The lined snake is a small, secretive, striped, burrowing snake that looks similar to a gartersnake. It is mainly gray, brown, or grayish tan, with 3 white, light gray, or yellow stripes: one along the back and one on each side. Some populations have the stripe along the back orange or orangish yellow. Along each side, there is also a dark gray or brown stripe or series of spots. A white or pale yellow spot is usually at the base of the head, in line with each eye. The chin and forward part of the neck are white. The belly is white, cream, or pale green, with two distinct rows of dark gray or black spots or half-moon-shaped spots.
The head is small and slightly flattened. This snake has a relatively short tail: the tail length is less than 20 percent of the total length. Females' tails are shorter than those of males.
Adult length: 9 to 15 inches; occasionally to 21 inches.
Occurs in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, the northeastern and northwestern corners, and the central and western parts of the state.
Habitat and Conservation
Normally active from April through October, lined snakes hide during the day under rocks, logs, and other debris, becoming active at night.
They prefer a slightly moist soil and live in a wide variety of habitats: native prairies, rocky glades, empty lots in towns and suburbs, in and near old trash dumps, along highways where there is abundant debris for shelter, and in open, rocky woodlands. Small grassland patches and roadsides are some of the best remaining habitat for lined snakes.
Lined snakes are most commonly reported as dead individuals killed along highways, and in open, rocky habitat in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas. If you want to see this species, look for them at night, especially after a rainfall, as they forage for earthworms driven to the surface.
Lined snakes overwinter underground in small mammal burrows or under objects such as rocks or logs embedded in the ground.
This species feeds almost exclusively on earthworms. Lined snakes have a pair of enlarged teeth at the back of the upper jaw, which may help lined snakes with swallowing earthworms. Lined snakes may also eat some soft-bodied insects and slugs, but the small size of the head limits lined snakes to small prey.
Harmless, nonvenomous snake.
Because of its secretive, burrowing habits, population status is largely unknown for this species throughout its range. People rarely see it. Many observations are of dead individuals killed on roads.
Mating occurs in late summer, right after the young are born, or in autumn. Females that mate in autumn store sperm, which fertilize their ova the following spring. (Lined snakes in other areas may breed in the spring.) Each female produces one litter of 2–12 young, which are born in late July into early September, with most births occurring in August. Female lined snakes become sexually mature in midsummer of their second year, and males during the first year.
When captured, lines snakes will release a foul-smelling musk from glands at the base of the tail. They seldom bite when handled.
Humans burden many snake species with unfair, undying myths that paint them to be much more dangerous and harmful than they are. But this small snake is hard to view as a threat, unless you're an earthworm. Most people simply enjoy seeing these interesting creatures.
Although predators to earthworms, lined snakes, as with other small snakes, can be preyed upon by many animals such as kingsnakes, racers, birds of prey, and shrikes. One researcher watched a blue jay attack and try to eat a 10-inch-long lined snake in the St. Louis area.