Tiny Snakes

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Published on: May. 2, 2007

Last revision: Nov. 30, 2010

Snakes of Missouri

punctatus arnyi

Length: 10 to 14 inches

This species of snake is common in Missouri and is easily identified. Just look for a yellow to yellowish-orange ring around its neck, just behind the head. The back and sides can be dark gray, dark brown or blue-black. The belly is yellow with small, black spots, and changes to orange at the tail.

Ring-necked snakes eat mostly earthworms, but they will occasionally eat soft-bodied insects and small salamanders. The eggs of ring-necked snakes hatch in late summer.

Ring-necked snakes can be found anywhere there is an abundance of flat rocks, boards or other objects on the ground where they can find shelter. This species occurs throughout Missouri. A subspecies, the Mississippi ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus stictogenys), lives in the southeast corner of the state.

Flat-headed Snake

Tantilla gracilis

Length: 7 to 8 inches

Missouri’s smallest snake, the flat-headed snake can be tan, graybrown or reddish-brown. It lacks distinct markings, but its head is usually darker than the rest of its body, and it has a striking salmon-pink belly.

The snake’s smooth skin, small, flattened head and slender body allow it to move easily through the soil. This tiny snake eats scorpions, centipedes, spiders and soft-bodied insects. This species is equipped with slightly enlarged, grooved teeth at the back of the mouth. These are probably used to deliver venom that subdues prey.

Flat-headed snakes do not have the ability to bite a person when captured or handled and are not harmful to humans of any age.

Flat-headed snakes occur in the southern half of Missouri, except for the southeastern corner. This species can be found on dry, open, rocky hillsides, where they often burrow under rocks. Females lay from one to four eggs that hatch in late summer.

Rough Earth Snake

Virginia striatula

Length: 7 to 10 inches

Similar in appearance to the western earth snake, the rough earth snake’s name refers to a faint ridge or keel on each scale along the back and sides.

These snakes are gray, brown or reddish-brown with a lack of markings. Their belly is unmarked and cream-colored.

These snakes are found in the southern half of the state, except for the southeastern corner. They prefer rocky, open, wooded hillsides where they take shelter under flat rocks. Rough earth snakes mainly eat earthworms. They give birth in late summer to litters of two to nine young.

Western Earth Snake

Virginia valeriae elegans

Length: 7 to 10 inches

Similar in appearance to the rough earth snake, this small, slender snake has smooth scales and no distinct markings. Scales along the back and sides lack the ridge or keel of rough earth snakes.

Western earth snakes are generally gray to light brown or reddish-brown. A faint, light tan strip is usually found along the back. Their belly is plain white or cream-colored with no markings.

This species can be found primarily in the southern half of the state and in a few scattered locations in northcentral Missouri. They frequently inhabit rocky, hilly woodlands where they hide under rocks and logs or in leaf litter. Earthworms and slugs are their main prey. They produce from two to 14 young during late summer.

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