There are about 3,275 species of snakes worldwide, with 141 found in the United States. Kansas has 42 species of snakes and they are the most diverse group of reptiles in our state. Fourteen of these have a distribution nearly statewide. Nine species have a primarily western distribution in the state and eight are restricted to the eastern one-third of Kansas. Only five species of Kansas snakes are venomous, and they are all in the Family Crotalidae. Ten are designated as Threatened Species or Species in Need of Conservation by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism. All Kansas snakes are permanent, year-round residents and none migrate far from suitable habitat. This pocket guide includes all 38 species of snakes found in Kansas. These are the creatures you might encounter while hiking the prairies, canyons, and forests.
Myths about snakes
Snakes are much maligned and mostly misunderstood. Many people hold some unusual beliefs about Kansas snakes. For example, contrary to popular belief:
- Snakes don’t swallow their young to protect them during times of danger (acids in a snake belly would quickly kill and digest the young).
- Snakes don’t milk cows (snake teeth are very sharp and cows won't stand for it).
- Snake tongues are not stingers (they do, however, tickle).
- Snakes cannot crawl faster than a person can walk (it just seems that way to some adrenaline-driven individuals when they unexpectedly encounter one of these reptiles).
- Snakes will cross a horsehair rope (back and forth as many times as they like).
Snakes are an integral part of the food chain. They are small, shy animals that are frightened by people. Understanding their role in nature and their unassuming presence are vital to dispel the myths and fears people have of snakes.
Herpetology is the study of amphibians, turtles, reptiles and crocodilians. Individuals interested in studying or observing native Kansas snakes are encouraged to join and participate in the activities of the Kansas Herpetological Society. You can obtain membership information by contacting Suzanne Collins, Center for North American Herpetology, 1502 Medina, Lawrence, Kansas 66047 (785-393-2392), or by visiting the KHS website listed below.
Interested in learning more about snakes in Kansas and North America? Check out the following websites and books:
- Kansas Herpetofaunal Atlas
- Kansas Herpetological Society
- The Center for North American Herpetology
- Learn about all North American Water Snakes
- Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. Third Edition. by Joseph T. Collins & Suzanne L. CollinsUniversity Press of Kansas, Lawrence
- Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. By Roger Conant & Joseph T. CollinsHoughton Mifflin, Boston
Herpetoculture is the art of maintaining amphibians, turtles, reptiles and crocodilians in captivity. All Kansas snakes are protected from commercial exploitation and may not be sold in pet shops or any other outlet, retail or wholesale. Unless otherwise exempt (under 16 or over 65 years of age for example), a current Kansas hunting license is required for collecting and maintaining harmless snakes in order to observe and study them. Any kind of native snake not designated as Endangered, Threatened or a Species in Need of Conservation is eligible.
State regulations require no more than five individuals of each kind be maintained. Individuals wishing to explore this fascinating avocation are encouraged to subscribe to Reptiles magazine (consult Herpetoculture on The Center for North American Herpetology web site at www.cnah.org).
Kansas has an exceptionally rich history in herpetology as many of the most recognizable names in the field have called Kansas home. As a result, Kansas’ native reptiles and amphibians are as well-studied as any similarly sized place on earth. Since the late 1800s, scientists have marveled at the diversity and abundance of amphibians and reptiles in Kansas. The labors of their work fill scientific journals and the thesis cabinets at every state university.
Joe Collins came to Kansas in 1967 and quickly began adding to this body of work. More importantly, Joe dedicated himself to sharing this wealth of information with the public. Through presentations, radio and television appearances, the publication of many books, and even an audio cassette Joe brought his passion for herpetology into the homes of countless Kansans. He formed the Kansas Herpetological Society, which is the largest academically oriented state herpetological organization; despite that most of its members have jobs far outside of herpetology.
A Pocket Guide to Kansas Snakes is one of the latest efforts on Joe’s behalf to educate Kansan’s on those things he held dear. Joe gave out the snake guides by the hundreds and he always had one in hand as he approached a landowner or happened upon a couple kids with a dip net on some back road. He encouraged everyone to take two and to give them to friends. His tireless efforts have certainly opened the eyes of many citizens, helped to spur on generations of young herpetologists, and probably even saved a few snakes.
Joe passed away in January, 2012, while doing what he loved most: collecting snakes with friends and family. We hope you get as much enjoyment from using this pocket guide as he did bringing it to you.
– Travis W. Taggart, Curator of Herpetology,
Sternberg Museum of Natural History
– Suzanne L. Collins, The Center for North American Herpetology
– Bob Gress, Director, Great Plains Nature Center
A Checklist of Kansas Snakes
The Pocket Guide to Kansas Snakes adopts the common names of Collins and Taggart (2009 Standard Common and Current Scientific Names for North American Amphibians, Turtles, Reptiles and Crocodilians. Sixth Edition. Publication of The Center for North American Herpetology, Lawrence, Kansas. iv + 44 pp.). Taxonomy follows that of the most recently published scientific works available as of January 2012.
Class Reptilia: Order Squamata
DID YOU KNOW?
As Copperheads coloration and patterning is very effective for camouflage in dead leaves on the forest floor. Copperhead snakes rely upon camouflage and cover for safety. When danger is perceived, Copperheads will usually freeze in place and remain motionless for the threat to pass. This strategy works well in their natural habitat. Unless a person steps on them, grasps them, or otherwise comes very close to them, however, then bite will be readily used as a last defense. An agitated Copperhead will vibrate its tail rapidly.