Variable Groundsnake

Sonora semiannulata semiannulata


Image of a variable groundsnake
The variable groundsnake is a small species with smooth, shiny scales and highly variable coloration. In Missouri, it is restricted to open, rocky hillsides of the southwestern corner of the state.
MDC Staff
Other Common Name
Variable Ground Snake

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


The variable groundsnake is a small, gentle, secretive species with smooth, shiny scales and highly variable coloration and patterning. The ground color can be gray, light brown, orange, or red. There may be dark brown or black bands along the entire length, or a few bands or blotches along the forward part of the body, or it may be totally patternless. In our state, this species often has an orange or red tinge between crossbands. The belly is white or cream colored, with numerous dark gray bars on the underside of the tail.


Length: 8 to 12 inches.

Habitat and conservation

Variable groundsnakes are usually found along rocky glades and in open, rocky woodlands on south- and southwest-facing slopes. They are seldom seen in the open, as they remain hidden under flat rocks during the day. They may become active on the ground surface at night. In hot weather, they burrow underground to find cooler temperatures and higher humidity. Special valves in their nostrils can close to prevent sand and soil particles from entering when they are burrowing.


Variable groundsnakes eat mainly scorpions, centipedes, spiders, including the black widow, and soft-bodied insects.

Variable Groundsnake Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Southwestern corner of the state, as far east as Howell County and as far north as St. Clair and Hickory counties.


Uncommon. Missouri’s population of groundsnakes depends on the availability of rocky glades. As long as this type of habitat is protected, the species should continue to survive.

Life cycle

Groundsnakes are generally active from April until early November. Courtship and mating normally occur during April or May, but autumn mating has also been reported. Eggs are laid in loose, damp soil under rocks during June and July. Each female lays 4–6 eggs. Hatching occurs about 2 months after the eggs are laid, and the young are about 4 inches long.

Human connections

Although many people think of an animal’s value only in terms of its economic imprint on human affairs, the science of ecology has shown us that each component of the natural community plays a unique and important role. Valuing nature means valuing even the smallest plants and animals.

Ecosystem connections

As predators, groundsnakes control populations of the scorpions, spiders, and other animals they consume. As with many other predatory species, groundsnakes can be preyed upon themselves by larger animals, which helps explain their secretive habits. The eggs and young are especially vulnerable.