Smooth Earth Snake
by Jeff LeClere
Smooth earth snake, Van Buren County, IA
PROTECTED. It is illegal to kill or collect this species by law in Iowa. Another of Iowa’s seldomly seen secretive snakes. The present records are located in southern and central Iowa. Although they may be locally common in a few areas, we welcome any reports. Please report any sightings to us or the DNR so we may better understand their distribution.
This snake is 7-10 inches long (Conant and Collins, 1998) and is non venomous. There is little variation in this species so identification is easy. The dorsum is plain brown, reddish brown, or tan. There are no markings except for a very faint light middorsal stripe, but even this marking is normally absent. There may be small dark dots on some specimens. The head is rather pointed. The belly is plain white or yellowish. The scales are smooth (rarely weakly keeled or the appearance of such) and the anal plate is divided. All other small brown or tan Iowa snakes have at least some markings on the back or belly.
The western smooth earth snake, Virginia valeriae elegans, is the subspecies found in Iowa.
The earth snake is found in scattered populations along a couple of the river systems in southeastern and central Iowa (Christiansen, 1973).
Earth snakes are found in moist wooded rocky areas in river and stream valleys where they may be found on the slopes under leaf litter, rocks, or logs.
Earth snakes are very secretive snakes hiding beneath debris during the day. They may be more common than they appear because very few people see them. They often hunt at night or under debris when earthworms are present and easily captured. Heavy rains bring them out and they are likely to be found on the road at this time. They sometimes cross on humid nights as well. This snake is inoffensive and if it were to bite, it could do no damage at all. It breeds spring and probably again in the fall. The female gives birth to 5-10 young in autumn. An Iowa specimen gave birth to 7 young (Christiansen, 1973) They are three inches long at birth. They are active April to October. I found an adult crossing a road in Van Buren County in October. They hibernate deep in the rocky outcroppings.
Earth snakes feed upon earthworms, slugs, snails, and soft-bodied insects..