Virginia Snakes Identification: Species Catalog & Safety Guide

Snakes aren’t as prevalent in Virginia compared to other areas of the US, but there’s still a fair bit of diversity among the species you may encounter.

This guide has everything you need to know to identify them all.

Black pine snake with its mouth open
The black pine snake is one of the many striking snakes in the state.

From the venomous snakes like the water moccasins to the harmless water snakes, the variety of Virginia snakes is astounding.

Some species, like corn snakes and milk snakes, have even become popular pets.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at:

  • Snake identification
  • Which snakes live in Virginia
  • How to behave when you encounter a snake
  • Which venomous snake species live in the region

We’ll also give you a list of useful resources at the end of the article.

Virginia Snakes Identification Basics

When trying to identify a snake, there are a few main factors to look at:

  • Size
  • Habitat
  • Location
  • Coloration
  • Head and eye shape

Typically, one of these characteristics alone isn’t enough to reach a conclusion.

However, when you bring together all your different observations, you can usually make an accurate conclusion.

For example, any snake over six feet in length can only be one of a handful of species in this state.

If it has the slit-shaped pupils and broad head of the pit vipers, then it’s almost definitely one of the three venomous species.

However, if it has a long, narrower head, then it’s more likely to be a North American Racer.

Perhaps you couldn’t get close enough to see the head. If you saw a pitch black snake in Virginia, then it probably wasn’t a pit viper.

Finally, most snakes have a preferred habitat type. By taking note of where you saw the snake, you can look for snakes that prefer that habitat.

You can also check to see which snakes have a range that covers that region.

If you’re looking for a snake found in the South of the state, you can rule out snakes in Northern Virginia that don’t come as far down.

The key to snake identification is to observe as much as possible then look for a snake that matches all the traits you’ve observed.

Quickly Identifying a Venomous Snake

Since all the venomous snake species in Virginia are pit vipers, you can identify them with relative ease.

Cottonmouth snake with its mouth open facing upwards
The cottonmouth has a shocking white interior to its mouth.

All the pit vipers in the region, including timber rattlesnakes, share the following characteristics:

  • Bulky, thick bodies
  • Elliptical, slit-shaped pupils
  • Broad, slightly flattened heads

In the case of the Timber rattlesnakes, the last scales of the tail are also modified to form a “rattle”. By rubbing these scales together, the snake can give a warning rattle.

The hog-nosed snakes are the only snake at risk of being confused for pit vipers.

Close up of a hog-nosed snake's face
It’s easy to see where the hog-nosed snake gets its name.
Image credit: u/AnimalFactHub (via Reddit.com)

However, they have several distinguishing features:

  • A flattened snout reminiscent of a pig’s nose
  • A broad, upturned mouth that looks rather frog-like
  • A slightly flattened neck, which they flatten further when upset

Types of Snakes in Virginia

According to the Virginia Herpetological Society’s List, there are around 31 types of snakes in Virginia.

Most of the Virginia snakes belong to one of the following major groupings:

Pit Vipers

    • Timber Rattlesnake – Crotalus horridus
    • Eastern Copperhead – Agkistrodon contortrix
    • Northern Cottonmouth – Agkistrodon piscivorus

Mudsnakes

    • Mudsnake – Farancia abacura
    • Rainbow Snake – Farancia erytrogramma

Kingsnakes and Milk Snakes

    • Scarlet Kingsnake – Lampropeltis elapsoides
    • Eastern Milksnake – Lampropeltis triangulum
    • Eastern Kingsnake – Lampropeltis getula
    • Eastern Black Kingsnake – Lampropeltis nigra
    • Northern Mole Kingsnake – Lampropeltis rhombomaculata

Watersnakes

    • Brown Watersnake – Nerodia taxispilota
    • Common Watersnake – Nerodia sipedon
    • Plain-bellied Watersnake – Nerodia erythrogaster

Greensnakes

    • Rough Greensnake – Opheodrys aestivus
    • Smooth Greensnake – Opheodrys vernalis

Ratsnakes

    • Red Cornsnake – Pantherophis guttatus
    • Eastern Ratsnake – Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Brown snakes

