Ridge-nosed rattlesnake (Crotalus willardi)

Crotalus willardi is a venomous pit viper species found in the southwestern United States and Mexico. It is the most recent rattlesnake species to be discovered in the United States. Its specific name is in honor of its discoverer, Professor Frank C. Willard. Five subspecies are currently recognized, including the nominate subspecies described here. The Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake is the state reptile of Arizona.


C. willardi is a rather small rattlesnake with all subspecies measuring one to two feet (30–60 cm) in length. Color patterns are generally a dark brown base with pale or white horizontal striping, but vary slightly between subspecies. The distinctive ridges along each side of its nose, which are a series of upturned scales, are unique to its species and are the origin of its name.


C. willardi is rarely found outside habitats at high elevation. Wooded mountain ranges, primarily in the southwest, are where this reclusive species is found. Each subspecies’ range is limited to select mountain ranges, making human encounters rare events.

Conservation status

This species is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (v3.1, 2001). Species are listed as such due to their wide distribution, presumed large population, or because they are unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category. The population trend was stable when assessed in 2007.

Although four of the five subspecies are secure, the New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnake (C. w. obscurus) is an endangered species and listed as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Remaining populations are scattered throughout New Mexico, Arizona and the northern part of Mexico. Habitat destruction is the cause of declining numbers, but critical habitat designations (recovery measures) have been proposed.


Rattlesnakes are primarily ambush hunters; they coil and lie waiting for prey to approach within striking distance. The diet of C. willardi includes small mammals, lizards, birds, and large centipedes. The young feed primarily on large centipedes (Scolopendra spp.) and lizards, whereas adults feed primarily on mammals and birds.

Like other rattlesnakes, C. willardi is ovoviviparous, meaning it gives birth and does not lay eggs. Contrasting with viviparous animals, the young still develop within an egg inside the female snake until their time of birth. Copulation occurs from late summer to early fall, and gestation lasts about four to five months. Females give birth to two to 9 (average five) young in late July or August. Both sexes appear to reach reproductive maturity around 400 mm (16 in) in body (snout to vent) length. Although captive snakes have reproduced annually, wild females probably reproduce every second or third year.


Due to the generally small size of the snake, venom discharge yields are low; thus, the largely hemotoxic venom is not as life-threatening as that of other rattlesnakes. No documented deaths have been caused by ridge-nosed rattlesnakes, but pain and discomfort can still result from a rare bite.


Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Photograph is available under a Creative Commons License from Josh More.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.