An adult Smooth Earthsnake from Johnson County, Kansas (iNat: 54228297). Image by Lisa Wehrly (@leesah52)
An adult Smooth Earthsnake from Douglas County, Kansas (iNat: 42140934). Image by (@devonderaad)
An adult Smooth Earthsnake from Johnson County, Kansas (iNat: 54228297). Image by Lisa Wehrly (@leesah52)
An adult Smooth Earthsnake from Jefferson County, Kansas. © Lisa Wehrly.
REPTILIA (Reptiles) SQUAMATA (PART) (Snakes) NATRICIDAE (Harmless Egg-Retaining Snakes)

Smooth Earthsnake
Virginia valeriae Baird & Girard 1853
vĭr-gĭn-yă — vă-lĕr-ē-ă


Conservation Status:

State: Kansas Species in Need of Conservation (SINC)

Federal: None
NatureServe State: S3 - Vulnerable
NatureServe National: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Global: G5 - Secure
CITES: None
Diagnosis:
HARMLESS. The Smooth Earth Snake is characterized by smooth scales on the front part and weakly keeled scales on the rear part of the body, a divided anal scale, a gray or brown unpatterned head, body, and tail, six scales on the upper lip, and two or more scales bordering the rear edge of the eye. The belly is white. Adult males have longer tails than females, and females grow to a greater total length. The young look like small adults.
Adults normally grow 18.0-25.4 cm (7-10 inches) in total length. The largest specimen from Kansas is a female (KU 177023) from Jefferson County with a total length of 30.5 cm (12 inches) collected by Jill Krebs in April 1978. The maximum length throughout the range is 39.1 cm (15­3⁄8 inches) (Conant and Collins, 1998).

Distribution:
This small snake is known from the Marais des Cygnes and Kansas/Missouri River drainage systems in northeastern Kansas.
Found in deciduous woods, exposed rocky slopes in mixed deciduous-pine associations, grassy slopes with rocks in areas of deciduous forest, mesic hammocks, wooded areas around marshes and other damp places, rocky sparse woods, and forest edge, old fields, vacant lots, wooded or brushy residential areas. Secretive; often under logs, rocks, or other cover types by day. May aggregate during hibernation.
Currently, the following areas are designated critical for Smooth Earth Snakes:
(1) All suitable woodland habitat within Wyandotte, Johnson, Miami, Linn, Leavenworth, and Jefferson counties.
(,   Museum Voucher) (,   Observation) (,   Literature Record) (,   iNat Record), (  Fossil)
Open icons are questionable records; Click on a marker to view details.
Full range depicted by light shaded red area. Export Google Earth (.kml)
  • Occurrence Summary:  
  • 83
    Records 
  • 64
    Museum Vouchers 
  • 19
    Other Observations 
Some county occurrences indicated below may be too imprecise to map above.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences):
Anderson (1); Atchison (1); Bourbon (1); Douglas (18); Franklin (2); Jackson (1); Jefferson (27); Johnson (11); Leavenworth (4); Linn (6); Miami (2); Shawnee (2); Wyandotte (7);

Fossil History:
Not known from Kansas.

Natural History:
The Smooth Earthsnake lives on rocky hillsides in moist woodlands and woodland edge situations. Active from April to October, this secretive species forages at night for food and spends the day hidden beneath rocks and logs or in leaf litter. During winter, it crawls deep into crevices on rocky hillsides to avoid cold temperatures. Errol D. Hooper, Jr., (pers. comm., 1985; Collins, 1993) found a male and female Smooth Earthsnake beneath the same rock on 21 September in Franklin County.
The Smooth Earthsnake mates in the spring after emergence from winter inactivity and also may mate in the fall. Courtship is unknown and probably occurs at night. After eleven to fourteen weeks, females give birth, the number of young per litter ranging from two to fourteen (Fitch, 1985), with an average of six or seven. Birth generally occurs during August or September.
This species feeds exclusively on earthworms (Collins, 1993).
Predators of the Smooth Earth Snake include birds, mammals, and other snakes (Collins, 1993).

