Careful in the Long Grass: Discover 7 Prairie Snakes

Written by Niccoy Walker
Updated: December 26, 2022
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Key Points

  • The Great Plains rattlesnake, is a venomous pit viper native to the Western United States and some parts of Canada and Mexico.
  • The Massasauga is a rattlesnake primarily found in the midwestern portion of the United States
  • Garter snakes are native to North and Central America, with a wide-ranging habitat.

Prairies are extensive temperate grasslands, primarily found in the lowland areas of North America. They are composed of grasses, herbs, and shrubs and typically receive moderate rainfall. But a prairie is more than just grass; it contains diverse wildlife dependent on its resources. One such animal is the snake. Snakes use the tall grass to hide from predators and to find prey.

Discover these seven prairie snakes and how they use their habitat to benefit them. 

1. Prairie Rattlesnake

Prairie Rattlesnake
Prairie rattlesnakes are highly venomous and live in the Great Plains of the United States.

©iStock.com/HRossD

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The prairie rattlesnake, also known as the Great Plains rattlesnake, is a venomous pit viper native to the Western United States and some parts of Canada and Mexico. These snakes are typically light-colored in hues of brown, meant to conceal them in their habitat. They grow between three and four feet long and feature their infamous rattle, which they use to deter potential predators. Be careful where you step! These vipers will use their potent venom when they are frightened or defending their territory.

As their name suggests, you can find them over much of the Great Plains, the eastern foothills, and valleys near the Rocky Mountains. These rattlesnakes inhabit areas with moderate vegetation and plenty of prey. During the hot summer months, they hide in burrows, crevices, and caves, and during cooler days, you can find them slithering on the ground preying on small mammals or occasionally climbing trees and bushes.

2. Massasauga Snake

Massasauga rattlesnakes live in the prairies of Upper Missouri.

©DnDavis/Shutterstock.com

The Massasauga is a rattlesnake primarily found in the midwestern portion of the United States, from Canada to Mexico. These venomous snakes are gray or tan with dark brown spots and typically grow over two feet. Their fangs contain cytotoxic venom, which destroys the tissue and contains enzymes that prevent blood clotting. However, these snakes are shy and avoid humans at all costs. Bites are rare and only happen when people try to handle or accidentally step on them.

These rattlers are common in Ontario, Canada, and many areas of the United States, from the Northeast to the Southwest. They have a wide-ranging habitat, from swamps to grasslands, but are generally in the prairies of Upper Missouri. They like to inhabit areas with plenty of vegetation, so be careful when walking through areas with low visibility.

3. Garter Snake

San Francisco Garter Snake in sand found on Northern California Coast. They have large round eyes in comparison to body size.
Garter snakes are one of the most common reptiles in North America, with a wide-ranging habitat.

©Simone O/Shutterstock.com

These small to medium-sized snakes are native to North and Central America, with a wide-ranging habitat. There are over 35 garter snakes; most have large, round eyes, slender bodies, and longitudinal stripes (although some may have spots or nothing). Most people don’t realize that garter snakes have a mild venom they use to subdue prey. They are generally harmless to humans but may bite when provoked, causing swelling and bruising.

They are one of the most common reptiles in North America, inhabiting most regions in the country. Some species are more aquatic than others, but you can typically find them near a water source. They like to live in grasslands near small ponds with tall grass, and you can also find them in forests, woodlands, and backyards. 

4. Western Fox Snake

adult western fox snake
You can find the Western fox snake in the Upper Midwest.

©Psychotic Nature/Shutterstock.com

The Western fox snake is a rat snake endemic to the Midwestern United States. These nonvenomous snakes grow three to five feet long and typically have pale backs with dark brown or black splotches. They are constrictor snakes that squeeze their prey to subdue them. While these snakes are bold and live near humans, they are generally harmless as they do not contain venom. 

You will find these rat snakes in the Upper Midwest, west of the Mississippi River, where they inhabit prairies, farm fields, and woodlands near rivers and streams. You will often find them in open grasslands or forest edges in Western Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Northern Illinois.

5. Prairie Kingsnake

Prairie Kingsnake, Lampropeltis calligaster
Prairie kingsnakes live in open grasslands near a forested edge.

©Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

The yellow-bellied kingsnake, or prairie kingsnake, is found primarily in the Midwestern and Southeastern United States. This prairie snake is light brown or gray with dark-colored splotches down the length of its body. It can grow over three feet in length and is often mistaken for a rat snake, which shares a similar environment. This snake is nonvenomous and pretty even-tempered around humans.

This species has a specific preferred habitat consisting of open grasslands near a forest edge with a nearby water source. The kingsnake is secretive and likes to hide in abandoned structures, underneath debris, or inside trees. It is relatively rare to see one in its natural habitat. 

6. Gopher Snake

gopher snake
You can find gopher snakes in prairies in the Western United States.

©rawaccess/Shutterstock.com

The Western gopher snake is a nonvenomous colubrid endemic to North America. Many mistake the gopher snake for a prairie rattlesnake, but they are identifiable by their narrow heads and lack of black and white banding on their tail.

These snakes are rather large and grow to seven feet, and their coloring is yellowish or pale brown with dark blotches. The Western gopher snake is harmless to humans, rarely biting in the wild. Instead, it strikes with a closed mouth, using its snout to bump against predators.

You can find these snakes throughout the Western United States across various habitats, including prairies, deserts, coastal dunes, scrublands, and coniferous forests. They like to hide in burrows, trees, and low-lying vegetation. These solitary snakes like to live alone and mainly occupy ground spaces, but you can also find them climbing trees or swimming in nearby water sources.

7. Bullsnake

bullsnake
Bullsnakes are one of the largest snakes in North America.

©Christopher Joe Brown/Shutterstock.com

The bullsnake is a giant nonvenomous colubrid native to Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It is a subspecies of the gopher snake and one of the largest snakes on the continent, reaching lengths over eight feet.

It has many color variations, but most are yellow with white, black, or reddish blotches. Bullsnakes are pretty defensive and view humans as predators.

They can mimic rattlesnakes by puffing up their bodies, hissing, and shaking their tails. And while their fangs don’t contain venom, they can still inflict a painful bite.

Bullsnakes occur primarily throughout the Great Plains in the Midwestern United States. They like the open country where they can burrow underground but have a wide-ranging habitat. You can find them in native prairies, old fields, coniferous forests, woodlands, and oak savannas. 

RankSnake Species
7.Prairie Rattlesnake
6.Massasauga Snake
5.Garter Snake
4.Western Fox Snake
3.Prairie Kingsnake
2.Gopher Snake
1.Bullsnake

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The Featured Image

A coiled light brown with darker markings bullsnake in a natural setting of long golden grass.
© iStock.com/92968526

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

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