There are A LOT of snakes in Iowa!
And what’s interesting is that they are all incredibly unique and have adapted to fill many habitats and niches.
You’ll see that the snakes that live in Iowa are very different from each other.
For example, some species are venomous, while others use constriction to immobilize their prey. Or the fact that certain snakes are rarely seen because they spend most of their time underground, but others are comfortable living EXTREMELY close to humans.
Today, you’re going to learn about the 26 types of snakes in Iowa!
#1. Eastern Copperhead
- Agkistrodon contortrix
- Adults reach lengths between 20 and 37 inches.
- Stout body, broad head, and elliptical pupils.
- Coloration varies from pale tan to pinkish-tan with darker, splotchy, hourglass-shaped bands, which are darker at the edges.
These VENOMOUS snakes are rare in Iowa. They are sometimes found in southern deciduous forests and mixed woodlands, often near rocky outcroppings. You’re more likely to see them active during the day in the spring and fall when the weather is cooler. During the middle of summer, Eastern Copperheads are often nocturnal.
Eastern Copperhead Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
This species is an ambush hunter, meaning that it selects a suitable site and waits to surprise its prey. In addition, copperheads are considered “pit vipers,” which means they have a heat-sensing organ located between their eyes. This adaptation helps these venomous snakes find and judge the size of their prey by being able to sense infrared!
Bites from these snakes are rarely fatal in Iowa.
The venom they produce has relatively low potency. In addition, copperheads also frequently employ false strikes, dry bites, and warning bites. Dry bites contain no venom, and warning bites have a relatively small amount of venom.
These snakes primarily feed on small rodents, frogs, birds, and large insects such as cicadas. After the initial bite, they will wait for the venom to take effect before consuming their prey whole.
#2. Timber Rattlesnake
- Crotalus horridus
- Adults typically range from 30 to 60 inches in length.
- Coloration is variable and generally ranges from yellowish-brown to gray to almost black. Look for dark brown or black crossbands on their back.
- Heavy-bodied with characteristic rattle on the tail.
The Timber Rattlesnake, also known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake, is found in a wide variety of habitats in Iowa. Look for these venomous snakes in lowland thickets, high areas around rivers and flood plains, agricultural areas, deciduous forests, and coniferous forests.
Timber Rattlesnake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These snakes are ambush predators, waiting for unsuspecting prey to come within range of their strike. They feed primarily on small mammals but may also consume frogs, birds, and other smaller snakes. Timber Rattlesnakes strike their prey and release them, waiting until their venom has taken effect before eating them.
These venomous snakes are potentially the most dangerous species found in Iowa due to their large size, long fangs, and high venom yield. Luckily, Timber Rattlesnakes have a mild disposition and don’t bite often. They typically give plenty of warning by rattling and posturing.
The Timber Rattlesnake played a noteworthy role in U.S. history. Found in the original 13 colonies, it was used as a symbol during the American Revolution. In 1775 it was featured at the center of the “Gadsden Flag.” This yellow flag depicts a coiled and ready-to-strike Timber Rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
#3. Prairie Rattlesnake
- Crotalus viridis
- Adults typically range between 3.3 and 5 feet in length.
- Coloration is highly variable and can be greenish-gray, olive green, greenish-brown, light brown, or yellow. All variations have dark blotches on the body that turn into rings near the tail.
- Broad triangular head, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and a tail rattle.
These venomous snakes can be found in parts of western Iowa in open prairies, grasslands, semi-desert shrublands, and forested environments.
The Prairie Rattlesnake hibernates during the winter, often in communal dens. These dens are typically rock crevices, caves, or old mammal burrows. Individual snakes return to the same den each winter and migrate up to seven miles to their hunting grounds in the spring.
When they feel threatened, these snakes freeze to use their camouflage to avoid detection. They may also quietly crawl away to cover. If approached, they may coil and rattle their tail as a warning before striking. Their potent venom has both hemotoxic and neurotoxic properties, and although rare, can be fatal to an adult human.
Prairie Rattlesnakes are listed on the ICUN Red List as a species of least concern. However, they are considered threatened and declining in parts of their range. In addition, they have faced pressure from habitat fragmentation and hunting.
#4. Eastern Massasauga
- Sistrurus catenatus
- Adults are typically around 2 feet in length.