Occurrence Activity:
Number of Unique Obervations (=days): 53; Range: 17 Mar to 10 Nov
Remarks:
Similar in habits and habitat to the Red-bellied Snake, the Smooth Earth Snake has a more restricted distribution in Kansas. It prefers woodland/grassland ecotones and associated leaf litter.
The Smooth Earth Snake is a small fossorial snake whose rarity is undoubtedly more perceived than real. The biggest threat to its continued existence in Kansas is that of commercial and residential development. Fitzgerald and Nilon (1994) and Ahrens (1997) reported examples of this snake from Camp Naish in urban Wyandotte County. There is a need to determine the effect of development on populations, and to greater quantify the most productive habitats so that they can be set aside or mitigated.
Fitzgerald and Nilon (1994) attempted to model habitat utilization, however, their results could not be generally validated due to the paucity of information available. Two components (canopy cover and litter) were found to be significant predictors, however, a recent specimen collected dead following a prairie burn in Jefferson County by George Pisani would indicate that Smooth Earth Snakes are not necessarily limited by these factors.
Platt et al. (1974) recommended close scrutiny of
lumbering operations, restriction of large-scale lumbering, and discontinued use of persistent pesticides in areas where this snake is found. The Smooth Earthsnake was listed as a Kansas Threatened species in 1987 and downlisted to SINC in 2015.
Based on a captive specimen, Snider and Bowler (1992) reported a maximum longevity for this species of six years, one month, and seven days.

