If you like snakes, the Show Me State is the place for you. Forty-seven species and subspecies of snakes live within Missouri's boundaries. Missouri's snake bounty is partially due to its wide-ranging types of wildlife habitats. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, 88 percent of its resident snakes are harmless.
Three types of venomous rattlesnakes call MIssouri home. The largest, the timber rattlesnake, matures up to 5 feet long. Its gray body has black back and side markings, ending in a long black tail with a rattle. Now rare, the timber rattlesnake resides in woodland. Another forest-dweller, the much-smaller pygmy rattlesnake, matures at less than 2 feet. Black blotches dot its gray body, along with a brown dorsal stripe. The Eastern Massasuaga rattlesnake falls between the timber and pygmy rattlesnake in size. This brownish-gray snake boasts up to 40 black dorsal blotches. Extremely rare in Missouri, remaining snakes can be found in marshy areas.
Other Venomous Snakes
The western cottonmouth is better known as the water moccasin. This large, black snake has a lighter-colored belly. It dwells in swamps, rivers and creeks. Although shy, it can become aggressive if bothered. The osage copperhead, a medium-sized snake with a maximum length of 3 feet, has a grayish body with brown, hour-glass shaped marking along the vertebrae. The osage copperhead lives in various habitats, and will take up residence in abandoned buildings. If you or a pet are bitten by a snake, seek medical or veterinary attention immediately.
The state's most common water-dwelling snake is the northern water snake, a medium-sized gray snake with brown crossbands. Other water snakes include the rare Mississippi green water snake, the eastern yellow-bellied racer, the medium-sized yellow-bellied water snake, the broad-banded water snake, the large diamond-backed water snake and the small Graham's crayfish snake.
Named for their favorite prey, rat snakes can be handy to have around farms or other areas prone to vermin. In Missouri, these include the Great Plains rat snake, a medium-sized gray snake with brown blotches; the large, black rat snake, and the western fox snake, with a green body and large and small brown blotches.
Snakes of Distinction
Although Missouri is populated by many common snakes, such as garters and their subspecies, it also features some special, more distinctive snakes. These include the state's largest snake species, the bullsnake, which can mature as long as 6 feet; the state's smallest, the plain, 8-inch long flat-headed snake; the long, black, fast-moving eastern coachwhip, and the beautifully marked red milk snake, with a white body and red markings bordered in black.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.