Iowa Snakes Pictures and Identification Help

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picture of a ring-necked snake face and neck

Any discussion of Iowa snakes is missing a nice story if they omit an Iowa Department of Natural Resources snake fun fact.

Snakes always win a staring contest. While it looks like snakes never blink, they do in fact have eyelids – they’re just transparent, and permanently attached, so they’re always open.

So it is for all twenty seven species of Iowa snakes.

At least half of those snakes have common names recognized by the average person such as milksnake, racer, garter snake, kingsnake, watersnake and ratsnake. The common names reflect some physical or mythical characteristic of the species, making them more memorable to the public. Ratsnakes consume rats. That’s a good thing. Watersnakes inhabit water areas that’s a no brainer.

Here’s a list of fourteen Iowa snakes from those common snake families. Please click on the snake button to learn more.

  • North American Racer (Coluber constrictor)
  • Hognose snakes (Heterodon platirhinos)
  • Speckled Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis holbrooki)
  • Milk Snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum)
  • Yellow-bellied Kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster)
  • Diamondback Water Snake
  • Plain-bellied Watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster)
  • Northern Watersnake
  • Western Ratsnake (Pantherophis obsoletus)
  • Western Foxsnake (Pantherophis ramspotti)
  • Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus)
  • Plains Garter Snake (Thamnophis radix)
  • Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis )
  • Western Wormsnake (Carphophis vermis)

Iowa also hosts four additional venomous snakes, copperheads and three rattlesnake species. That might sound scary at first, but describing their limited range mitigates some of the scariness. Copperheads, for example, inhabit only a small portion of southeast Iowa, Van Buren and Lee counties. They are actually listed as endangered in the state and considered a very rare find.

Timber rattlesnakes are probably the most common in Iowa as they are in most areas of the east. The common name timber suggests they are found in the eastern and southern areas of the state.

The other two rattlesnake species, the Massasauga and Prairie Rattlesnake, have very limited ranges in west Iowa. In fact, like copperheads, there’s always news when these rattlesnakes are spotted. The Des Moines Register, for example, recently wrote:

For the first time in 15 years, the group confirmed a Massasauga Rattlesnake in the Lower Cedar Valley Preserve in Muscatine…These snakes, also known as “swamp rattlers” have become increasingly rare. There were concerns about the survival of the snakes, due to heavy flooding in the area the last two years, said Shelly Hiemer, spokeswoman for The Nature Conservancy.

Page space sets a natural limit for the number of snake pictures and species information can be presented on any single page. Please press the green snakes button for additional snake pictures and information on the list presented here. The following pictures and information about Iowa snakes focuses on the less well known species.

Iowa’s Other Colubrid Snakes


The Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus), pictured at the top of the page, is a common Colubrid species in Iowa and most other areas of the United States. The only difference being Iowa hosts a subspecies, Diadophis punctatus arnyi.

The dual color body, dark on the top and a bright shade of orange or yellow on the bottom serve as the best field identification clues. The picture highlights the snake’s characteristic ring neck mark. While ring-neck snake bites are rare, touching them is not recommended. They can secrete a foul smelling chemical.

picture of a Dekay's Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi). Credit Mark Spangler Flickr
Iowa hosts the Dekays Brown snake and Red Bellied Snakes. Both are small snakes, growing to maybe a foot in length. Both species are also adapted to multiple habitats.

picture of a Northern Red-bellied Snake in Minnesota
Red-bellied snakes live mostly in wooded areas of the Northeast. They also rank as the state’s smallest snakes, growing to less than a foot in length.

picture of a Gopher Snake or Bullsnake (Pituophis melanoleucus)
Gopher Snakes or Bullsnakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) are a very common Iowa snakes, especially in the west. The can average about three to four feet in length. They do become a bit bullish as the nickname points out when the reach six feet in length and develop a bulky, round body.

They can appear to look like a rattlesnakes and often bask in the sun. If a person slowly approaches a snake like this and takes a look at the tail, they will not see a rattle.

picture of a Crayfish Snake
Snakes in the genus Regina (Queen Snakes and Gray Crayfish Snakes) are another of the common species in the Eastern United States that are less well known to the larger public. They inhabit most water areas of the East that host their primary food source, crayfish.

The picture shows a Crayfish snake. Both species are an nondescript, dull brown color, and both species grow to a fairly small size, under two feet in length.

picture of a Smooth Earth Snake, Stephen Horvath, Flickr
Smooth Earthsnakes (Virginia valeriae) are the only representative of the Virginia genera. They are fairly common in the East and easily recognized by their smooth brown body.

Iowa’s Smooth Earthsnakes can be found along river areas in the east and central areas of the states. They have an even duller color brown body than the DeKay’s Brownsnakes.

picture of a Lined Snake Lined Snake (Tropidoclonion lineatum)
Lined snakes look similar to the average garter snake, with stripes down the body. They inhabit southern areas of Iowa.

picture of a Smooth Greensnake
Smooth Greensnakes have not had an easy time in Iowa. They are also called grasssnakes and have an insect related diet. Iowa’s agriculture economy is not quite friendly to the pesticide free grasslands that characterize the snakes natural habitat. Over time, the Smooth Greensnake populations have decreased.

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