Kansas is home to numerous species of snakes, 42 to be exact, but only a handful are venomous, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP). These four native snake species all fall under the class of pit vipers and contain venom that is hemotoxic: it causes internal bleeding and tissue damage.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say around 7,000-8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. every year. Of those bitten by rattlesnakes, 10-44% come away with lasting injuries.
Found in eastern Kansas, the timber rattlesnake can usually be spotted prowling at night during the summer among rocky outcrops and places where vegetation is abundant, according to the KDWP. These snakes spend much of their time looking for food or coiled up and motionless. Compared to other Kansas venomous snakes, timber rattlesnakes are said to have a mild disposition and stay quiet to avoid being seen.
The prairie rattlesnake dwells in western Kansas and has the largest range of any rattlesnake in the country, according to the National Park Service (NPS). They can be found throughout the Great Plains, Mexico and Canada. They typically choose forested areas to live in and use their ability to detect heat to capture prey like small birds, gophers, prairie dogs and mice.
The western Massasauga rattlesnake is classified as dangerously venomous by the Kansas Herpetofaunal Atlas with Fort Hays State University. Known as the smallest rattlesnake in Kansas, it can be found in much of the eastern parts of the state in habitats like prairie and open wetlands such as Cheyenne Bottoms. These snakes spend most of their time basking in the sun and waiting for food or hunting when the sun dips below the horizon.
Copperheads make their homes in the eastern third of the state, according to the KDWP. They have a distinctive neck and get their name from their copper-red heads. Preying mostly on rodents, insects and frogs, copperheads do not pose great danger to humans as their venom is considered to be mild and rarely fatal to people if medical treatment is sought immediately.
Other species of venomous snakes, such as cottonmouths and western diamond-back rattlesnakes, have occasionally been found in Kansas. Cottonmouths are considered by the KDWP to be very rare in the state, while diamond-backs are not widespread and have only been found in a few central Kansas areas.