Arizona seems to have a fearsome reputation with outsiders when it comes to our desert pests and wildlife. From rattlesnakes to scorpions to coyotes and gila monsters, whats the real truth about pests in the Phoenix Metro area?


I’m just going to dive right in to the one that gets the most attention: scorpions. Specifically, bark scorpions.

These little guys cause more people to think twice about moving to Phoenix than probably any other single question I get from people outside the state.

Bark scorpions have been around since people started moving to the Valley, but, similar to pigeons, the bark scorpions adapted better to city life than some of the other species of scorpions found in Arizona.


The first thing you need to know about bark scorpions is they are not as dangerous as you think. Most natives have been stung, usually multiple times. I’ve been stung twice. Although they are the most venomous scorpion in North America, there have only been 2 recorded fatalities in the United States since 1968, when they started recording such things. Just to put things in context, around 40 children die every year from TV’s falling on them.

Like a bee sting, treatment varies from person to person. Normally, it is an intense pain that last 24-48 hours an goes away on its own. Small pets and young children can have more severe reactions, including: difficulty breathing, drooling, sweating, or vomiting. For an adult, a sting rarely requires medical attention, but if a young child or infant is stung, medical attention should be sought to ensure the affects do not become life-threatening.

Until very recently, only the affects of the sting were treated, i.e. anti-swelling and anti-allergic types of medications were used. And remember, even without an anti-venom, there has not been a death from scorpion sting since 1980. However, there is an anti-venom now available for those with the severest reactions

Scorpions bodies act like a car left in the sunlight, i.e their insides will heat up (and die) if they are outside in the sun. For this reason, you almost never see them in the light. They live in warm, dark places wherever food (other small insects especially crickets and small cockroaches) can be found. Scorpions are nearly blind, sensing only light and darkness. They cannot see you, they just mostly avoid the light.

All of scorpions venom is found in the telson, the very last section of its tail.

For this reason, if you cut off the stinger, the rest of the scorpion is completely harmless. They even sell suckers with the stinger removed, since the rest of the scorpion is actually edible.

If you have tweezers or needle-nose plyers, you can grab it by the end of the tail, flush it down the toilet, pour dish soap on it (if on tile or concrete, don’t do this on carpet) or spray with scorpion killer (though I’ve found this still takes 20-30 minutes to die). I usually put it in a jar and pour dish soap on it for an immediate death.

The short answer is: yes. If they have seen scorpions, they should disclose it. The longer answer is: They may have scorpions they never knew about. Scorpions live in all parts of the valley. There are areas where they live more than others, but one house may have a lot, the house next door may have none. That house may suddenly hire an exterminator, causing all the scorpions to flee next door. You should never expect a house or an area to be scorpion free, even if the previous owner never saw any.

Scorpions have this unique feature of glowing under a UV (ultraviolet or black) light, available at most hardware stores. This makes them very easy to find at night, which, as mentioned previously, is when they come out anyway.

They are most commonly found under large rocks, in trees where bugs live (hence the name bark scorpions) and these cracks in cinder block walls.


There are 2 spiders of concern in Arizona: the black widow and the brown recluse.

Black Widow

Black widows have shiny black bodies, with a distinctive hourglass shape on their bellies. The females are known for eating the males after mating, leading to a disparate number of females. They are about the size of a quarter.

They will be found outside, almost always building their unorganized webs low to the ground, such as under outdoor furniture, cars that haven’t moved lately, or in sheds.

A black widow bite is quite rare, but the effects can be really harmful. They are not aggressive, but will bite in defense. If you think you’ve been bitten by a black widow, muscles will become stiff, can cause nausea and vomiting, and severe cases can result in death. You should call poison control or go to the emergency room as soon as possible

Brown Recluse

Brown recluse spiders are harder to identify than the black widows, since the black widows have such a distinctive hourglass shape on their belly. As the name implies, brown recluses are super rare to find. Although they are not uncommon, they do not like contact with other animals and are usually only seen in places not frequented by humans such as a infrequently used shed or perhaps a car that has been stationary for a very long time or a corner of a commercial building that don’t come in contact with humans.

If left alone, they will usually leave you alone, hence the name. However, you can spray them with pesticide and avoid the area for at least a few hours before checking on them.

You should seek medical attention ASAP, probably from the emergency room.


Of course we have many types of snakes in Arizona, but the only real dangerous snake around Phoenix is the rattlesnake. As the name implies, they have rattles at the end of their tails.

This is a western diamondback rattlesnake. It is the most common rattlesnake found in Arizona. It’s so popular our baseball team the Diamondbacks are named after them.

Don't Tread on Me
Is this a snake?

If you live well within the city, you will not likely encounter a rattlesnake. But, if you live near the edge of the city or one of the mountain preserves such as South Mountain or the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, or just have a generally desert-scaped yard such as is common in Scottsdale, it is possible you will encounter a snake.

They have poor eyesight, relying primarily on their heat sensors located near their nose.

Being cold-blooded, like all reptiles, means you can often find them on the roads at night or sunning themselves in slightly cooler temperatures, especially during spring and fall.

  • Stop moving
  • Back away slowly
  • Warn other people in the area
  • Do not try to kill it
  • Do not try to photograph it
  • Do not poke it with a stick

Can you guess where 80% of snake bites occur? The hand. Yes, most people are bitten trying to poke, prod, catch, or photograph rattlesnakes. Snakes are very not aggressive and always try to give warning, and will retreat when they have a chance. Even if you nearly step on a snake (which I have on 3 occasions) they still coil and rattle, and do not immediately strike.

  • Visit the emergency room ASAP
  • Try to keep your heart rate down
  • Get to the nearest emergency room
  • Don’t try anything else
  • Straight to the emergency room

Studies have shown that snakebite kits, sucking the poison out, cutting off circulation to the area, or doing literally anything other than going straight to the emergency room results in much greater tissue damage. The only preventative measure you can take is trying to stay calm because an elevated heart rate will spread the venom faster. Good luck with that.

Other concerns


Coyotes are largely solitary, hearty and very adaptable desert dwellers that often venture many miles into the cities in search of food such as rabbits, squirrels, and chihuahuas. They often travel along the canals but can be as many as 20 miles within the city limits, meaning no portion of Phoenix is completely free of coyotes. They are known to jump as high as 8 feet, meaning if you live near the edge of the city, you need to carefully monitor your small pets.

They are not aggressive to humans, and will likely mind their business and be on their way, so it is best to do nothing except perhaps warn your neighbors who have small dogs or outdoor cats.


These furry pigs are called “desert ghosts” due to their ability to dimply disappear into the desert landscape. They are not aggressive, eating mostly cactus including prickly pear both the leaves and the fruit, as well as other native plants and occasionally small animals like lizards and small birds.

They are not technically pigs, more closely related to rodents, and the best thing to do if you seen one (r more often a small pack) is nothing. They may eat some of your prickly pear in your yard and be on their way.

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