- Coloration is gray or light brown with darker chocolate-brown blotches on the back and smaller ones on the sides, which feature light edges.
- Thick body, vertical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and heart-shaped head.
- Being rattlesnakes, look for the rattle at the end of their tail.
These small venomous snakes live primarily in wet habitats in eastern Iowa.
The name “Massasauga” actually comes from the Chippewa language and means “great river mouth” which describes their habitat. Look for them in floodplain forests, shrub swamps, low areas along rivers and lakes, wet prairies, moist grasslands, bogs, and marshes. During the summer, they often migrate to drier regions adjacent to these habitats.
Eastern Massasauga Range Map
Unlike other rattlesnakes, the Eastern Massasauga hibernates alone. They frequently hibernate in crayfish burrows but may also use small mammal burrows or spaces under rotting logs or tree roots. Dens must be below the frost line, or they risk freezing to death!
These snakes have cytotoxic venom (poisonous to cells), which destroys tissue, disrupts blood flow, and prevents clotting. But these snakes are secretive, shy, and avoid humans when possible. The only times they bite seem to be when handled or accidentally stepped on!
This venomous snake is listed as threatened, endangered, or a species of concern in all of its range. Historically, these snakes have faced pressure from hunting, and many states had bounties and roundups for them. Today they are still often killed out of fear AND face diminishing wetland habitats.
#5. Western Massasauga
- Sistrurus tergeminus
- Adults range from 14 to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is gray to light brown with dark brown blotches on the back.
- Thick body, large triangular head, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, elliptical pupils.
- Being rattlesnakes, look for the rattle at the end of their tail.
The Western Massasauga is a rattlesnake and one of the smallest venomous snakes in the country! They primarily inhabit grassland habitats but can also be found in open sagebrush prairie, rocky hillsides, prairie hillsides, open wetlands, and grassy wetlands.
Western Massasauga Range Map
These snakes are secretive and not often seen in southwest Iowa.
When detected, they often freeze rather than rattle. However, when they do rattle, Western Massasaugas make a distinctive sound. Their rattle is significantly higher pitched than larger rattlesnakes and has earned this small snake the nickname “buzz tail.”
Though their venom is highly potent, the small quantity they deliver makes their bites much less likely to be fatal in humans compared to larger venomous snakes. However, you still need to respect them as their venom is hemotoxic and will cause localized swelling, extreme pain, and necrosis. Medical attention should be sought immediately if bitten!
#6. Northern Watersnake
- Nerodia sipedon sipedon
- Adults range from 24 to 55 inches in length.
- Coloration is pale grey to dark brown with reddish-brown to black bands.
- Large adults become darker with age and appear almost plain black or dark brown.
- Females tend to be larger than males, and coloration is most vivid in juvenile and wet individuals.
This species is the most common watersnake in Iowa!
Northern Watersnakes prefer slow-moving or standing water like ponds, lakes, vernal pools, marshes, and slow-moving rivers and streams. They’re most often seen basking on rocks or logs in or near the water.
Northern Watersnake Range Map (Yellow area below)
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These snakes primarily feed on fish and amphibians by hunting along the water’s edge and shallow water during the day. They grab their prey and quickly swallow while it’s still alive!
When disturbed, Northern Watersnakes flee into the water to escape. However, if grabbed or captured, they’re quick to defend themselves. They will release a foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tale, flatten their body, and strike the attacker.
While non-venomous, they can deliver a painful bite!
Their saliva contains a mild anticoagulant that can cause bites to bleed, making the injury appear worse. These important defense mechanisms help water snakes survive predators such as raccoons, snapping turtles, foxes, opossums, other snakes, and birds of prey.
#7. Plain-bellied Watersnake
- Nerodia erythrogaster
- Adults have thick bodies and range from 24 to 40 inches in length.
- Solid coloration of gray, brown, olive, or black.
- As the name suggests, they have a plain unmarked underside varying from red to yellow.
- Also called Redbelly, Yellowbelly, Copperbelly, or Blotched Watersnake.
The Plain-bellied Watersnake has a small range in Iowa and can be found near various water sources, including rivers, floodplains, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. This species spends an unusual amount of time on land compared with other water snakes found in Iowa. Especially during hot, humid weather, they can be found in woodlands quite far from a water source.
