Introduction to Snakes • Class Reptilia, Order Squamata • 38 species of snakes in Kansas • Only 4 are venomous: Copperhead, Timber Rattlesnake, Western (Prairie) Rattlesnake, Massasauga • The venomous snakes we have are pit vipers, meaning they have heat-sensing pits between their nostrils and mouth, and they are like infra-red detectors.
Snakes, cont. • Many snakes are quite beneficial because they keep rodent populations down. This is important for us because not only do rodents eat our crops, but since we and they are mammals, we share many diseases, so we don’t want to live with rodents in our environments. • Snakes are very fragile—they are ribs all the way down and can be hurt very easily. • No reason to kill them! They are very beneficial to us, and only the venomous ones need to be carefully relocated by an expert handler.
Snakes, cont. • Many die on roadways by cars and the summertime heat can burn them. • Human are main predator because of ignorance. • Many birds of prey eat snakes, some turtles and mammals like raccoons and skunks will also eat them.
Snakes, cont. • Snakes are either constrictors, bite and grab, or venomous. This describes the way they eat: • Constrictors tighten around their prey so that their prey cannot draw a full breath of air (ribs expand when you breathe), and they eventually suffocate. • Bite and grab snakes simply swallow their prey whole and alive. • Venomous snakes inject venom that actually begins the digestive process, and by doing so, kills the prey. They can track their prey by using the heat-sensing pits and find them after they have stumbled off to die. They usually don’t get very far.
Snakes, cont. • Snakes have an excellent sense of smell. They used a forked tongue (greater surface area) and a special organ called a Jacobson’s organ, which they insert their tongue into at the roof of their mouth and “taste” the air. It is kind of a combination of smelling and tasting. • Snakes typically have poor eyesight. They usually detect movement rather than seeing the clear animal. • Snakes have either keeled (rough) or smooth scales.
Snakes, cont. • Most are active in spring and fall. They hibernate in winter underground or in rock crevices, and they aestivate in summer (this is like hibernation but not as prolonged—if it is a nice day, they will be out and about). • Snakes mostly lay eggs, but some give “live” birth, where they retain the eggs inside and the babies emerge from the mother. • Snakes have weak jaw muscles. If you get bitten by a non-venomous snake, they basically open their mouth and hit you with their teeth. The bigger the snake, the bigger their teeth, so it hurts more, but not like getting bitten by a mammal with strong jaw muscles.
Snakes, cont. • Snakes can unhinge their jaws to swallow prey items larger than themselves. • Snakes are ectothermic, meaning “cold-blooded”. Their body temperature same as the environment, they must regulate their temperature by either basking in the sun to warm up or by going underground to cool off. • Snakes shed their skin periodically—timing not based on anything, they shed the outer layer as they grow. They shed more often when more food is available and they grow faster. • Snakes lay an amniote egg, it has the embryo inside with a yolk sac for food, various membranes to protect the growing embryo. They have a leathery-like shell.
Snakes, cont. • How to identify snakes: • Observe the scales: they will either be smooth or “keeled”, where there is a ridge that runs down the middle. • Most field guides are arranged by the pattern you see on snakes. • Solid colors, blotchy pattern, or stripes
Venomous snakes in Kansas • As mentioned, we have four species of venomous snakes in Kansas: • Copperhead—eastern 1/3 of KS (pictured in the slide show) • Timber Rattlesnake—eastern 1/3 of KS (pictured below and in the slide show) • Western (Prairie) Rattlesnake—western ½ of KS • Massasauga—eastern 2/3 of KS
Venomous snakes in Kansas • The only place that Cottonmouth snakes have ever naturally occurred in Kansas is the Spring River in eastern Cherokee County (extreme southeast corner of Kansas). This area is part of the Ozark Plateau. Cottonmouths are common in the Ozarks. • Western Diamondbacks have been introduced for rattleshake round-ups, however they do not survive here. • All venomous snakes in the U.S. (except coral snakes) have a triangular-shaped head. This is because they have large venom glands located at the back of their heads that make their heads so much wider than their neck.
Copperhead, venomous • Family Crotalidae, the pit vipers • 22-36” in length. • These are pit vipers, and have infrared, heat-sensing pits between their nostrils and their mouth. They sense the warmth of their prey extremely efficiently. • Very common in the eastern 1/3 of Kansas, but very secretive, docile snake. • Most bites are from stepping on one or harassing one. • Venom is a neurotoxin. Affects the local area of the bite. No deaths have been reported in Kansas from being bitten, but it does require going to the hospital and it involves incredible pain. • Eats insects (especially cicadas), frogs, lizards, small birds, and other snakes.
Timber Rattlesnake, venomous • Family Crotalidae, the pit vipers. • 36-60” in length. • They also are pit vipers and have infrared, heat-sensing pits between their nostrils and their mouth. They sense the warmth of their prey extremely efficiently. • Threatened species in Kansas, although probably never very numerous. Occurs in roughly the eastern 1/3 of Kansas. • Highly venomous. Has a hemotoxin—whole body responds to venom. Very dangerous. • Will usually warn first by rattling its tail. • Lives on south-facing rocky slopes and ravines, but also found at woodland edge. • Eats primarily rodents.
