Posted by: reptilesalive | November 19, 2008

The 10 Most Commonly Seen Snakes in DC Metro Area

Eeek! What is that snake in my backyard? We receive several calls a year from frantic and fascinated homeowners alike from the District and surrounding areas of Virginia and Maryland wanting to know what kind of snake is in their backyard

Here is a little guide to help you out.  Remember, all snakes are harmless if you leave them alone.

All snakes are able to flatten their head and shake their tail when scared.


(Disclaimer: Leave all snakes you find alone, they belong in the great outdoors; this includes your backyard. This guide is not intended to be the end all and be all of snake identification guides. All snakes can be born with different patterns and colors than what is typical for the species. As with ALL wild animals: Respect, watch, and admire from afar.)

ALL snakes listed are non-venomous unless otherwise noted.

1. Northern Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) – a small, brown snake (15 inches) with darker paired spots down its back.

brownsnake

brownsnake

2. Ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) – A small grey snake (up to 20 inches) with orange to yellow belly and a yellow or orange ring around its neck.

Ring-necked snake

Ring-necked snake

3. Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) – A greenish or brown snake covered in checkered spots, and a yellow to white line down its back. Grows up to 48 inches long.

Gartersnake

Gartersnake

4. Black Ratsnake (Elaphe obsoleta) – A large and harmless black snake that can grow up to 80 inches long (6.5 feet).  The body is shaped like a loaf of bread. Belly is black and white checkered becoming gray near the tail.  Baby or juvenile black rat snakes are often confused with other snakes as they are gray or brown with black blotches on the body.  They are wonderful at taking care of rats and mice.

ratsnake

ratsnake

Baby Black Ratsnake

Baby Black Ratsnake

5. Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor) – A large shiny black snake that can grow to six feet.  These guys will slither away very quickly.  The young look very much like the baby black ratsnake.

Racer

Racer

6. Wormsnake (Carphophis amoneus) – A small shiny brown snake with a pink belly.  They look very much like a large worm, growing to 15 inches.  They think earthworms are delicious.

Wormsnake

Wormsnake

7. Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) – A large gray to brown snake with darker blotches on its back.  They are non-venomous, that is they have no poison.  Watersnakes live in and around water snacking on fish.  Note: there are NO cottonmouths or water moccasins in the DC area.

Watersnake

Watersnake

8. Red Bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) – A small grayish brown to black snake with a red belly.  They sometimes have black stripes down the back and light blotches on its neck.

Red-bellied snake - photo credit John White

Red-bellied snake - photo credit John White

Red-bellied snake

9. Mole Kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster) – It may look like a cornsnake, but its a kingnake!  This gorgeous gray to brown snake with orange spots or blotches grows to 47 inches.

Kinsnake

Kinsnake

10. Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) – VENOMOUS (Poisonous)* This is the only venomous snake found in the DC metro and surrounding counties.  Copperheads, like all snakes, will leave you alone if you leave them alone.  This beautiful snake has eyes like a cat so it can hunt at night.  Copperheads can be pinkish, tan, brown, and even a light rust color.  Nearly every snake in the area has been mis-identified as a copperhead, although uncommon in the area treat all snakes with respect. This snake provides humans with a very valuable rodent control service.

Copperhead

Copperhead

Remember:  Treat all snakes with respect.  Leave them alone as they belong where you found them just like the birds and butterflies living in your backyard.  Experts sometimes have trouble identifying snakes as all animals can be born all black (melanistic), patternless, or albino.

Find out more and join Virginia Herpetological Society

Visit your local nature center

Sources:
Pinder, MJ and JC Mitchell, “A Guide to the Snakes of Virginia.” 2002 Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Conant, Roger, “A Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians of Eastern & Central North America” (Peterson Field Guide Series)

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Responses

  1. Thanks for this useful reference. I accessed it because of an unusual snake encounter. I very definitely spotted a Red-bellied Water Snake on the C&O Canal Towpath just above Lock 7 today July 3, 2009 at about noon. It was about 3 feet long and crossed the towpath from the watered portion of the canal and slithered down toward the Potomac. Since this snake is on the Maryland Watch List and not recorded for the DC area, I thought I would pass along this siting.

  2. Great web site. I found a tiny snake under a flower pot this AM, it almost looked like a garden snake on the head end but the bottom half was a BRIGHT bule. I put the pot back over it as it looked vulnerable it was so small. I will check later.

  3. I had a snake at my house this morning. It was grey with a yellow belly and red eyes. Can you please tell me what type of snake that is. I checked several sights but did not see it.

    Please help.

    Thanks.

  4. today I found a brown backed pink bellied snake under a outdoor rug. It has a pointed nose,head . I know its just a baby and wandered if it could be a baby copperhead? I cant seem to find a pic of a baby anywhere. Can anyone help? looked like the tip of tail was darker. I was told that if nose is pointed that it is poisionous , true or not?

  5. Many snakes have the ability to flatten their head out in the shape of a diamond. Several species of snakes have pinkish bellies and many snakes will get a pink colored belly before shedding. 9 times out of 10 a snake found by someone is NOT venomous.

    Use this to help you:
    http://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/reptiles/snakes/snakes_of_virginia.htm


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