Western Foxsnake (Western Fox Snake)

Pantherophis vulpinus
Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

A marsh-dwelling member of the ratsnake group, the western foxsnake is moderately large with distinct brown blotches. The ground color is gray, yellowish, greenish brown, or tan, with large, dark brown blotches on the back and smaller ones on the sides. The head of foxsnakes may show some orange color, which might cause them to be misidentified as a copperhead. The belly is normally yellow, marked with a distinct black checkered pattern.

Young lack the yellow ground color and are gray with bold dark brown or black blotches. The head is boldly marked with a black mask running through the eyes and slanding back to the angle of the jaw. There are also black markings on top of the head and large black spots along the upper lips.

Hatchlings resemble western ratsnakes (black rat snakes). Counting ventral scales (belly scales, from neck to anus) is the best way to distinguish them (about 216 on western foxsnakes, and about 221 on young western ratsnakes).

Length: 36 to 54 inches.
Habitat and conservation: 
The species generally inhabits open grasslands and borders of woods. In Missouri, the western foxsnake has been found near large, natural marshes and wet prairies, but it is not a common snake. When threatened, a foxsnake will vibrate its tail, coil with head and neck raised, and strike repeatedly to defend itself. When captured, foxsnakes give off a musky odor like the scent of a red fox, accounting for their name.
Food includes small rodents, including mice and chipmunks, birds, and bird eggs. Foxsnakes kill their prey by constriction. Young foxsnakes eat frogs and insects.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Northern third of the state.
Critically imperiled in Missouri; a Species of Conservation Concern. Before European settlement, this species may have occurred across much of the northern half of Missouri. It is now restricted to eastern and northeastern extremities (mostly border counties) and the northwestern corner.
Life cycle: 
Little is known of the life habits of western foxsnakes in Missouri. Courtship and breeding apparently occurs in April, soon after emerging from overwintering dens. In June or July, the female lays 8–27 eggs in rotten stumps or logs, sawdust piles, or leaf litter. The eggs hatch in August or September. Hatchlings resemble western ratsnakes and are about a foot in length.
Human connections: 
This critically imperiled species is valuable as a controller of destructive rodents. Some people might mistake it for a copperhead, but the round, dark brown blotches of the foxsnake are very different from the distinctly hourglass-shaped markings of the copperhead.
Ecosystem connections: 
As a predator, this snake helps keep populations of other animals, especially rodents, in check. Although it can defend itself by trying to bite, by vibrating its tail ominously, and by emitting a stinky smell when attacked, this snake often becomes food for hawks and other predators.
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