The Snake's Burrow

A Pocket Guide to Kansas Snakes

Welcome to
The Snake's Burrow!

This part of the Great Plains Nature Center website is adapted from the booklet
"A Pocket Guide
to Kansas Snakes,
4th Edition".

Use the links below to find out more about these fascinating creatures!

Introduction
Myths about snakes
What is herpetology?
Herpetoculture
In Memoriam, Joseph T. Collins
Basic information about snakebites
Species portraits of Kansas snakes

Background on the Booklet and how you can get one


Introduction

There 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. 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.

A snake ready to shed its skin has an opaque eye scale.
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 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.

Shed snake skin
Shed snake skin
Photo by Bob Gress
Used by permission

Herpetology

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:

Species portraits of Kansas snakes
Kansas Herpetofaunal Atlas http://webcat.fhsu.edu/ksfauna/herps
Kansas Herpetological Society www.cnah.org/khs
The Center for North American Herpetology www.cnah.org
Learn about all North American Water Snakes at www.watersnake.net
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

Herpetoculture

Prairie Kingsnake eggs
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.

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
Family Leptotyphlopidae:
New Mexico Blind Snake
Family Colubridae:
Eastern Glossy Snake
Eastern Racer
Prairie Kingsnake
Speckled Kingsnake
Milk Snake
Coachwhip
Rough Green Snake
Smooth Green Snake
Great Plains Rat Snake
Western Rat Snake
Gopher Snake (Bullsnake)
Longnose Snake
Ground Snake
Flathead Snake
Plains Blackhead Snake
Family Dipsadidae:
Western Worm Snake
Ringneck Snake
Western Hognose Snake
Eastern Hognose Snake
Chihuahuan Night Snake
Family Natricidae:
Plainbelly Water Snake
Diamondback Water Snake
Northern Water Snake
Graham’s Crayfish Snake
Brown Snake
Redbelly Snake
Checkered Garter Snake
Western Ribbon Snake
Plains Garter Snake
Common Garter Snake
Lined Snake
Rough Earth Snake
Smooth Earth Snake
Family Crotalidae:
Copperhead
Cottonmouth
Timber Rattlesnake
Prairie Rattlesnake
Massasauga

Return to top of page

Go to Great Plains Nature Center Home page

Go to Flora and Fauna of the Great Plains

Go to Reptiles in Kansas

Snake's Burrow
Text: Joe Collins & Suzanne L. Collins
Photos: Suzanne L. Collins & Bob Gress
Range Maps and Web Design: Jim Mason

Questions or comments?  Send Email to Jim Mason Spidey
Or write us at: 
Great Plains Nature Center
6232 E. 29th Street North
Wichita, KS 67220-2200             Call:  316-683-5499            Fax:  316-688-9555