Bibliography:
1923 Blanchard, Frank N. The snakes of the genus Virginia. Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters (3):343-365
1929 Taylor, Edward H. A revised checklist of the snakes of Kansas. University of Kansas Science Bulletin 19(5):53-62
1936 Brumwell, Malcolm J. Distributional records of the reptilia and amphibians of Kansas. Privately printed, . 22pp.
County dot maps of the Kansas herpetofauna. This work has been attributed to have been written around 1933, but that may be in error. 
Hypsiglena jani was not known from Kansas until Claude W. Hibbard collected three specimens on the Stevenson Ranch in north-central Clark County (above Clark State Lake) during June 1936 (Hibbard, 1937). Brumwell plotted this locality, which leads me to believe that the 1936 would have been the earliest date this manuscript could have been written.
1941 Schmidt, Karl Peterson and D. D. Davis. Field Book of Snakes of the United States and Canada. C.P. Putnam and Sons, New York. 365pp.
1950 Smith, Hobart M. Handbook of Amphibians and Reptiles of Kansas. University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History, Miscellaneous Publication (2):336
The first modern herpetology of Kansas. Includes locality dot maps within individual species accounts. Reports 96 species from Kansas (table and text say 97 on p. 10) and 13 "probable but unverified" species and subspecies.
1956 Smith, Hobart M. Handbook of Amphibians and Reptiles of Kansas. Second edition. University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Miscellaneous Publication (9):1-356
Hobart M. Smith's updated second edition of his first (1950) modern herpetology of Kansas. Includes locality dot maps within individual species accounts. Reports 96 species from Kansas (table says 97 on p. 10; text says 98 on p. 10) and 11 "probable but unverified" species and subspecies. The second edition has updated taxonomy, added Plestiodon laticeps, and removed Eurycea tynerensis.
1956 Loomis, Richard B. The chigger mites of Kansas (Acarina, Trombiculidae). University of Kansas Science Bulletin 37():1195-1443
Examined 2,628 Kansas reptiles of 48 species consisting of 27 turtles of 4 species, 1,736 lizards of 12 species and 892 snakes of 32 species for chiggers. Eleven species of chiggers were recovered from reptiles.
For amphibians, 1188 individuals of 21 species were examined. Five species of chigger mite were recovered from amphibians.
1974 Henderson, Robert W. Resource partitioning among snakes of the University of Kansas Natural History Reservation: A preliminary analysis. Milwaukee Public Museum Contributions in Biology and Geology (1):1-11
1974 Collins, Joseph T. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Public Education Series (1):283 pp
Joseph T. Collins first Kansas herpetology. <Need to get species total and principal differences with previous 'version' (= Smith 1956)>
1974 Pisani, George R. Herpetology in the KU Division of Biological Sciences. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (4):3-4
Mention of Henry Fitch's long-term ecological studies of Diadophis punctatus, Ophisaurus attenuatus, Plestiodon fasciatus, and Scincella lateralis. As well as Pisani's studies of Virginia valeriae, Haldea striatula, and Carphophis vermis.
1974 Platt, Dwight R., Joseph T. Collins, and Ray E. Ashton, Jr. Rare, endangered and extirpated species in Kansas. II. Amphibians and reptiles. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 76(3):185-192
The initial initiative to determine population and conservation status of Kansas' amphibians and reptiles based on our understanding at the time. A lot has changed regarding our increased knowledge on all the listed species.
1976 Rundquist, Eric M. Field checklist (of) amphibians and reptiles of Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society, Lawrence. pp.
1976 Ashton, Ray E., Jr., Stephen R. Edwards, and George R. Pisani. Endangered and threatened amphibians and reptiles in the United States. Herpetological Circulars (5):65
1977 Perry, Janice. Kansas herps needed. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (18):2-3
List of Kansas amphibians and reptiles desired for the SSAR/HL meeting to be held 7-13 August 1977.
1978 Collins, Joseph T. and Janalee P. Caldwell. New records of fishes, amphibians, and reptiles in Kansas for 1977. Technical Publication of the State Biological Survery of Kansas 6():70-88
1982 Fitch, Henry S. Resources of a snake community in prairie-woodland habitat of northeastern Kansas. Pages 83-97 in Herpetological communities: A symposium of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles and the Herpetologists League, August 1977.  Wildlife Research Reports 12. 239 pp. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D. C. pp.
1982 Collins, Joseph T. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. 2nd edition. University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Public Education Series (8):
Joseph T. Collins second Kansas herpetology. <Need to get species total and principal differences with previous 'version' (= Collins 1974)>
1983 Cervone, Thomas H. The natural history of Virginia valeriae pulchra (Serpentes: Colubridae). Dissertation. Saint Bonaventure University, Saint Bonaventure, New York. 181pp.
1983 Collins, Joseph T. New records of fishes, amphibians, and reptiles in Kansas for 1982 . Technical Publication of the State Biological Survey of Kansas 13():9-21
1984 Brown, Kenneth L. Pomona: A plains village variant in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Dissertation. University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. 519pp.
