard

Gambelia wislizenii wislizenii

Open sandy or gravelly flats and plains; less commonly in rocky areas


Western Chuckwalla

Sauromalus ater obesus

Rocky outcrops, rocky canyons, rocky slopes, and alluvial fans


Mojave Zebra-tailed Lizard

Callisaurus draconoides rhodostictus

Open areas of sandy and gravelly desert flats, sandy washes, and alluvial fans


San Diego Horned Lizard

Phrynosoma coronatum blainvillii

Northwest section where loose, fine soil with high sand content is present


Southern Desert Horned Lizard

Phrynosoma platyrhinos calidiarum

Sandy flats and canyon bottoms


Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard

Sceloporus magister uniformis

Most abundant in the Joshua tree woodland Occasional on rock outcrops


Great Basin Fence Lizard

Sceloporus biseriatus longipes

Rocky outcrops above 3,000 feet


Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard

Uma scoparia

Wind-blown sand of dry lake beds, washes, and large dunes


Western Brush Lizard

Urosaurus graciosus graciosus

Bushes and small trees; also in clumps of galleta grass, Pleuraphis rigida


Desert Side-blotched Lizard

Uta stansburiana stejnegeri

Open, sunny ground Usually some rocks and loose soil are present


Desert Night Lizard

Xantusia vigilis vigilis

Most common in Joshua tree woodland, especially within fallen branches of Joshua trees and yuccas


Great Basin Whiptai

Aspidoscelis tigris tigris

Most common in areas where vegetation is densest


Western Red-tailed Skink

Eumeces gilberti rubricaudatus

Prefers moderately damp areas; northwest section


San Diego Alligator Lizard

Elgaria multicarinata webbii

Prefers moderately damp areas; northwest section


Silvery Legless Lizard

Anniella pulchra pulchra

Sandy or loose loamy soils with some moisture; northwest section 


​A half dozen kinds of rattlesnakes make their homes in California's deserts, but few folks ever see one. Only one guest in 11 years has run into a rattlesnake on the property, and spent a good amount a time trailing the snake from a safe distance and taking pictures. When rattlesnakes and people do meet, it is a scary moment for both. But just remember: they are not looking for trouble. If you back off (allow them an exit), they will gladly take their leave.


Mojave Desert Sidewinder

Crotalus cerastes cerastes

Sandy deserts, occasionally in rocky areas 

Sidewinder rattlesnakes are one of the desert's most infamous characters. Named for their weird way of travel, sidewinders move forward by going sideways! It may look loopy, but it is a good way for a snake to travel across the loose sands on the washes and dunes. Sidewinders are nocturnal, hunting by night for desert rats and mice. Come day, they bury themselves in the sand, leaving only distinctive rows of parallel tracks to mark their travels. 


Colorado Desert Sidewinder Crotalus

cerastes laterorepens 

Sandy, south-facing canyons; southwestern section 


Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake

Crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus

Rocky slopes, canyons, rock outcrops 


Red Diamond Rattlesnake

Crotalus ruber ruber 

Brush shrouded granite boulders and cactus patches; western section 


Mojave Rattlesnake

Crotalus scutulatus

Desert flats; northwestern edge only


Southern Pacific Rattlesnake

Crotalus helleri

Pinyon-juniper woodland communities; northwestern section 


Western Diamondback

SnakeCrotalus atrox

Areas with fairly thick vegetation; southern section 





Southwestern Blind Snake

Leptotyphlops humilis humilis

Moist areas in canyons, rocky slopes and boulder piles, and among the roots of shrubs; northern section 


Desert Blind Snake

Leptotyphlops humilis cahuilae

Sandy hills and rocky slopes where soil moisture is present; southern section 


Desert Rosy Boa

Lichanura trivirgata gracia

Rocky hills and canyons 


Mojave Glossy Snake

Arizona occidentalis candida

Prefers sandy areas, but also occurs on hard pan or in rocky areas; northern section 


Desert Glossy Snake

Arizona occidentalis eburnata

Sandy flats; southern section 


Mojave Shovel-nosed Snake

Chionactis occipitalis occipitalis

Sandy desert, creosote bush and dune areas Occasionally in rocky canyons and on rocky slopes 


Desert Night Snake 

Hypsiglena torquata deserticola

Most common in rocky areas 


California Kingsnake

Lampropeltis getula californiae

Found in all communities; most common in canyons with water 


Red Coachwhip or "Red Racer"

Masticophis flagellum piceus

Prefers open areas with high visibility 

We've seen this little red guy around the ranch. This is the most commonly viewed snake in the Mojave Desert. It can be seen on roads sunning itself in the early to late morning hours. It is the fastest snake in the desert moving at up to 7mph and can reach up to 6 feet long with a thin, whiplike body. It has a small head with large eyes and round pupils.  They vary greatly in color, but most reflect a proper camouflage for their natural habitat, from grays and tans to pink/red with black crossbars always present on the neck. A the snake gets older it begins to take on a more distinct reddish appearance. It’s diet consist of lizards, small snakes, mice and birds. 


Red Coachwhips were given their name because specimens frequently, but not always, have some red in their coloration. Coachwhip scales are patterned so that, at first glance, the snake appears braided. Adult sizes of 4-6 feet are common. They are diurnal (active during the day), hunting lizards, small birds, rodents, other snakes (including rattlesnakes), small turtles, bird eggs, and insects.