    • Red-bellied Snake – Storeria occipitomaculata
    • Dekay’s Brownsnake – Storeria dekayi

Garter snakes

    • Ribbon Snake – Thamnophis saurita
    • Common Garter Snake – Thamnophis sirtalis

The other snakes found in the region are single representatives of their genera. They include:

  • Queensnake – Regina septemvittata
  • Scarletsnake – Cemophora coccinea
  • Rough Earthsnake – Haldea striatula
  • Ring-necked Snake – Diadophis punctatus
  • Northern Pinesnake – Pituophis melanoleucus
  • Eastern Worm Snake – Carphophis amoenus
  • North American Racer – Coluber constrictor
  • Eastern Hognose SnakeHeterodon platirhinos
  • Eastern Smooth Earthsnake – Virginia valeriae
  • Eastern Glossy Swampsnake – Liodytes rigida rigida
  • Southeastern Crowned Snake – Tantilla coronata

Most Common Snakes in Virginia

We’ve combed websites like iNaturalist to find out which snakes citizens spot most regularly. All of these snakes are native to Virginia.

Here are the most common snakes in Virginia:

  1. Common Watersnake – Nerodia sipedon
  2. Eastern Ratsnake – Pantherophis alleghaniensis
  3. Common Garter Snake – Thamnophis sirtalis
  4. Dekay’s Brownsnake – Storeria dekayi
  5. Eastern Worm Snake – Carphophis amoenus
  6. Ring-necked Snake – Diadophis punctatus
  7. Eastern Copperhead – Agkistrodon contortrix
  8. North American Racer – Coluber constrictor
  9. Rough Greensnake – Opheodrys aestivus
  10. Timber Rattlesnake – Crotalus horridus

Since we’ve discussed some of these species elsewhere, we won’t discuss all of these species in detail here.

In some instances, where multiple species occur in the region, we’ll take a look at the group as a whole.

Water Snakes in Virginia

The water snakes in Virginia are a large group of non-venomous snakes that are common around water-rich habitats.

Close up of a Northern Water Snake curled up
The Northern Watersnake is common in large parts of the United States.

Scientific Name:

Genus: Nerodia

Species:

Brown Watersnake
Nerodia taxispilota

Northern Watersnake
Nerodia sipedon

Plain-bellied Watersnake
Nerodia erythrogaster

Range:

Throughout Virginia

Adult Size:

Averaging at 24 to 60 inches

Description:

Long snakes with a sturdy build

Long, glossy heads with round pupils

Various shades of brown; may have bands or blotches

Habitat:

Anywhere near water sources that contain fish. Prefer swamps and marshes

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Rat and Corn Snakes in Virginia

Rat and corn snakes are harmless species who take well to living around humans. Several of the species are popular pets, thanks to their placid personalities.

They can look similar to the king snake in Virginia.

A cornsnake lifting its head and upper body
The cornsnake is a popular pet species.

Scientific Name:

Genus: Pantherophis

Species:

Red Cornsnake
Pantherophis guttatus

Eastern Ratsnake
Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Range:

Throughout Virginia except for Lunenberg, Russell, and Dickenson counties

Adult Size:

Averaging 32 to 72 inches

Description:

Long snakes, relatively slender

Elongated heads with round pupils

Colors range significantly, from black to red or even yellow-brown

Habitat:

Habitat generalists, but often found in prairies, forests, and woodlands

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Brown and Rainbow Snakes in Virginia

The rainbow snake and brown snake of Virginia are peaceful creatures that like to live in moist wooded areas. They’re beautiful animals that don’t reach large sizes.

A rainbow snake on dead leaves and grass
The rainbow snake has a definite rainbow-like sheen.

Scientific Name:

Genus: Storeria

Species:

Red-bellied Snake
Storeria occipitomaculata

Dekay’s Brownsnake
Storeria dekayi

Range:

Most of Northern, Central, and Western Virginia

Scattered populations in the East

Adult Size:

Averages eight to 13 inches

Description:

Small heads with circular pupils

Relatively small brown snakes with either three vertebral stripes, or a central stripe flanked with black dots

Habitat:

Forests and grasslands with soft, moist soil

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Garter Snakes in Virginia

Garter snakes are common visitors throughout the United States. Thanks to their generalist natures and their climbing habits, they often make their ways into homes.