Prairie Rattlesnake, venomous • Family Crotalidae, the pit vipers. • 35-40” in length. • They also are pit vipers and have infrared, heat-sensing pits between their nostrils and their mouth. They sense the warmth of their prey extremely efficiently. • 35-45” in length. • Lives in western half of Kansas. • Active from April to October. • Unlike the Timber Rattlesnake, is quite aggressive and has a nasty disposition. It invariably rattles when approached too closely, and should be avoided. • Eats rats, mice, gophers, and young prairie dogs.
Black Rat Snake Juvenile black rat snakes have a distinct pattern that they lose as adults.
Black Rat Snake (Western Rat Snake) • Family Colubridae, harmless egg-laying snakes. • 42-72” in length. • Able to digest feathers; most snakes cannot. • Patterned when young, solid black with whitish belly as adult. • The black rat snake is a good tree climber and will eat birds and bird eggs, and also eats rodents.
Yellow-bellied Racer Juvenile Yellow-bellied Racers have a distinct pattern that they lose as adults.
Yellow-bellied Racer (Eastern Racer) • Family Colubridae , harmless egg-laying snakes. • 23-50” in length. • Constrictor • One of the fastest snakes in Kansas. • Will thrash about before disappearing into the brush. • Folk tale that it will “chase” you, but it doesn’t actually chase you. • Difficult to catch because they are so fast. • Eats any small animal that moves.
Northern Watersnake Above is a juvenile, to the left is an adult. Notice the pattern is very evident on the juvenile and faded on the adult.
Northern Watersnake • Family Natricidae, harmless live-bearing snakes. • 22-42” in length. • Very often mistaken for a copperhead or sometimes a cottonmouth (we don’t have cottonmouths in Kansas!). • Lives in and around water. Bites aggressively • Has anticoagulant in saliva so you bleed a bit from the bites. • Active in colder weather than most snakes, as cold as 47 degrees. • Mainly eats fish, but also frogs and toads.
Rough Green Snake • Family: Colubridae, harmless egg-laying snakes. • 22-32” in length. • Slender, graceful snake lives in trees and shrubs, usually near water. • Found in roughly eastern 1/3 of Kansas. • Eats insects and spiders.
Red-sided Garter Snake(Common Garter Snake) • Family Natricidae, harmless live-bearing snakes. • 16-28” in length. • Extremely common in E. Kansas, and often found near water. Live birth • Females much larger than males. Several males will follow scent of female for mating. • Eats mainly fish and frogs.
Prairie Kingsnake • Family Colubridae , harmless egg-laying snakes. • 30-42” in length. • Like all kingsnakes, they are immune to venom. • Similar to great plains rat snake, but smaller head, smaller eyes, and has a darker triangle mark on top of head. • Eats primarily small mammals, small snakes and lizards. They will eat other snakes, including venomous snakes.
Milk Snake Note the vibrating tail. Many snake species will vibrate their tails when feeling threatened.
Milk Snake • Family Colubridae , harmless egg-laying snakes. • 16-28” in length. • A type of kingsnake • SINC species in Kansas—Species In Need of Conservation. One step below Threatened species • Is not venomous, but mimics the highly venomous coral snake, so it is protected simply by looking like something dangerous. • Eats small lizards, snakes and newborn mice.
Common Kingsnake • Family Colubridae , harmless egg-laying snakes. • 36-48” in length. • Also called a speckled kingsnake. • Found throughout Kansas, in moist areas such as woodland edge, low prairies, rocky hillsides with trees. • Eats rodents, small birds, eggs and lizards and snakes.
Bullsnake • Family Colubridae , harmless egg-laying snakes. • 37-72” in length. • Largest snake in Kansas • Can get up to 9 feet long, but commonly around 5-6 feet long. • Often found in grazed prairie with shorter grasses. • Thick bodied snake, often when threatened it lets out a long, loud hiss that sounds similar to a rattlesnake rattle. • One of the most beneficial snakes around due to the large amount of rodents that it eats.
Lined Snake • Family Natricidae, harmless live-bearing snakes. • 9-15” in length. • Lives in about the eastern ¾ of Kansas, in hillside prairies and woodland edge, and in towns beneath debris. • Feeds exclusively on earthworms.
Ringneck Snake • Family Dipsadidae, slender rear-fanged snakes. • 10-15” in length. • Curls tail up to show colorful underside as a defense posture • Very common under rocks and fallen logs, especially in wooded areas. • Eats insects and worms, extremely hard to keep in captivity because it eats food too small for people to catch and keep.
Texas Brown Snake(Brown Snake) • Family Natricidae, harmless live-bearing snakes. • 9-13” in length. • Lives in moist woodlands and woodland edge (like ringnecks) • Eats only native earthworms—not the European kind found in yards and bait shops (yes, there is a difference). • Non-native worms have very, very small “hairs” on them called setae so these snakes won’t eat them.