Goodness Snakes!

Clint Dallbom
Neosho Parks Superintendent
Although not often seen in the Ozarks, timber rattlesnakes are present. They can be dangerous.

This time of year, many people get out and visit Neosho’s parks. Some people come out to walk their pet or ride a bicycle on the 1.7-mile paved trail in Morse Park. Many come to try their luck fishing for the wily rainbow trout in the clear water of Hickory Creek. Sports are popular in the ballfields across the creek or possibly enjoying an evening picnic on a blanket spread out in the grass. Whatever your reason to visit one of the parks there is always a chance you will encounter a snake.

People have differing opinions of snakes; I have heard it said that “the only good snake is a dead snake” to which I disagree. If you will take the time to study snakes and learn their differences and different habits you will find that many species are completely harmless, posing no danger whatsoever to humans. Many are more afraid of you than you are of them if that is possible!

Snakes are quiet and camouflaged to blend into their environment so when a person comes across a snake many times they are startled. I have been known to do a quick “snake dance” occasionally when I unexpectantly come across one. My sister loves to share one such story from the days of our youth involving a cottonmouth down along Indian Creek. 

Most of the snakes encountered in our parks are harmless. These include black rat snakes, kingsnakes, garter snakes, ring neck snakes, and worm snakes.

Black rat snakes are said to be “the farmers friend” are probably the largest snake found in our parks. They are a constrictor, meaning they wrap up their prey and squeeze them until they are lifeless. Mice, rats, and other rodents are their favorites. They are non-venomous but will strike and bite if cornered. They are harmless and are best left alone.

Speckled king snake is a common snake in the Ozarks. They are considered a favorite snake because they will kill and eat other snakes including venomous snakes. Generally, if you have these snakes around you will not have other species of snakes hanging around. There are several types of king snakes that consider the Neosho area home, all share the same traits and are usually considered “good” to have around. These can also be seen in our parks.

Garter snakes, like all snakes, are carnivorous. Their diet consists of almost any creature they are capable of overpowering: slugs, earthworms, leeches, lizards, amphibians, minnows, and rodents. When living near water, they will eat other aquatic animals. Garter snakes often adapt to eating whatever they can find, and whenever, because food can be scarce or abundant. Although they feed mostly on live animals, they will sometimes eat eggs. These snakes can be aggressive when cornered and will bite, although their bite is harmless.

Western worm snake is a small snake that is found in this area. They are harmless and pose no threat to humans. They are usually found under logs or leaves in a wooded habitat.

Ring neck snakes are very common in the Ozarks. They are a small snake and are also harmless to humans. In our parks they can be seen in the lawns or near the edge of a lawn near a rock pile or log. They are nocturnal, meaning they are active mainly at night, but can be found any time.

Common Water Snakes

Northern water snake is the most common water snake in Missouri. Due to their markings are often mistaken with a copperhead or a cottonmouth.

Midland water snake is another very common water snake found in Hickory Creek. It also has markings that are confused with copperheads and are often killed because of it. Both snakes will bite if they are threatened but will go to great effort to escape any conflict with humans.

Venomous Snakes

There are venomous snakes in our parks. They are rare but do occupy typical Ozark habitats.

There are two subspecies of copperhead that live in this area. The Osage Copperhead lives from here north to the Iowa border.

Osage Copperhead

The Southern Copperhead also occupies this area. They have very slight differences but both are recognized as sub species of the Eastern Copperhead.

Southern Copperhead

Copperheads are venomous and should be left alone. They are shy and will try to get away from people if possible. Their defense strategy is to stop moving and lay still relying on their camouflage to protect them. In some places around Neosho copperheads are very common. Their diet is rats, mice, frogs, and some large insects. They are considered beneficial but should be removed from areas where children play or areas where people commonly use.

Other venomous snakes that can be found in this area but are much less common are.

Western Cottonmouth

Western Pigmy Rattlesnake

Timber Rattlesnake

I have seen cottonmouth snakes on Indian Creek between Stella and Boulder City. They live near water and when threatened they will coil up and open their mouth displaying the white color of the inside of their mouth. If they do not do that, they are probably not a cottonmouth.

Pigmy Rattlesnakes are small colorful snakes, a large one would be 24 inches long, but most I have seen are smaller than that. I have seen them south of Cassville and in the Washburn area. They are shown to inhabit Newton County.

The Timber Rattlesnake can be found throughout the Ozarks, they like bluffs and rocky glades. My research shows they can reach 60 inches in length, but I am sure they get larger. I saw one in Texas County Missouri that was 78 inches long. They are a dangerous snake but very secretive. I have seen them in the hot summer, mid-afternoon after a summer rain shower. It seems like they like to come out during those conditions. Many people live their whole lives in the Ozarks and never see a Timber Rattlesnake (probably a good thing) due the snake’s secretive habits.

All venomous snakes in Missouri have vertical slits for pupils in their eyes, they hunt at night, so their eyes are designed for that. Another way to tell a venomous snake from non-venomous is to look at the skin on the underside of their tail. A non-venomous snake has a double row of scales from their anal plate to the end of their tail. Venomous snakes have a single row of scales from the anal plate to the end of their tail.

All native plants and animals have a purpose in the ecosystem. Any piece that is missing causes the entire ecosystem to suffer.

Neosho Parks are special!

Clint Dalbom, Neosho Parks Superintendent, writes Progress in the Parks articles for The Neosho Daily News.