They are curious snakes with good eyesight, and are sometimes seen raising their heads above the level of the grass or rocks to see/hunt what is around them. They use scent trailing as well as vision to seek out prey. When confronted by a potential enemy they normally flee, but if this is not feasible, then they will coil up, hissing loudly and vibrating the tail, and may strike repeatedly. 


Coachwhips are good to have aeround because they include pest rodents and venomous snakes in their diet. However, these are active, mean tempered, aggressive snakes, and should not be handled. Although not poisonous, its bite can tear the flesh and should be avoided. 



California Striped Racer

Masticophis lateralis lateralis 

Most common in pinyon-juniper woodland; northwest section 


Western Leaf-nosed Snake

Phyllorhynchus decurtatus perkinsi

Areas of mixed sandy and rocky soil 


Sonoran Gopher Snake

Pituophis catenifer affinis

Creosote bush scrub; southern section 


Great Basin Gopher Snake

Pituophis catenifer deserticola

Creosote bush scrub, pinyon-juniper and Joshua tree wood- lands, desert riparian community; northern section 


Western Long-nosed Snake

Rhinocheilus lecontei lecontei

Creosote bush and pinyon-juniper woodlands 


Desert Patch-nosed Snake (rare)

Salvadora hexalepis hexalepis 

Creosote bush scrub, desert washes; southern section 


Mojave Patch-nosed Snake

Salvadora hexalepis mojavensis

Most common on sandy valley floors; northern section 


Smith’s Black-headed Snake

Tantilla hobartsmithi 

Desert riparian, pinyon-juniper and Joshua tree woodland; creo- sote bush and alkali scrubs; perennial grassland 


California Lyre Snake

Trimorphodon biscutatus vandenburgh 

Rocky foothills, canyons, and mesas

Most are 24"-36" long.


Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue


The Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue, is a chapter of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club (CTTC), a national 501(3)(c) non-profit organization. We are a local grassroots organization permitted by the State of California Department of Fish and Game to rescue and rehabilitate the endangered California Desert Tortoise.

Our mission is dedicated to the survival of the desert tortoise through education and adoption programs, working closely with government and military agencies, schools, community groups and local businesses.


​During the 1920s, there were 1000 California desert tortoises per square mile in our local Mojave desert. Within only 70 years, in 1990, the desert tortoise was listed as a threatened species through the US Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species Act. The tortoises' decline began primarily with loss of habitat from cattle grazing on the delicate desert grasses that are the base of the tortoise diet and then human encroachment on desert land.

Currently, the tortoises' main survival danger is raven predation on hatchlings and the upper respiratory disease syndrome (URDS) which is believed to have been introduced into the wild population in the early 1980's. According to the California Department of Fish and Game guidelines, it is unlawful to release a tortoise back into the wild after any length in captivity. This regulation is to prevent the spread of the disease.


​And that is why the Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue is in operation.

The Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue's dedicated volunteers spend almost all their spare time in outreach programs teaching local residents – from pre-school children to seniors – not to handle or touch a desert tortoise they may find in their area.

If you do find a desert tortoise, DO take pictures, get down and look at it, watch it to see how it moves and what it eats, and then walk away knowing how fortunate you are to have seen a vanishing, regal creature.

While driving on desert roads, DO keep an eye out for tortoises crossing. If you encounter one and have plenty of room to pass, drive slowly and carefully around it. If you don't have room to pass, stop and let the tortoise move across the road of its own accord. If the tortoise is on a paved road and in immediate danger, pull over to a safe place. Walk over to the tortoise, letting it see you approaching. Lift it slowly and gently, keeping it level and low to the ground. Move it to a safe place off the road, no more than 100 yards away, in the same direction it was traveling. Carefully set it down, preferably in the shade of a shrub. It is imperative not to frighten the tortoise so that it does not void its vital internal water supply. DON'T take it home and DON'T feed it​.


If you find a tortoise that is sick or injured (runny nose, hit by car, dog attack), please call the Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue at 760-369-1235. We will come to the site and retrieve the tortoise. We begin medical treatment immediately, and after their complete rehabilitation, they are placed up for adoption to qualified caretakers. Again, please note that if a healthy tortoise is taken into your possession, it is in "captivity" and cannot be released back into the wild, and must be turned over to the Rescue and/or adopted by you. A tortoise can live to be 80 to 100 years old, so taking one in is more than a lifetime commitment. As you can see, when a tortoise cannot be adopted for some reason, the Rescue cares for the tortoise for life.

If you want a pet desert tortoise, DON'T take one out of the desert! Taking ("harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, collecting or attempting to engage is such conduct") violates the Federal Endangered Species Act and the State of California Department of Fish and Game regulations. Violating these laws can result in a substantial fine. There are already many displaced tortoises looking for a good home. DO call the Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue for adoption information at 760-369-1235. Licenses, care sheets, and edibles information are available at the Rescue.


If you get tired of a pet desert tortoise, DON'T release it into the desert! Again, release of a captive tortoise is a violation of the Federal Endangered Species Act and the State of California Department of Fish and Game regulations. Violating these laws can result in a substantial fine. Instead, please call the Rescue at 760-369-1235, and we will find a great home for your tortoise.

Please contact the Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue. We are a non-profit organization solely dependent on private funding for it work. We are always in need of construction materials, office supplies, heating pads and hot lamps, and monetary donations to assist in the purchasing the much-needed medication for tortoise rehabilitation.

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