Flat-Headed Snake

Tantilla gracilis


Photo of a flat-headed snake held in someone’s hands
The flat-headed snake is Missouri's smallest snake. It is found in the southern half of the state except the far southeastern corner.
Tom Winegar

Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)


The flat-headed snake is Missouri's smallest snake. It is smooth-scaled, and the general color is tan, gray brown, or slightly reddish brown. The head is sometimes darker than the rest of the body or is black. The belly is salmon pink, a characteristic that distinguishes it from the similar-looking earthsnakes, which have grayish or cream-colored bellies.


Length: 7–8 inches.

Habitat and conservation

Normally active from April through October, this is a burrowing species. It spends most of its time in slightly moist soil under rocks or in underground burrows. South-facing, rocky, wooded hillsides, especially where sandy soil occurs with limestone rock, are its preferred habitats. This species is not known to bite when captured. In hot weather and during winter, these snakes burrow underground.


The flat-headed snake eats centipedes and a variety of insects and their larvae.

Flat-Headed Snake Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Southern half of the state, except for the southeastern corner.

Life cycle

Courtship and mating occur in late April and May. In June, females lay 1–4 eggs in moist soil under rocks. Hatching takes place in August and September. The newly hatched young are about 3 inches long.

Human connections

At a glance, you may think this small snake is an earthworm. A delicate, smooth, eight-inch creature with few defenses, it disrupts our notion of snakes being fearsome, powerful, and dangerous. The species name, "gracilis," means slender and graceful. The three-inch hatchlings are frankly adorable.

Ecosystem connections

To insects and other arthropods, this snake is a predator, limiting their populations, but a variety of small mammals, birds, lizards, and other snakes relish this small snake, its eggs, and its vulnerable hatchlings.