Plain-bellied Watersnake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
They feed on BOTH aquatic and terrestrial prey, including crayfish, fish, salamanders, frogs, and other amphibians. Another unusual feature of this species is that they will sit and wait to ambush their prey, especially on land. Almost all other water snakes actively hunt and chase their victims!
If captured, they release a foul-smelling musk and are not afraid to bite! Plain-bellied Watersnakes are eaten by largemouth bass, egrets, hawks, and sometimes other larger snakes.
#8. Diamond-backed Watersnake
- Nerodia rhombifer
- Adults range from 30 to 48 inches in length.
- Coloration is brown, dark brown, yellowish, or olive green. Look for a dark chain-like pattern down the back.
- Thick body with a yellow belly that has dark half-moons.
The Diamond-backed Watersnake can be found in southeast Iowa in a variety of freshwater habitats. They generally prefer slow-moving bodies of water with overhanging vegetation such as ponds, swamps, slow rivers, and streams.
These snakes are common in their range and can be spotted on overhanging branches looking for prey, which mainly include frogs and fish. Once they grab their target, they haul it to shore and wait for it to die before consuming it. This behavior is unique as most other water snakes consume their prey alive.
Diamond-backed Watersnake Range Map
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
When disturbed, Diamond-backed Watersnakes will quickly flee into the water and dive below the surface to swim away. If captured, they will bite and release a foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tail.
They are relatively common and aren’t considered a threatened species. Unfortunately, they are sometimes killed out of ignorance. People often mistake them for venomous cottonmouths and rattlesnakes.
#9. Graham’s Crayfish Snake
- Regina grahamii
- Adults range from 18 to 28 inches in length.
- Coloration is a dull brown, yellowish-brown, or gray.
- Look for yellowish-tan stripes down the sides and sometimes a faint tan stripe down the middle of the back.
This water snake is rather reclusive and hard to find in Iowa.
Look for Graham’s Crayfish Snakes in slow-moving bodies of water such as ponds, prairie streams, marshes, and roadside ditches. They prefer areas with abundant vegetation, rocks, logs, and other debris along the water’s edge, which allows them to hide from predators. They are commonly seen basking on branches overhanging the water.
Graham’s Crayfish Snake Range Map
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
As the name suggests, Graham’s Crayfish Snakes primarily feed on crayfish. They hunt exclusively for individuals that recently molted and temporarily have soft bodies. However, they’ll also prey on fish and amphibians, including tadpoles and frogs.
Like many other water snakes, this species is often mistaken for cottonmouths and killed, even though they are MUCH smaller.
#10. Eastern Garter Snake
- Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
- Adults typically range from 18 to 26 inches in length.
- Coloration varies and can be mixtures of green, brown, or black. Look for a distinct yellow or whitish stripe down the center of their back.
- Some individuals may exhibit a checkered body pattern.
- Subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.
Eastern Garter Snakes are found in eastern Iowa!
In fact, they are typically the snake species that people come across the most in this area. They’re well-adapted to living around people and can often be found in city parks, farmland, cemeteries, and suburban lawns and gardens. Though not required, they prefer grassy environments near freshwater sources such as ponds, lakes, ditches, and streams.
Look for these snakes in eastern Iowa basking in the sun in grassy areas near cover.
Eastern Garter Snakes protect themselves when they are cornered or feel threatened. For example, if you capture or continually disturb one, it will defecate and release a foul-smelling musk from its glands. It’s also common for them to bite as a last resort!
The Eastern Garter Snake most commonly preys on toads, frogs, slugs, salamanders, fish, and worms. However, they are very opportunistic and will eat other insects and small animals they can overpower. They’re active during both the day and night, depending on the temperature.
#11. Red-sided Garter Snake
- Thamnophis proximus parietalis
- Normally dark green to black, but color varies.
- Three yellow stripes; one down the back and one down each side.
- As the name suggests, red or orange bars run along their sides between the yellow stripes.
- Subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.
Like other garter snakes, they are habitat generalists. Look for them in Iowa everywhere, including forests, shrublands, wetlands, fields, and rocky areas. Their favorite foods include frogs, earthworms, and leeches! YUM! 🙂
In some areas, after emerging from hibernation, there are not enough females for all the males. In these cases, “mating frenzies” occur, and dozens and dozens of these snakes can be found together.