Garter snake facing camera while crawling on the grass
The garter snake is a common visitor in many parts of the country.

Scientific Name:

Genus: Thamnophis

Species:

Ribbon Snake

Thamnophis saurita

Common Garter Snake

Thamnophis sirtalis

Range:

Most of Virginia

Adult Size:

Averages 18 to 26 inches

Description:

Thin heads with round pupils

Long brown snakes with lighter vertebral stripes

Habitat:

Habitat generalist, frequenting anywhere where food is abundant

Often found near moist areas with plenty of vegetation

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

A garter snake with its tongue out
Garter snakes have round pupils and red or yellow eyes.

Venomous Snakes in Virginia

Thanks to its much cooler climate, Virginia has far fewer venomous snakes than some of the other states.

The following venomous snake species all occur in Virginia:

  • Timber Rattlesnake – Crotalus horridus
  • Eastern Copperhead – Agkistrodon contortrix
  • Northern Cottonmouth – Agkistrodon piscivorus

All three of these snakes are pit vipers, but only one is a rattlesnake.

Timber Rattlesnakes in Virginia

The Timber rattlesnake is the only rattlesnake in the state. Virginia has plenty of woods and forests, so it makes sense that this snake would be present here.

Timber Rattlesnake next to dead leaves
The Timber rattlesnake is the only rattlesnake in the state of Virginia.

Scientific Name:

Crotalus horridus

Range:

Most of Southwest and Northwest Virginia, part of Southeast Virginia

Adult Size:

Averages at 30 to 60 inches

Description:

A large broad head with slit-shaped eyes

Final scales of tail modified to form a “rattle”

A thick-bodied snake with alternating brown and cream blotches

Habitat:

Forests in mountainous regions, particularly near swamps and marshes

May also inhabit open woodlands in lower regions

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Eastern Copperhead – Agkistrodon contortrix

The Eastern copperhead snake in Virginia loves to live near water in forested regions. Its rich russet brown coloration helps it blend into the leaf litter of this habitat type.

Portrait of a copperhead snake against a blurry background
The Eastern copperhead truly has a coppery color.

Scientific Name:

Agkistrodon contortrix

Range:

Most of Virginia, excluding the counties of Tazewell, Wythe, Grayson, and Campbell

Adult Size:

Averages at 24 to 36 inches

Description:

Has the shield-shaped head and elliptical eyes that are typical of pit vipers

A stocky russet brown snake with irregular, chocolate brown hourglass-shaped markings

Habitat:

A habitat generalist in this state, but prefers habitats with dense vegetation

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Northern Cottonmouth – Agkistrodon piscivorus

The Northern cottonmouth gets its name from the bright white interior of its mouth.

A juvenile cottonmouth facing away from the camera
Cottonmouths have stunning coloration.

Scientific Name:

Agkistrodon piscivorus

Range:

Southeast Virginia

Adult Size:

Averages at 30 to 48 inches

Description:

A thick-bodied snake with an alternating pattern of rusty brown and dark brown markings

The broad head and slit-shaped pupils are characteristic, as is the bright white interior of the mouth

Habitat:

Lowland habitats, favoring grasslands and wetlands, especially those bordering water sources

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Non-Venomous Snakes in Virginia

In Virginia, most species are non-venomous snakes. Only three of the 31 Virginia snake species are venomous.

From milk snakes to the black rat snake in Virginia, the variety is incredible.

We’ll give you a general overview of those species you’re most likely to encounter.

Eastern Smooth Earthsnake – Virginia valeriae

The Eastern smooth earthsnake is remarkably similar to the rough earthsnake, although they aren’t closely related.

