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CLASSIFICATION
of North American Snakes

Brown Snake, Storeria dekayi
BROWN SNAKE, Storeria dekayi,
common throughout eastern North America.
Photo by Teresa Hill of Massachusetts

KINGDOM: Animalia
    PHYLLUM: Chordata
         CLASS: Reptilia

              ORDER: Squamata
                   FAMILY: Colubridae
                        GENUS: Storeria
                             SPECIES: dekayi

All snakes in all the world are members of the order Squamata. This order also includes the lizards. This shows that snakes and lizards are very closely related. Snakes belong in the suborder Serpentes -- the serpents. -- while lizards belong in the suborder Sauria.

The main differences between lizards and snakes are:

  • most lizards have legs while snakes don't
  • snakes lack movable eyelids and external ears

There are about 2,700 snake species in 11 snake families worldwide, of which 115 species in five families are found in North America north of the Mexican border. Below is a list of North America's five snake families:

 

NORTH AMERICA'S
FIVE SNAKE FAMILIES

  • Colubrid Snake Family -- the Colubridae   (many kinds of snakes in this largest of all snake families, found nearly throughout North America

    Here are the main groups of Colubrid snake:

    • rat snakes -- genus Elaphe (weakly keeled scales, divided anal plates)
    • kingsnakes -- genus Lampropeltis (smooth scales, single anal plates)
    • water snakes -- genus Nerodia (keeled scales, divided anal plates)
    • garter snakes -- genus Thamnophis (keeled scales, single anal plates)
    • hognose snakes -- genus Heterodon (turned-up nose)
    • plus lots of snakes aren't in any of these groups
  • Coral Snake Family (venomous) -- the Elapidae   (In the US, only in the Deep South & southern Arizona & New Mexico)
  • Pit Viper Family (venomous) -- the Viperidae   (in most of the US)
  • Slender Blind Snake Family -- the Leptotyphlopidae   (really slender & blind, in North America found only in the US Southwest; seldom seen)
  • Boa & Python Family -- the Boidae (large, thick snakes, in North America found only in the western states and southern British Columbia)

From the above we can see that nearly all the snakes we can expect to find in our immediate neighborhoods, assuming we're not near a natural or semi-natural area, will belong to the Colubrid Snake Family.