A small to medium-sized, multicolored snake with a pointed head. The back has wide orange or red incomplete bands, bordered by narrow black bands, over a white or light yellow ground color. Large individuals may have some black pigment in the red bands. The snout is usually red or orange. The belly is spotless and white or cream colored.
Similar species: The red milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum syspila) is more common in our state and looks similar. Its snout is usually not orange or red, and its belly is boldly marked with black and white (not spotless and white).
Length: 14 to 20 inches.
Scattered counties in south-central and southern parts of the state.
Habitat and Conservation
This secretive snake spends much of its life underground, except on warm nights or after heavy summer rains. It can be found under flat rocks, logs, or other objects. Probably active from late April through October, it is associated with loose or sandy soil because of its burrowing habits. It usually occurs in forested regions often associated with pine. In our state, this species has been found on wooded, rocky hillsides.
This species eats the eggs of turtles, lizards, and other snakes. It may swallow the eggs whole or break the eggshell with its teeth and then swallow the contents. This species may occasionally eat lizards, small snakes, and mice, killing these prey by constriction.
Rare; a Species of Conservation Concern, classified as imperiled or vulnerable in our state. Because so few of these snakes have been found in Missouri, it is difficult to determine their overall status. They may be more common than we think. Because of their secretive nature, they are rarely encountered, so it's hard to tell.
Little is known about the reproduction of this species. Apparently, mating occurs in the spring, and the eggs are probably laid during June, with 3-8 eggs being produced per female.
Snakes have always captured the imaginations of humans. In myth, religion, and story, snakes perform the role of seducer, sneak, guardian, healer, killer, and transformer. Even though seldom seen, this attractive, harmless snake is part of the natural wealth of our state.
As predators, scarletsnakes control populations of other reptiles by consuming their eggs. As with many other predatory species, they are preyed upon themselves by many larger animals, including snakes, mammals, and birds. The eggs and young are especially vulnerable.