To survive colder months, Red-sided Garter Snakes have to hibernate BELOW the frost line. Depending on the area they are located in, it can be hard to find suitable locations. So the few adequate hibernation dens can shelter hundreds, even thousands, of snakes! To see an example, watch the video below:
#12. Western Ribbon Snake
- Thamnophis proximus
- Adults range from 17 to 50 inches in length. A slender snake with a long tail!
- Coloration is blackish, brown, or olive with three light-colored stripes; one down the back and one down each side.
- The sides and top of the head are dark, and the upper lip is whitish.
Did you see a slender snake in Iowa with a long tail?
If so, it was probably a Western Ribbon Snake! This semi-aquatic species is rarely found far from a water source. They typically occupy brush-heavy areas around streams, lakes, ponds, and other water bodies. You may also spot them basking on rocks, flat vegetation, and dry sandy areas near water.
The Western Ribbon Snake has an incredible, unique hunting technique. As they move over land, they make quick, light thrusts of their head and upper body in different directions in sequences of three. It’s similar to a strike, but with their mouth closed. This action disturbs resting frogs, which alerts the garter snake to their location. From there, this snake uses its superior speed to catch its prey.
When they feel threatened, they flee into the water or hide in thick brush. Their coloration provides superb camouflage in dense, brushier areas. If grabbed, Western Ribbon Snakes rarely bite but will thrash around, defecate, and release musk from their anal glands. This species can also shed its tail to escape, but unfortunately, it doesn’t regenerate like some lizard species.
#13. Plains Garter Snake
- Thamnophis radix
- Adults average 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is gray-green with a distinctive orange stripe down the back and a greenish-yellow stripe down each side.
- Distinct light yellow spots on the very top of the head!
Plains Garter Snakes are almost always found in Iowa in prairies and grasslands near freshwater sources. They have a fairly large population and adapt well to human-modified landscapes. You may spot them near abandoned buildings, trash heaps, or vacant lots.
This species is considered one of the most cold-tolerant of all snakes! In fact, they will even come out of hibernation on warmer winter days.
Plains Garter Snakes feed primarily on earthworms, slugs, and small amphibians. However, they have also been observed preying on small mammals and birds, including the Eastern Meadowlark and Bank Swallow.
#14. Eastern Milksnake
- Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
- Adults typically range from 24 to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is tan or gray with 3 to 5 rows of reddish-brown, black-edged blotches.
- Look for a gray or tan Y- or V-shaped mark near the rear of the head.
Eastern Milksnakes get their unique name from an old myth that they milked cows since they’re commonly found in barns! Obviously, this isn’t true. Instead, their presence inside barns is likely due to the high number of mice, some of their favorite prey.
Eastern Milksnake Range Map
A member of the kingsnake family, Eastern Milksnakes occupy a wide variety of habitats in Iowa, including fields, woodlands, agricultural areas, and rocky outcrops. These beautiful snakes are somewhat secretive and spend much of their time beneath the ground. You may be able to find one underneath rocks, logs, boards, and other debris.
The Eastern Milksnake prefers to feed on small mammals such as mice and shrews. However, they’ll also consume various types of prey, including birds and bird eggs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, fish, earthworms, slugs, insects, and carrion.
Like other individuals in the kingsnake family, they will prey on venomous pit vipers. So how do they combat the venom? Interestingly, their blood contains venom-neutralizing properties!
#15. Prairie Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis calligaster calligaster
- Adults range from 30 to 40 inches in length.
- Coloration is typically gray or light brown with darker gray, brown, or reddish-brown blotching, sometimes outlined in black, down the length of their body that fades with age.
- They have a pale or yellowish underside, and their head is indistinct from their body.
- The Prairie Kingsnake is a subspecies of the Yellow-bellied Kingsnake.
Look for Prairie Kingsnakes in southern Iowa in open habitats, such as fields, farmland, rocky hillsides, and open woodlands. They spend most of their time underground and are found under rocks, logs, and old animal burrows throughout their active period and winter hibernation.
