Identifying Kansas Snakes

Identifying Kansas Snakes
Hikers in Kansas need to be aware that there are 38 separate species of snakes that reside in the state. There are five snakes in Kansas that are venomous, and all the snakes live in the region year-round. Of the snakes in Kansas, 14 species have a statewide distribution. Hikers should be able to identify the most common species, as well as those that pose a potential threat due to being poisonous.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Identifying Kansas Snakes

Step 1
Identify the gopher snake by its length. This is the longest snake that can be found in Kansas, with some capable of being 7.5 feet in length. Look for a pattern of brown or black blotches against a brownish yellow body, with the tail region having black and yellow bands. Don't be alarmed by the gopher snake when it makes its loud hissing noise, since it is only a sign that it is frightened. Never harm one, as this snake consumes rodents such as gophers and ground squirrels, which damage crops.
Step 2
Identify the water snake species in Kansas by their environment. Marshes, swamps, slow-moving rivers, ponds and lakes in Kansas are where you may encounter these types of snakes. Most stay close to the water, with the lone exception being the plainbelly water snake, which has a cream-colored underside. The diamondback water snake, the northern water snake and the Graham's crayfish snake will be much closer to a wet environment, feeding on frogs, fish, insect, and crayfish. All these snakes are harmless and between 4 and 5 feet long. The lone venomous water snake in Kansas, the cottonmouth, lives in small numbers in the very southeastern tip of the state and will coil up and expose the white lining of its mouth when it is in danger.
Step 3
Identify the three rattlesnake species in Kansas by their trademark rattle. Each of these snakes will have a rattle at the end of its tail, which it employs to warn off potential threats. The timber rattler is the longest of Kansas's rattlesnakes at about 5 feet, while the massasauga is barely 3 feet long and has a smaller rattle. The prairie rattler is less than 5 feet long but has a more noticeable rattle. Realize that even though these snakes are venomous, there has been just one confirmed death from snakebite in Kansas since 1950, and the rattlers will look to flee when approached.
Step 4
Identify the venomous copperhead by the distinctive bands on its body. There will be between seven and 20 of these markings, which often have an hourglass shape to them. The copperhead can be gray with darker gray banding or light brown with bands that are a darker shade. Copperheads are found only in the eastern third of Kansas and are rarely as long as 40 inches. Hikers in the woods may find them sunning themselves on rocks.
Step 5
Identify the two hog-nosed snakes of Kansas by their behavior. These snakes, which have obvious upturned snouts that give them their name, are often mistaken for poisonous species but are quite harmless; they actually never bite. When encountered, the western and eastern hog-nosed snakes will feign an attack and then resort to playing dead.

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