The midland brownsnake is a small, secretive species that prefers a moist environment. It is a close relative of the northern red-bellied snake. The general color is gray brown to reddish brown, with a white or yellowish belly. Its back has a distinct tan stripe bordered by two rows of small, dark brown spots; the spots normally are joined by small lines across the tan stripe. The top of the head is usually dark.
Similar subspecies: The Texas brownsnake (Storeria dekayi texana), a different subspecies, is found in the western third of Missouri. Its ground color is often reddish brown, and the short bars between the small dark spots along the back are thinner and less obvious. Also, the dark spot on either side of the neck is larger. Where the two subspecies overlap, many snakes show intermediate characteristics.
Length: 9 to 13 inches.
Statewide, but intergrades with and is replaced by the Texas brownsnake subspecies in about the western third of Missouri.
Habitat and Conservation
Active from April to early November, this species can be found under logs, rocks, boards, or other objects. It is sometimes seen crossing trails and roads in spring and fall. In hot weather, it may be active at night. It prefers a moist environment and is found near marshes and swamps, in moist woods and river floodplains, and sometimes on rocky hillsides. It is not known to bite, but when captured it will flatten its head and neck and release a musky secretion at the base of the tail.
Brownsnakes eat earthworms, slugs, land snails, and soft-bodied insects. One study found the diet was 75 percent slugs and 25 percent earthworms. Other researchers suggest that the blunt head and elongated teeth of this snake and the closely related red-bellied snake helps them to grip and tug persistently on a snail's body until the snail fatigues and can be pulled out of its shell.
Mating generally occurs soon after these snakes emerge from their overwintering retreats, but it can also occur in autumn. Females give birth to live young instead of laying eggs, and a litter of 3-30 young are born between late July and September. Newborn brownsnakes are about 3 inches long.
Gardeners who persecute this snake are doing themselves a disservice, for brownsnakes eat slugs, which are a bane to gardeners. Defenseless except for flattening their heads and necks, and pooping on their captors, these snakes are completely harmless and do humans much good.
As predators, these snakes control populations of the invertebrates they consume. But snakes are preyed upon themselves. Their defenseless newborns are gobbled by numerous animals. The adults, being small and defenseless except for their ability to smear stinky stuff, are eaten by many animals.