Click here to learn about snake head shapes!
The Snakes logo kindly provided by Randy Emmitt at RLEPhoto.com
First try the Key
to Southeastern snakes. Click
here! I only have the venomous ones in the key for right now, but
I am working on it!
Friends; I am always happy to help out with identifying a snake, and truly enjoy doing it, but I need at least an idea of where in the United States you found the critter! This is due to the great variation in populations, not an attempt to invade your privacy. The first question a student of reptiles will ask you when you show them a specimen is "where was it found?"
It is also nice to have a picture. If you don't have a scanner, take the picture to a photo shop where they can scan it onto a floppy disk. Put the disk in your drive, and when you write the message into your mail program, add the .jpg file to the message as an attachment.
Do NOT kill a snake and then try to get me to identify it by sending me a picture of it. It will just upset me and get you flamed. Pictures of dead snakes affect me the same way as pictures of dead puppies. You wouldn't send a dog lover a picture of a dead and beaten puppy and ask them to tell you what breed of dog you just killed, would you?
This happens to me often enough that I felt the need to say it. Please,
don't kill the snake, but get a picture of it and send it to me. I can guarantee
that in most cases the snake is harmless anyway.
My Home Page
All photo's are courtesy of this web site: Herp Pictures, (which
no longer seems to exist).
The author of this site has kindly said on site that anyone can use the photos, just notify him by e-mail, which I did.
I plan to continue writing to this page, so come back every couple of days to check it out.
From my youth, I have been interested in snakes, but most of my earlier experiences were seeing a flash in the weeds when someone was chasing one to kill it with a stick or a hoe, or a freshly killed specimen that someone was exhibiting for show, to demonstrate their prowess, and I was warned "don't get too close", as it was a firm belief in the South that "a snake ain't dead 'til the sun goes down". From my memory's eye, I can say that without exception, all these creatures were non venomous, harmless members of the Colubridae (aptly called the harmless snakes), and could have done less damage then the family cat! There is so much fear associated with snakes, and much of it is taught to us as children. We are told early on that "the only good snake is a dead snake". This is unfortunate both for us and the snakes, as most of them are beneficial to Humans, and many of them even make very good pets! In this day of dwindling natural resources and environmental degradation, we need to learn all we can about our natural world before we lose it.
I am going to do this page on snakes of
the Southeast, as they are what I know well. Any inquiries can be sent to
An excellent reference book is Peterson's "Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America" by Conant and Collins. Much of the information is derived from this book, or my own experiences.
First off, let's get one thing straight: over 80% of the snakes in the Eastern US are non venomous members of the Harmless Snake family, that is , the Colubridae, and the chance of encountering a venomous one in the field is slim. Even so, if left alone, they will leave you alone. Please don't try to kill a snake unless it is directly threatening your well being, such as being on your front porch and agitated. Even then, with some care, they can be moved to a place of safety, both for you and them.
Don't go by the old adages about head shape,
as many harmless ones can spread their heads (even Garter Snakes) and look
dangerous. Also don't go by "diamonds on the back". Many of our harmless
species (like Corn Snake) have diamonds. The only one in the East that has
diamonds and is venomous is the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, who has
rattles from birth, and is quite happy to crawl BACKWARDS to get away from
Also don't believe the old saw that a non venomous snake bite will "make you sick anyway". NOT TRUE!! Just a wash with clean water and an application of antiseptic, and you'll be right as rain, provided you're not allergic to the antiseptic!
Another thing many folks are afraid of is the snake's tongue. Many people think they can "sting" you with it. They can't. It is a sensory organ, used to gather scent particles, and transfer them to the Jacobson's organ on the roof of their mouth. This gives them a powerful sense of smell, and all snakes and many lizards use this to check out their surroundings.
OK, let's talk about some species. Garter
Garter Snakes and their cousins the Ribbon Snakes are small snakes of fields and gardens who have a striped or checker board pattern on the back. They are all harmless, but the Garters are somewhat nervous, and will emit a foul smelling musk from their vent, and can bite when handled. The bite should be cleaned with clean water, and an anti-septic should be applied.
These folks bear live young in the late summer, eat earth worms and slugs, various insects, and are wonderful to have in the garden. In the winter, they quite often group together in massive numbers in a denning spot, and breed when the first warm days of Spring arrive.
Go to next page; Rat Snakes and other harmless snakes.