The smooth earthsnake has much smoother scales than the rough earthsnake.

smooth earthsnake on top of a dead leaf
The smooth earthsnake has much finer scales than the rough earthsnake.
Image credit: u/ImagesOfNetwork (via Reddit.com)

Scientific Name:

Virginia valeriae

Range:

Large parts of Central, Eastern, and Northern Virginia

Adult Size:

Averages seven to ten inches

Description:

The pupils are round

A smallish, brown or gray snake with a stubby body and head

Habitat:

Forests, fields, and other vegetated habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Rough Earthsnake – Haldea striatula

The rough earthsnake is a terrestrial species that’s a similar color to soil.

Rough earthsnake on top of sand
The rough earthsnake gets its name from the slightly keeled scales which make it look rough.

Scientific Name:

Haldea striatula

Range:

A large part of Southeast Virginia

Adult Size:

Averages seven to ten inches

Description:

A slender brown snake with peach-colored cheeks and round pupils

Habitat:

Woodlands and other grassy areas

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Queensnake – Regina septemvittata

The queensnake is a large, robust snake that has an attitude to match.

Queensnake curled up on the grass
Queensnakes often have a truly regal appearance.

Scientific Name:

Regina septemvittata

Range:

Most parts of Virginia, excluding the Southeast

Adult Size:

Averages at 15 to 24 inches

Description:

Elongated head with a slightly upturned nose and round pupils

A medium-width snake with multiple vertebral stripes in different shades of brown and tan

Habitat:

Any vegetated area with shallow, rocky pools of water

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Scarletsnake – Cemophora coccinea

The scarletsnake is a shocking-looking snake with bright colors and many white bands.

Despite the similarities to the coral snake, this snake is entirely harmless.

Scarletsnake next to a pinecone and dead leaves
Scarletsnakes have striking coloration similar to that of the coral snake.

Scientific Name:

Cemophora coccinea

Range:

Southeast Virginia

Also, Alleghany, Pittsylvania, and Fairfax counties

Adult Size:

Averaging 14 to 20 inches

Description:

A somewhat bullet-shaped head with round pupils

A brightly colored red snake marked with black and white bands

Habitat:

Areas with loose, sandy soils

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Iconic Virginia Snake Species

If you were to construct a bucket list of iconic Virginia snake species, what would be on it? Below, we’ll look at some of our favorite species in this region.

Eastern Worm Snake – Carphophis amoenus

It’s easy to see where this snake gets its name. With its worm-like shape, and love of burrowing, it truly looks like a worm.

Eastern wormsnake on the ground
The Eastern wormsnake likes to burrow, adding to its worm-like appearance.

Scientific Name:

Carphophis amoenus

Range:

Throughout Virginia in most counties

Adult Size:

Averages 7.5 to 11 inches

Description:

Round pupils

May be either pink or brown

A slender snake with a rather blunt head and tail

Habitat:

Habitats with soft, moist soils. Often forests and woodlands.

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Ring-necked Snake – Diadophis punctatus

The ring-necked snake has an impressive bright-colored underside which it uses as part of a threat display.

Although the snake is harmless, the bright colors convince predators otherwise.

Pacific ring-necked snake next to a twig and some dead leaves
The Pacific ring-necked snake is a striking animal with a brightly colored belly.

Scientific Name:

Diadophis punctatus

Range:

Throughout Virginia

Adult Size:

Averages ten to 15 inches

Description:

This snake has round pupils

A stocky black or brown snake with a bright red or orange belly

A singular ring around the neck of the snake sets it apart from similar species

Habitat:

Mainly forests and agricultural areas

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

North American Racer – Coluber constrictor

The North American racer is one of the longest snakes on the continent. Its long body and fast movements are always a sight to behold.

North American Racer on top of soil
The North American Racer is one of the longest snake species on the continent.

Scientific Name:

Coluber constrictor

Range:

Most of Virginia

Least common in the Southwest parts of the state

Adult Size:

Averages 36 to 60 inches

Description:

The pupils are circular

A long black, blue, or brown snake with a sharp, pointed snout

Habitat:

Open grassy habitats or open forests.

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Rough Greensnake – Opheodrys aestivus

The rough greensnake is a common visitor to gardens in Virginia. These snakes will happily abide anywhere there’s vegetation.

