Snake in Cactus (with Photos)

The view from my window.

Snake in a CactusI was on the phone with Verizon, asking them to turn off the “tether” feature for my Treo, when I glanced out my window. I was just in time to see a snake slither up the side of the 20-foot saguaro 10 feet away.

I finished up my business, grabbed my new camera with its zoom lens, threw on the first pair of shoes I found (which happened to be Mike’s), and dashed outside. The 103°F heat hit me like a hammer but didn’t slow me down. A moment later, I was taking the photos you see here.

The snake had climbed the cactus to investigate the two nests on the southwest side. Woodpeckers and other birds sometimes dig holes in the sides of saguaro cacti and build nests there. This morning, I’d seen a Gila woodpecker sitting at the opening to the topmost nest. This afternoon, a snake was climbing out of it. He’d obviously been looking for a meal, but if he found one, it couldn’t have been too large; there was no sign of a hastily swallowed egg or chick along his long, skinny body. Arizona snakes commonly eat bird eggs; Martha Maxon sent a great series of photos of a Gopher Snake swallowing Dove Eggs for publication on

Snake in a CactusI don’t know what kind of snake it is, but I know it isn’t a rattler. No rattles. It was about 4 feet long with a head so tiny that it was hard to make out. (Thank heaven for 10 megapixel cameras and autofocus zoom lenses.) It was definitely an intelligent creature that didn’t mind the heat; its perch on the cactus was in the full sun, bringing the temperature up to at least 120°F. It also seemed immune to the hard, sharp spines of the cactus it climbed on.

Snake in a CactusHe apparently saw me on the ground nearby because he didn’t seem interested in coming down. I took the opportunity to run back inside for a longer lens — my 70-210mm zoom. When I got back outside, he was on his way down, his body doubled along the cactus’s ribs. He stopped for a moment to watch me, sniffing the air with his tongue.

I got sidetracked by by Jack the Dog proudly delivering a dead dove to the driveway. (He likes to catch them as they try to escape from the chicken coop, where they’ve gone to steal the chicken scratch.)

When I returned to the cactus, the snake was slithering back into the nest hole. It must have been pretty large because the entire snake fit in there. I waited a while for it to come back out, but it stayed there.

I wonder if it lives there now.

Oh, yeah. And that really is the color of the sky here. Sometimes I still can’t believe how blue it gets. Not a single cloud in sight today, either.

7 thoughts on “Snake in Cactus (with Photos)

  1. Hi Maria,

    The snake is a coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum). Those who pick them up refer to them as “nastycophis” as they readily bite, and have a very high rate of bites per second. Non-venomous eaters of lizards, baby birds, and small rodents

  2. Thanks for the info, John. Glad I didn’t get too close.

    And I don’t think he lives in the nest because I saw a bird checking it out early this morning. That means he’s probably down in my front yard somewhere.

  3. Hi Maria, yes, as John said, that is a Western Coachwhip(Masticophis flagellum). They come in a variety of colors; red, green, black and combinations thereof. They are typically unpleasant to catch and handle because they bite repeatedly, thrash about and smear foul smelling musk. The very first snake I caught was a coachwhip…or did it catch me? They are fun to watch and photograph however!

    They are opportunistic feeders, preying on whatever they can catch; birds, lizards, rodents, snakes…even the occasional rattlesnake!

What do you think?