1984 Secor, Stephen M. and Charles C. Carpenter. Distribution maps of Oklahoma reptiles. Oklahoma Herpetological Society Special Publication (3):1-57
1986 Layher, William G., Ken L. Brunson, J.Schaefer, Marvin D. Schwilling, and R. D. Wood. Summary of nongame task force actions relative to developing three species lists: Species in Need of Conservation, Threatened, and Endangered. Kansas Fish and Game Commission, Pratt. 27pp.
1988 Busby, William H. The Kansas Natural Heritage Program: Taking stock of Kansas' natural heritage. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (71):9-12
1989 Simmons, John E. Endangered and threatened in Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (75):4-5
1990 Lardie, Richard L. Kansas threatened species and protection of the Gypsum Hills habitat. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (80):14-15
1990 Collins, Joseph T. Maximum size records for Kansas amphibians and reptiles. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (81):13-17
1991 Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. pp.
1991 Fitch, Henry S. Reptiles and amphibians of the Kansas ecological reserves. Pages 71-74 in Ecology and Hydrology of Kansas Ecological Reserves and the Baker Wetlands. Multidisciplinary Guidebook 4. Kansas Academy of Science, Lawrence, Kansas. pp.
1991 Rossman, Douglas A. and Van Wallach. Virginia. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles (529):1-4
1992 Collins, Joseph T. Results of the fourth Kansas herp count held during April-May 1992. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (89):10-
1992 Rundquist, Eric M. Kansas endangered, threatened, and SINC species. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (91):
1992 Powell, Robert, Joseph T. Collins, and Lee D. Fish. Virginia valeriae. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles (552):1-6
1993 Freeman, Craig C. and William H. Busby. A survey for endangered and threatened species on the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, Johnson County, Kansas. Report No. 54. Kansas Biological Survey, Lawrence. 115pp.
1993 Fitzgerald, Eve C. and Charles H. Nilon. Testing the accuracy of an HSI model in and urban county. ():16
1993 Miller, Larry L. and Joseph T. Collins. History, distribution and habitat requirements for three species of threatened reptiles in eastern Kansas. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. 29pp.
1993 Collins, Joseph T. and Suzanne L. Collins. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. Third Edition. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Lawrence. 397pp.
Joseph T. Collins third Kansas herpetology. <Need to get species total and principal differences with previous 'version' (= Collins 1982)>
1993 Collins, Joseph T. and Rundquist, Eric M. Results of the fifth Kansas herp count held during April-June 1993 . Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (94):7-11
1993 Fitch, Henry S. Relative abundance of snakes in Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 96(3/4):213-224
1994 Fitzgerald, Eve C. Habitat Suitability Index Models for Three Threatened Snake Species in an Urban County. Thesis. University of Missouri, Columbia. pp.
1994 Fitzgerald, Eve C. and Charles Nilon. Classification of habitats for endangered and threatened species in Wyandotte County, Kansas Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt, Kansas. 98pp.
1994 Rundquist, Eric M. 1994 Field Trip Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (95):3-4
1994 Rundquist, Eric M. Results of the sixth annual KHS herp counts held 1 April-31 May 1994. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (97):5-14
See, 1994 Rundquist, Eric M. Additions and corrections [to the results of the sixth annual KHS herp counts held 1 April-31 May 1994]. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (98):4.
1996 Rundquist, Eric M. Results of the eighth annual KHS herp counts Held 1 April-31 May 1996. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (104):6-17
1996 Rakestraw, J. Spring herp counts: A Kansas tradition. Reptile & Amphibian Magazine (March-April):75-80
1997 Ahrens, John. Amphibian and reptile distributions in urban riparian areas. Thesis. University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri. 70pp.
1997 Collins, Joseph T. New records of amphibians and reptiles in Kansas for 1996. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (107):14-16
1998 Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed, expanded. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. pp.
1998 Powell, Robert, Joseph T Collins, and Errol D Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians & Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. Univ Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. 131pp.
1998 Gamble, Jerre. Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hartford, Kansas. 91pp.
1998 Collins, Joseph T. New records of amphibians and reptiles in Kansas for 1997. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (111):12-14
1998 Rundquist, Eric M. Results of the tenth annual KHS herp counts for 1998, held 1 April-31 May. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (112):11-18
1999 Rundquist, Eric M. Kansas Herpetological Society herp counts: A 10 year summary and evaluation. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (115):42962
2002 Kingsbury, Bruce and Joanna Gibson. Habitat Management Guidelines for Amphibians and Reptiles of the Midwest. Publication of Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Address not given. 152pp.
2003 Freeman, Craig C. A natural areas inventory of the Ft. Leavenworth Military Reservation, Leavenworth County, Kansas. II. Open-file Report No. 117. Kansas Biological Survey, Lawrence, Kansas. 199pp.
