The rough earthsnake is a small, plain, secretive snake that is a uniform gray, brown, or reddish brown, with a cream-colored or light gray belly, unmarked. To verify your identification, note the rough earthsnake’s keeled scales along the back (which makes it feel rough), 5 labial scales along the upper lip, and a single scale between the nostrils.
Similar species: The western smooth earthsnake (Virginia valeriae elegans), found nearly statewide, is closely related and extremely similar in appearance. It has relatively smooth scales along the back, 6 labial scales along the upper lip, and 2 scales between the nostrils.
Length: 7 to 10 inches.
Throughout the Ozarks in the southern half of the state, excluding southeastern counties.
Habitat and Conservation
A highly secretive species that prefers rocky hillsides. It seldom ventures above ground, remaining hidden under logs, flat rocks, or in leaf litter. Rough earthsnakes are most abundant in rocky, open wooded hillsides, along woodland margins, and in open areas with abundant ground cover such as rocks, logs, bark, stumps, or other debris. It is not known to bite, but when captured it will release a foul-smelling musk from glands at the base of the tail.
Rough earthsnakes feed mainly on earthworms but do occasionally eat slugs, snails, and insects.
This species is normally active April through October. During warm, damp weather, individuals may become active at night. Mating occurs in April and May. Females give birth to live young from July to September. Litters typically contain 2–9 young, which measure about 3–5 inches long at birth.
What is the value of a small snake that most people never see? Many believe that each species has its own intrinsic value, a worthiness that exists regardless of any human view. But economists are showing that nature, in a healthy, pristine condition, has tremendous value in hard dollars, too.
As predators, earthsnakes control populations of earthworms, snails, slugs, and insects. Many larger animals, including other snakes, mammals, and predatory birds, will eat them when they can catch them. The danger of predation explains the earthsnake’s camouflage coloration and secretive habit.