Virginia Snakes, Black and Otherwise

Rough Green Snake from Floyd County

Someone asked me recently if I knew for sure that it was a “black snake” that tried to eat our young, departed hen last week.

That question reminded me of a “rant” I’d read recently regarding the imprecision of “black snake” as there is no such creature by that name. Yes, there are several more or less black snakes, but their full names hold more information.

One mostly-black snake with which I was quite familiar in Alabama where I did my herpetology course work was the eastern king snake–the most common variety in the vicinity of Auburn University was black with some faint yellow or white bands or speckles. I have always looked carefully to see if the black snakes we encounter on Goose Creek might be king snakes.

I won’t bother checking anymore. Eastern king snakes are not found outside the five western-most counties in Virginia.

So our snakes that are black are either black racers (more slender, more prone to strike or make a very quick get-away) or what I learned as “black rat snake” that is now in a genus different from the one I learned decades ago, and is referred to officially as the Eastern Rat Snake, a generally more docile resident of every county in Virginia, and the only snake to reach the length of six feet.

I’d be willing to bet our egg-eating rat snake is approaching that length. They are also noted as skilled climbers, and have “keeled scales” to give them a bit more friction as they climb to reach bird eggs or squirrel nests.

Also while browsing the distributions of Virginia’s herps, the range maps reinforce my contention that a friend almost certainly did NOT find a water moccasin in his Floyd County yard—and if so, a “friend” must have relocated one from far eastern Virginia just for him.

And then in the Virginia list of snakes you run across lovely little creatures I have not seen since we moved to Floyd–like the attractive and mild-mannered Northern Red-bellied snake, whose range extends west to include Montgomery to the north, Patrick and Franklin south, and all counties east of us. Makes me think this might be a matter of the scarcity of herpetologists in the county. I’m on the job!

However, the Rough Green Snake pictured above was a new record for Floyd County. I filled out all the paperwork a few years ago, but the state map still shows this snake not recorded from Floyd County.

You can see range maps for these particular snakes all on a page I created via Posterous, because I know you share my interest in snakes. Right?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Love your snake pic’s Fred, mostly we are populated with Racers, and I don’t mind handling them. Only snake that’s bit me in Floyd was a ring-necked snake, (Diadophis punctatus). Normally docile she reached around and bit my thumb as I demonstrated to Cyrus how it is (or not) done. As commanded, I let go.
    My reflexes, or luck was slow that day, kinda shook me.

  2. So, the rough green snake does not officially exist in Floyd County? Kind of like the mountain lion that does NOT officially exist in the eastern U.S., yet one crossed a back road 20 feet in front of my car in Floyd County (Copper Hill), and then other residents saw one, also, in subsequent months.