Prairie Kingsnake Range Map
These snakes feed on a wide variety of prey, like mice, lizards, other snakes (including other Prairie Kingsnakes), insects, birds, bird eggs, and amphibians. They constrict their prey, coiling around and suffocating it before consuming.
If disturbed, the Prairie Kingsnake may try to warn perceived threats by mimicking a rattlesnake. They accomplish this mimicry by shaking the tip of their tail in dry leaf litter. However, these snakes are non-venomous and don’t typically bite, but they will release a foul-smelling musk if grabbed!
This species is considered of least concern and doesn’t seem to face any significant conservation risks. However, they’re sometimes run over when crossing roads or killed because they are mistaken for being venomous. Like many other kingsnakes, this species is sometimes kept as pets.
#16. Speckled Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis holbrooki
- Adults are typically 36 to 48 inches in length.
- Coloration is shiny black with small yellow, yellowish-green, or white specks, one in the center of almost every dorsal scale though the pattern of the speckles varies by individual.
- The underside is white or yellow with clusters of black checkers and is sometimes more black than white.
The Speckled Kingsnake’s unique appearance resulted in the nickname “salt and pepper snake.” Look for them in fields along the forest’s edge, prairies, grasslands, stream valleys, pastures, and roadside ditches.
Speckled Kingsnake Range Map
These snakes are rather secretive and hard to find in Iowa!
In addition, they’re primarily nocturnal. As a result, they’re most frequently spotted crossing roadways in the morning or evening.
Like other kingsnakes, this species is a constrictor, which means they use their coils to asphyxiate their prey before consuming it. They feed on a wide variety of prey, including rodents, birds, bird eggs, reptiles, reptile eggs, frogs, and other snakes, including venomous species. SEE THE VIDEO BELOW! 🙂
Speckled Kingsnakes are generally quite docile and are often kept as pets. However, if disturbed, they may shake their tail, release a foul-smelling musk, and strike if grabbed. Sadly this species is considered threatened in parts of their range.
#17. Western Ratsnake
- Pantherophis obsoletus
- Adults range from 42 to 72 inches in length though individuals up to 101 inches have been recorded.
- Coloration varies. Adults can be completely black to gray to pale brown to yellowish with black, brown, or gray blotches.
- Also commonly called the Texas Ratsnake!
Western Ratsnakes occupy various habitats in Iowa, including agricultural areas, dense woodlands, forested river valleys, and rocky hillsides. They’re excellent climbers and are found often in trees and will frequently use cavities in trees for shelter.
Western Ratsnakes are active hunters and constrictors preying on small mammals, nestling birds, bird eggs, tree frogs, and lizards. They suffocate larger prey with their coils but often swallow smaller prey without constriction.
When disturbed, these snakes often freeze to avoid detection. If harassed, they’ll raise their heads and vibrate their tails to mimic a rattlesnake. And if they continue to be provoked or grabbed, they’ll strike their attacker as a last defense.
#18. Smooth Greensnake
- Opheodrys vernalis
- Adults are SLENDER and typically range from 14 to 20 inches in length.
- Coloration is uniformly light green with a yellow or white underside and a red tongue with a black tip.
- Juveniles may be olive-green, blue-gray, or even brown until they shed their skin for the first time.
Also called Grass Snakes, these bright green snakes can be found in marshes, meadows, pastures, savannas, open woods, and along stream and lake edges. They prefer moist areas near permanent water sources.
They prey almost exclusively on insects and spiders and don’t use constriction; instead quickly striking and swallowing their prey alive.
Smooth Greensnakes hibernate during the winter in Iowa, seeking shelter in old mammal burrows and abandoned anthills. They often hibernate communally with other small snakes. They emerge in the spring, typically in April, and are active until October.
Smooth Greensnakes rely on their EXCELLENT camouflage to avoid predators. They’re also agile and can flee quickly if they must.
- Pituophis catenifer sayi
- Adults are large and typically range from 4 to 6 feet in length.
- Coloration is yellow, beige, or light brown with large brown, black, or reddish blotching on the back and three sets of small blotches on the sides.
- Blotches may appear like bands near the end of the tail, and the underside is yellowish with black spots.
Bullsnakes are often seen in Iowa in areas with high rodent populations.
You can find them in fields, grasslands, forest edges, savannas, and brushlands with sandy soils.
