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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his kind may not have babies after all. The single survivor of the Pinta Island Galapagos giant tortoises, Lonesome George has been an icon for conservation the world over. The big tortoise was paired with two female tortoises, and successfully mated with them for the first time in over 35 years just a few months ago. (The females are of another subspecies of the Galapagos Tortoise, but are of a close genetic match to the Pinta Island subspecies.)
Unfortunately, most of the eggs produced by this encounter are likely infertile. There is still hope for 20% of the eggs. Researchers are keeping the eggs in incubators covered in religious symbols, waiting for a miracle. I myself am crossing my fingers. At 90 years old, the tortoise is still in his prime, but with several decades of failure I am a bit guarded. Scientists have tried many means to get George interested in breeding and have even tried artificial insemination. All of it with no luck.
The largest land tortoises in the world, Galapagos Tortoises can weigh over 500 pounds and live well over 100 years. Since their discovery, only 11 of the 14 known subspecies of the tortoise survive today. The big reptiles were used as a food source and ballasts on pirate, whaling, and trader ships in the past. More recently, introduced rats and goats have been destroying food sources and eating the eggs of the highly endangered tortoise.
It is clear that humans are likely solely responsible for the tortoises declining numbers. Lonesome George provides hope that humans may use their knowlege to do something good. It is unlikely the researchers in the Galapagos will give up with this latest disappointment. They had over 36 years of set-backs, there is still hope.
Tell us what you think! Will successful breeding of Lonesome George with the hybrid females be considered a success for the species, or simply the creation of another hybrid?
Learn more about Galapagos Tortoises from the San Diego Zoo at:
News Source: Associated Press US News:
Even though sea snakes spend their entire lives swimming in salt water, they need to drink the good stuff, fresh.
A new study from the University of Florida has shown that even when the sea snakes are dehydrated, they will only drink fresh water (water with less that 20% salt content.)
While the study only used a few species of snakes, it was well done. It is possible that more ocean-going reptiles may take advantage of fresh water as well.
This completely changes the way scientists think the 60 or so species of sea snakes deal with their watery world. Sea snakes were once thought to filter out the salt from the water by using special internal glands.
Why is this an important finding? Many species of sea snakes may be disappearing due to rising temperatures and lack of rainfall. Either the snakes must crawl onto land and drink fresh water there or they must drink fresh rainfall falling on the ocean.
Wait, these guys drink rainfall in the middle of the ocean? It just so happens that when rain falls on the surface of the ocean, it sits there for a period of time without mixing. Fresh water is slightly lighter than salty water, this is known as the Ghyben-Herzberg lens. Sea snakes may then drink from the pool of fresh water formed on top of the ocean.
Some species of sea snakes may become extinct due to droughts!
Sea snakes are amazing serpents related to cobras and coral snakes, the elapids. While they have potent venom, sea snakes are reluctant to bite. Like all snakes, the venom is used to catch their food, not for defense as many people think. How easy would it be for you to catch a slippery swimming eel with your mouth and try and swallow the wriggling thing in the vast ocean?
Sea snake venom is potent so that the prey may become paralyzed quickly for the snake to catch and swallow. Fisherman the world over have often taken sea snakes out of nets with their bare hands without being bitten. The snakes are probably just happy to be back in the water. I of course, would have second thoughts before scaring the living daylights out of an animal with powers like that of an elapid.
I sure hope the rains return to the homes of the many species of facinating sea snakes.