Rough green snake
Rough green snakes are harmless, but can look intimidating.
Image credit: u/Cadmea (via Reddit.com)

Scientific Name:

Opheodrys aestivus

Range:

Throughout most of Virginia

Adult Size:

Averages 22 to 32 inches

Description:

A long, narrow green snake with a light yellow belly and round, beady eyes

Habitat:

Any thickly vegetated habitat

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

What You Need to Know

Most of the snakes in Virginia are harmless species like the rat snake.

There are a few key things that you need to know if you want to maintain a proper view of the snakes in your region:

  • Snakes aren’t out to get you
  • Snakes view human beings as predators
  • Not even the largest snakes think you’re food
  • If you leave snakes alone, they won’t chase or try to hurt you

If you keep these things in mind and treat snakes with respect, you’re unlikely to ever have an unpleasant experience with one.

Coexisting With Virginia Snakes

As we mentioned above, the key to coexisting with snakes is to treat them with respect.

Unfortunately, many people maintain an unhealthy fear of snakes rather than a healthy level of caution and respect.

If you want to get along with snakes, it’s a good idea to go for a few courses where you can get educated about what they are and how they live.

In the following sections, we’ll investigate how to protect yourself and your loved ones.

We’ll also provide some useful resources in case you run into trouble or want to learn more about these wonderful creatures.

About Venomous Snakes

Most snakes, like the rat snake and the Northern black racer, try to get away from approaching humans.

Many venomous snakes will do the same. Unfortunately, all the venomous snakes in Virginia are pit vipers.

Rather than running away, pit vipers sit still and rely on their camouflage to protect them.

In densely wooded areas, this can make them easy to step on. Fortunately, most snakes will try to scare you off before they bite.

Most snake bites are the result of people not taking the hint. If you keep molesting a snake, it will bite you sooner or later.

Very few people die as a result of venomous snake bites in the US. Most major medical centers carry antivenom and can treat bite wounds.

Treading Carefully in Snake Habitat

One of the most essential things to do to protect yourself from snakes is to walk carefully when entering potential snake habitats.

As we mentioned before, pit vipers are ambush predators that rely on camouflage.

The easiest way to have a run-in with one is to step on it by accident. Here are our top five tips to protect you and your loved ones:

  1. Wear sturdy boots when out walking.
  2. Stick to well-marked hiking and jogging trails.
  3. Keep your pet on a leash at all times when you go hiking.
  4. Stay away from paths and trails that are littered with leaves.
  5. If you have to enter overgrown paths or areas, use a hiking cane to check every step.

If You Encounter a Snake

If you encounter a snake, the chances are that it’s a harmless species.

Back away from the snake if it seems angry. If not, make sure there’s at least a foot to 1.5 feet of space between you and the snake.

You can admire and observe it from this safe and respectful distance. NEVER poke, prod, or try to move a snake.

As long as it’s not in a place where it’s likely to hurt someone, leave it be. Remember that snake relocation is illegal in Virginia.

If you call in a snake to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, the wildlife trappers will be forced to kill it.

When to Call for Help

You should only call for help if a snake has bitten you, someone else, or one of your pets.

The only exception to this is if the snake is in a location where it’s likely to hurt someone.

Even if a non-venomous species bites you, you can have an allergic reaction to the proteins in its saliva.

It’s best to get checked out and get a tetanus shot whenever a snake bites you.

Useful Resources

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite resources for dealing with snakes and snake-related problems.

Emergency Poisoning Advice

If you or your pet gets bitten by a snake, you can phone one of the following numbers:

  • ASPCA Poisoning Hotline: 1-888-426-4435
  • Poison Control Center’s national hotline: 1-800-222-1222

Snake Relocation Services

If you find a snake that’s in an area from which it needs to be relocated, try the following resources:

Only contact trappers if the snake absolutely must be removed, because they will kill the animal.

Educational Resources

iNaturalist is an excellent website for learning how to identify regional wildlife.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources offers plenty of excellent hints and tips to help you deal with wildlife.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about the snakes of Virginia. Don’t forget to check out our guide to the snakes of Wisconsin, LouisianaHawaii, South CarolinaArizona, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee

Which of the Virginia snakes is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

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