are about 3,275 species of snakes worldwide, with 141 found in the United States. Kansas
has 38 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
Note the milky blue eye color of this Western Rat Snake, a sign
it is getting ready to shed its skin.
Photo © by Suzanne L. Collins
Used by permission
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 dont swallow their young to protect them during times of danger (acids
in a snake belly would quickly kill and digest the young).|
|Snakes dont milk cows (snake teeth are very sharp and cows won't stand for
|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.
Shed snake skin
Photo © by Bob Gress
Used by permission
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 web sites and books:
|Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. Third Edition. |
by Joseph T. Collins & Suzanne L. Collins
University 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. Collins
Houghton Mifflin, Boston
Prairie Kingsnake eggs
Photo © by Bob Gress
Used by permission
|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).
Top of page
|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.
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 Joes behalf to
educate Kansans 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
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.