Tiny Snakes

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Published on: May. 2, 2007

Last revision: Nov. 30, 2010

Snakes of Missouri

Most snake species native to Missouri are from 2 to 5 feet long—nose to tip of tail—but we also have many snake species that stay tiny throughout their lives. The shy flat-headed snake, for example, seldom grows longer than 7 inches, and a “gigantic” prairie ring-necked snake might measure just over a foot long.

People sometimes believe that any small snake they encounter is just a “baby snake.” If it has even a bit of red, brown or tan coloring they might think it is a baby copperhead, which to them seems to justify killing it.

While it’s never a good idea to kill any snake that doesn’t present a clear danger to people, killing small snakes that have no potential to harm us is certainly unnecessary.

Missouri’s group of small snakes are generally shy and reclusive. None of them are a threat to people. Even the few that inject venom through tiny fangs to subdue small prey cannot pierce human skin.

With a little time and study you can learn to recognize Missouri’s tiny snakes. Many of them have attractive colors and patterns, as well as fascinating life histories, making them great candidates for nature study.

Northern Red-bellied Snake

Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata

Length: 8 to 10 inches

Northern red-bellied snakes are closely related to brown snakes. Their coloration varies. The back and sides can be gray or reddish-brown with a faint, tan stripe down the center. Their belly can be yellowish-orange, orange or red—even scarlet-red.

This species is found throughout Missouri, except in the northwestern corner of the state. Red-bellied snakes can be found in moist, open woods with plenty of hiding places, such as flat rocks, boards or logs. Their prey includes earthworms, slugs, land snails and soft-bodied insects. They bear up to 21 young during late summer.

Ground Snake

Sonora semiannulata

Length: 8 to 12 inches.

This snake is seldom seen in Missouri. It’s found in only a few counties in the southwestern corner of the state, where it spends most of the time underground or under flat rocks on dry, rocky, south-facing hillsides.

Some ground snakes may have a plain background color of tannishgray with no dark markings. Others may be orange to reddish-orange with numerous black or dark brown cross bands. Still others may be tan with one or two dark bands on the head and neck. Their belly is cream color with small, dark transverse bars on the tail.

This species lays from four to six eggs that hatch in

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