2003 Suleiman, G. Fort Riley herpetofaunal count. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (5):11-12
2005 Pisani, George R. A new Kansas locality for Virginia valeriae. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (16):25
2006 Taggart, Travis W. Distribution and status of Kansas herpetofauna in need of information. State Wildlife Grant T7. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. vii + 106pp.
2007 Pisani, George R. New Kansas maximum sizes for Virginia valeriae and Carphophis vermis. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (22):11
2008 Taggart, Travis W. A Survey of Two Rarely-Seen Northeast Kansas Snakes. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt, Kansas. 45pp.
2009 Pisani, George R. 2008 Report, Chickadee Checkoff funding for Smooth Earth Snake Ecology. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt, Kansas. 1pp.
2009 Pisani, George R. Virginia valeriae and Storeria dekayi in a northeast Kansas grassland community: Ecology and conservation implications. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (32):20-34
2009 Pisani, George R. Use of an active ant nest as a hibernaculum by small snake species. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 112(1/2):113-118
2010 Collins, Joseph T., Suzanne L. Collins, and Travis W. Taggart. Amphibians, Reptiles, and Turtles of Kansas Eagle Mountain Publishing., Provo, Utah. 400pp.
Joseph T. Collins fourth Kansas herpetology. <Need to get species total and principal differences with previous 'version' (= Collins 1993)>
2010 Pisani, George R. and William Busby. Smooth earth snake and redbelly snake population survey. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (33):7
2010 Gray, Brian S. Distribution of native and exotic earthworms in the eastern United States: Implications for the ecology of vermivorous snakes. Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society 45(5):73-86
2011 Busby, William. Ecology of the Smooth Earth Snake (Virginia valeriae) and Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)  in Northeastern Kansas. Open-file Report No. 172 Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt, Kansas. 37pp.
2011 Pisani, George R. and William H. Busby. Ecology of the Smooth Earth Snake (Virginia valeriae) and Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) in Northeastern Kansas. Report to the Open-file Report No. 172. Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, Pratt. 38pp.
2011 Taggart, Travis W. Kansas Herpetological Society 2011 spring field trip to beheld in Chautauqua County. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (37):5-7
2012 Rohweder, Megan R. Spatial conservation prioritization of Kansas for terrestrial vertebrates. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 151pp.
2012 Powell, Robert, Joseph T Collins, and Errol D Hooper Jr. Key to the Herpetofauna of the Continental United States and Canada: Second Edition, Revised and Updated. Univ Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. 152pp.
2012 Busby, William. Habitat Associations and Ecological Niche Modeling in Eastern Forest Species: Annual Report, Year 1 - August 15, 2011 to May 30, 2012. Project T‐30‐R‐1. Kansas Biological Survey, Lawrence, Kansas. 4pp.
2014 Taggart, Travis W. Recent scientific and standard English name changes effecting the Kansas herpetofauna. Collinsorum 3(2-4):9-10
2015 Rohweder, Megan R. Kansas Wildlife Action Plan. Ecological Services Section, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism in cooperation with the Kansas Biological Survey. 176pp.
2015 Haines-Eitzen, Eli, John Haines-Eitzen, Ben Haines-Eitzen, Justin Lee, and David Lee, and George R. Pisani. Effects of drought on two small Kansas snakes. IRCF Reptiles and Amphibians 22(4):153–155
2016 Pittman, Galen L., Henry S. Fitch, and W. Dean Kettle. Vertebrate animals on the Fitch Natural History Reservation (1948-2002) Kansas Biological Survey Report Number 188, Lawrence. 48pp.
2016 Powell, Robert, Roger Conant, and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. 494pp.
2016 Pisani, George R. Characterization and significance of sexual dimorphism in gape size in Virginia valeriae ssp with comparisons to V. striatula. Collinsorum 5(2-3):8-17
2017 Crother, Brian I. (editor) Scientific and Standard English Names of Amphibians and Reptiles of North America North of Mexico, with Comments Regarding Confidence in Our Understanding. Eighth edition. Herpetological Circulars (43):1-102
2019 Powell, Robert, Joseph T Collins, and Errol D Hooper Jr. Key to the Herpetofauna of the Continental United States and Canada. Third Edition. Univ Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. 192pp.
2020 Daniel, Richard E. and Brian S. Edmond. Atlas of Missouri Amphibians and Reptiles for 2019. Privately printed, Columbia, Missouri. 86pp.
2020 Riedle, J. Daren. Revisiting Kansas Herpetological Society field trip and Herp Count data: Distributional patterns and trend data of Kansas amphibians and reptiles. Collinsorum 9(1):7-16
2021 Busby, William H., Barve, Narayani, Cobos, Marlon, and Peterson, A. Townsend. Effects of landscape history on current geographic distributions of four species of reptiles and amphibians in Kansas. The Southwestern Naturalist 66(2):157-165
2023 Nunez, Leroy, Levi N Gray, David Weisrock, and Frank T Burbrink. The phylogenomic and biogeographic history of the Gartersnakes, Watersnakes, and Allies (Natricidae: Thamnophiini). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 186(5:107844):12
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Travis W. Taggart © 1999-2024 — w/ Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University