Bullsnakes are fast and can actively pursue prey in loose soil. They even use their prominent rostral (nose scale) to dig! Once they’ve captured their prey, they use their strong body to coil around and constrict their prey.
Despite being nonvenomous, these snakes act aggressively toward any threats. They often lift the front half of their body, hiss, and lunge at their attacker until they feel they can retreat.
Interestingly, their hissing can sound like a rattle! (see below!)
To accomplish this, the snake forces air through an extension of the windpipe, which has a piece of cartilage called an epiglottis that flaps back and forth, sounding very similar to a rattlesnake.
#20. Plains Hog-nosed Snake
- Heterodon nasicus
- Adults range from 15 to 39 inches in length.
- Coloration is varying shades of brown with darker brown blotches on the back, two alternating rows of smaller dark spots down the sides, and large longitudinal blotches on the sides of the neck.
- Enlarged rostral (nose) scale.
The Plains Hog-nosed Snake strongly prefers open sandy or gravelly habitats. They’re excellent burrowers and also use old animal burrows for hibernation and protection from hot temperatures.
These snakes are best-known for their impressive displays when disturbed!
When initially confronted, Plains Hog-nosed Snakes typically remain motionless or hide their head under their coils. They may also try to bury themselves or escape into a burrow.
However, if they’re further disturbed, they’ll spread their jaws and neck like a cobra and puff up their bodies. They may also hiss loudly and deliver false strikes with a closed mouth.
If these intimidating displays fail, the Plains Hog-nosed Snake will then twist as though they’re in pain, roll over on their back and play dead. They’ll be limp, open mouthed, and will remain this way even if picked up. They may also bleed from the mouth and cloaca, expel musk and fecal matter, and regurgitate recently eaten food.
If I saw one of these snakes do this display, I’d definitely leave it alone! But, unfortunately, they’re sometimes killed by people who are frightened by their cobra-like posture.
#21. Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
- Heterodon platirhinos
- Adults typically range from 20 to 30 inches in length.
- Coloration can be yellow, gray, brown, black, olive, or orange, often with darker blotches or spots down its side and back, though solid gray and black individuals are fairly common.
- Thick-bodied, broad, triangle-shaped heads, and an upturned snout.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes prefer areas in Iowa with sandy soil.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes primarily prey on toads and use their upturned snout to dig for them in their burrows. They also have enlarged teeth at the rear of the upper jaw that they use to puncture and deflate toads that puff up when threatened. These snakes also have large adrenal glands, which secrete large amounts of hormones to counteract the toad’s potent skin poison!
When disturbed, Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes lift their head off the ground and flatten their neck like a cobra! They may also hiss and false strike with a closed mouth.
If this display fails to scare off a predator, then the snake will play dead. They’ll roll onto their back, let their tongue hang out, and emit musk from glands near the base of their tail. Interestingly, when the threat has left, the snake will right itself and continue as normal. 🙂
#22. Dekay’s Brownsnake
- Storeria dekayi
- Adults typically range from 6 to 13 inches in length.
- Coloration is light brown or gray to dark brown or black with two rows of dark spots down the back, which are sometimes linked.
- A dark streak down the head and may have a light stripe down the center of the back.
Dekay’s Brownsnakes occupy various terrestrial habitats as long as there’s plenty of cover available such as rocks, logs, boards, and all sorts of trash and organic debris. They’re often found in backyards and gardens under objects.
These secretive, nocturnal snakes hunt during the evening and night, feeding primarily on slugs and earthworms. However, they’ve also been known to consume snails, insects, insect larvae, small tree frogs, tadpoles, frog eggs, spiders, and fish. Prey is typically grabbed and quickly swallowed alive.
These docile snakes usually don’t bite in defense. Instead, if captured, they often squirm vigorously or flatten their bodies and may release foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tail.
This species is considered common in most of its range and is not a major conservation concern. It adapts well to human development and has a reputation as a “city snake.” However, pesticide usage and clean-up of cover objects may reduce their populations in urban areas by reducing their habitat and food source.
#23. Western Foxsnake
- Pantherophis ramspotti
- Adults range from 36 to 50 inches in length.
- Coloration is gray, tan, or light brown with large dark brown or reddish-brown blotches down the length of the black and smaller blotches down each side.
