western fox snake

(Pantherophis ramspotti)

Conservation Status
western fox snake
Photo by James Folden
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


N5 - Secure

S4 - Apparently Secure


Species in Greatest Conservation Need


Western fox snake is a medium-sized to large, nonvenomous, typical snake. It is one of the four largest snakes in Minnesota. Adults are usually 36 to 56 in length.

The body is light brown, yellowish-tan, or gray with an upper (mid-dorsal) row of large blotches and on each side a lateral row of smaller alternating blotches. The blotches are dark brown and are bordered with black. The dorsal blotches on most of the body are wider than long. Toward the head they are long an narrow. On the tail they become rings. On average there are 43 dorsal spots between the head and the anal opening (cloaca). The belly is pale yellow with smaller black or brown markings in an irregular checkerboard pattern. The head is reddish and mostly unmarked. The dorsal scales are weekly keeled and the lateral scales are smooth.

Young snakes have a lighter background color, a dark bar between the eyes, and a dark line from the eye to the back of the jaw.




36 to 56


Similar Species


Moist places. Prairies, woodland openings and edges, lowland meadows, river bottoms, and rocky outcroppings near water.




In the spring and fall adults move about during the day. In the hot summer they move about at night. When confronted they will often vibrate their tails producing a buzzing sound. In leaf litter or dry grass the sound resembles that of a rattlesnake. When handled it will often release a musky, fox-like odor, from which it gets its common name.




17 years


Life Cycle


Adults emerge in April. Mating occurs from April to July. After mating, the female lays a clutch of 7 to 29, usually about 14, leathery, 1½ to 2 long eggs. The eggs hatch in July or August. In October adults overwinter in rocky crevices or man-made structures that extend below the frost line.




Mice and other small rodents, birds, and bird eggs. Young may also eat frogs.


Distribution Map



4, 14, 24, 29, 30, 74, 76, 78.




Common in the Mississippi, St. Croix, and Minnesota River valleys, uncommon or absent elsewhere.

  Class Reptilia (reptiles)  
  Superorder Lepidosauria  
  Order Squamata (snakes and lizards)  
  Suborder Serpentes (snakes)  
  Infraorder Alethinophidia  
  Superfamily Colubroidea  


Colubridae (colubrid snakes)  




Pantherophis (North American ratsnakes)  

This species was formerly placed in the genus Elaphe. A recent mitochondrial DNA analysis (Utiger, et al., 2006) showed that the genus Elaphe consisted of a common ancestor and most of its descendants, but excluded a few monophyletic subgroups – it was paraphyletic and therefore invalid. The study proposed resurrecting the genus Pantherophis for North American ratsnakes.

This species was formerly thought to be the same species as Pantherophis vulpinus, then known by the common name western fox snake. A recent reevaluation of the foxsnakes (Crother et al., 2011) proposed splitting the species geographically. Those east of the Mississippi River, formerly P. gloydi and P. vulpinus, would be recognized as P. vulpinus, and would have the common name eastern foxsnake. Those west of the Mississippi River, formerly P. vulpinus, would be recognized as the new species P. ramspotti, and would have the common name western foxsnake. The proposal has had mixed reception.


Subordinate Taxa






Elaphe vulpina

Mintonius ramspotti

Pantherophis ramspotti

Pantherophis vulpinus


Common Names


western fox snake

western foxsnake










The single posterior cavity, often called the vent, that serves as an opening for the release of intestinal waste, urinary waste, and sperm in most vertebrates (except most mammals) and some invertebrates.


Visitor Photos

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Mike Poeppe

    western fox snake      

James Folden


Young western fox snake

    western fox snake      

Brian Johnson

    western fox snake      
MinnesotaSeasons.com Photos





Western Fox Snake (Pantherophis vulpinus)
Michael Taylor
  Western Fox Snake (Pantherophis vulpinus)  
Fox Snake (Pantherophis vulpinus)
Pierson Hill
  Fox Snake (Pantherophis vulpinus)  



Visitor Videos

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James Folden

  western fox snake 01
Published on May 14, 2018
Other Videos
  Fox Snake strike and rattlesnake mimicry

Published on Apr 28, 2012

A moment of excitement at work as we happen upon a fox snake (Elaphe vulpina) and have to relocate him (or her) away from the herbicide

  Fox snake striking
Reptile and Amphibian Video

Uploaded on Oct 25, 2007

Aggressive fox snake in a defensive posture striking at the camera

  Iowa Reptiles Episode 4: Fox Snake

Uploaded on Apr 21, 2008

This is another video from the Demastus Boys where we show off a beautiful Fox Snake caught in Banner Lakes State Park.

  Fox Snake

Uploaded on Jul 20, 2011

The fox snake has a well-camouflaged brown and beige body and grows up to five feet. As a member of the rat snake family, this snake constricts its prey. When DuPage County was once farmed and contained thousands of acres of corn and grain fields, rodents were plentiful; the fox snake kept the rodent population in check in former DuPage. Today, the fox snake lives in grassy areas in DuPage forest preserves. This fox snake is used in educational programs about native wildlife at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. It is handled by naturalist Kevin Luby. Willowbrook is owned and operated by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

  Minnesota Fox Snake
TeeJay5085's channel

Published on May 5, 2013

Large adult male Fox snake just emerged from hibernation. Details of video show typical 'tail rattling' in dry leaves. (And the main reason why some people think we still have Rattlesnakes in the Minnesota River Valley)




Visitor Sightings

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Be sure to include a location.
  Mike Poeppe

Location: Houston County

western fox snake  

Location: Silver Lake near Cumberland  Wisconsin

  Jim Folden

Location: LeSueur County, gravel road outside the Kasota Prairie

western fox snake  
  Brian Johnson

Location: Afton State Park

I sighted this fox snake at Afton State Park sunning itself on the path near to main parking lot on September 20th.

western fox snake  
MinnesotaSeasons.com Sightings






Created: 10/14/2014

Last Updated:

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