- The head is often rust or copper-colored with faded markings, and the underside is off-white or light-yellow with black checkerboard markings.
Western Foxsnakes occupy various habitats in Iowa.
Look for them in agricultural areas, grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands near water. They’re often found in or around barns and abandoned buildings where rodents and places to hide are abundant. They’re fairly bold snakes and will often travel near humans or other animals.
Foxsnake Range Map
These rat snakes primarily feed on rodents, birds, and bird eggs but will also consume frogs. They’re constrictors and use their coils to suffocate larger prey before consuming it. However, smaller prey may be swallowed whole without constriction.
If disturbed, Western Foxsnakes will often coil and vibrate their tail, producing a noise that sounds like a rattlesnake when it’s in dry leaves. They’re generally non-aggressive but may release a foul-smelling musk and strike if grabbed. Some sources indicate this musk is how these snakes got their name, which was thought to be similar to the scent given off by Red Foxes.
#24. Red-bellied Snake
- Storeria occipitomaculata
- A small woodland species that grows between 10 to 25 cm (4-10 in) long.
- Colors vary from orange, gray, black, and brown.
- Their bright red or orange belly stands out from other species.
This species is probably the “cutest” snake in Iowa!
Red-bellied Snakes are small, docile, and have a bright red belly, which makes them VERY easy to identify.
Look for them under logs and leaf litter. They are also commonly found burrowed inside abandoned ant mounds. They are typically diurnal but can be hard to find due to their secretive nature.
Red-belled Snake Range Map
The colors represent the different subspecies of Storeria occipitomaculata.
Red-bellied Snakes have a unique behavior called “lip-curling,” where they curl their lips upward and flick their tongue when eating or feeling threatened. This behavior helps them catch their prey and also scares off potential predators.
Unfortunately, people often kill this species out of fear. This is incredibly sad because these snakes are harmless and valuable to the ecosystem. In addition to this senseless slaughter, many are killed while crossing roads.
#25. North American Racer
- Coluber constrictor
- Adults typically range from 50 to 152 cm (20 to 60 in) in total length
- The patterns and texture of their skin vary widely among subspecies. However, most are solid-colored and have a lighter-colored underbelly.
True to their name, North American Racers are one of the FASTEST snakes in Iowa!
When they get moving, they can speed away at up to 3.5 miles per hour (5.6 kph). These active snakes are curious and have excellent vision. In fact, they are known to raise their heads above the height of the grass to view their surroundings.
Despite their scientific name (constrictor), North American Racers do not squeeze their prey to death. Instead, they subdue their victim by holding it down with their body. Smaller prey is simply swallowed alive.
North American Racer Range Map
These nonvenomous snakes fight back incredibly hard if they feel threatened or become trapped. You can expect them to bite, thrash, defecate, and release a foul-smelling musk, especially if you try holding one. In addition, racers will try to impersonate rattlesnakes by shaking their tails in dry leaves.
North American Racers are still abundant in many places. But they face threats as they are losing habitat to urbanization and development. Unfortunately, many people also kill them out of fear, even though they are completely harmless, especially if you leave them alone.
#26. Ring-necked Snake
- Diadophis punctatus
- These snakes are usually solid olive, brown, bluish-gray, or smoky colored. Look for a distinctive yellow or red neckband.
- The snake’s head color is usually slightly darker than the rest of the body, tending towards black rather than gray or olive.
- Adults are usually between 25-38 cm (10-15 in) long.
It can be hard to find these snakes in Iowa!
That’s because Ring-necked Snakes are VERY secretive and spend most of their time hiding in areas with lots of cover. In addition, they are nocturnal and rarely seen during the day.
Ring-necked Snake Range Map
The colors represent the different subspecies of Diadophis punctatus.
If you come across one, you may see its unique defense posture. Red-bellied Snakes will curl their tails and expose their bright red-orange bellies when they feel threatened in hopes of scaring you away.
Ring-necked Snakes mostly eat small salamanders, earthworms, and slugs. Not much is known about their population status because they are so hard to find!
Do you need additional help identifying snakes in Iowa?
Try this field guide!
Which of these SNAKES have you seen before in Iowa?
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Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other Iowa guides!