Snakes in Virginia

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Quick Snake Information

Species in Virginia: 32

Common Locations: Basements, Under Debris, Crawlspace

Damages: Virtually None

Health Concerns: Venom, Salmonella

Snakes in Virginia: An Overview

Snakes are found in various habitats across Virginia, and despite their negative reputation, they play a vital role in the ecosystem as both predator and prey. The aim of this page is to provide an in-depth overview of snake behavior, habitat, diet, and ecological importance. We also aim to dispel common myths and misconceptions about Virginia snakes and provide practical tips for safe and responsible encounters.

The page is structured to introduce the most common snake species in Virginia, their physical traits, behavior patterns, and population distribution. We will differentiate venomous and non-venomous snakes, and discuss ways to identify them, as well as provide practical tips for preventing encounters with snakes. Furthermore, we will explore snake behavior patterns and their diet, including their role in the ecosystem and current conservation efforts. Whether you are a hiker, homeowner, or amateur naturalist, this page is an invaluable resource for gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of these fascinating creatures in Virginia.

Species of Common Snake in Virginia

Virginia eastern rat snake

Eastern Rat Snake

Pantherophis alleghaniensis

This is a non-venomous snake that can grow up to 7 feet in length. It has a black or brownish-black coloration with white or yellowish bellies. Eastern rat snakes are known to be excellent climbers and can be found in wooded areas, fields, and even in urban environments.

Eastern rat snakes are active during the day and are more commonly seen during the spring and summer months.

Virginia Eastern Copperhead

Eastern Copperhead

Agkistrodon contortrix

This is a venomous snake that can be recognized by its copper-colored head and cross-banded pattern on its body. Copperheads are often found in rocky or wooded areas, and their bites can be dangerous if left untreated.

Their bites can cause pain, swelling, and in severe cases, tissue damage or even death. It is important to seek immediate medical attention if bitten by a copperhead. Copperheads are known to be shy and prefer to avoid human encounters, but they may become aggressive if cornered.

Virginian timber rattlesnake

Timber Rattlesnake

Crotalus horridus

The timber rattlesnake is a venomous snake that is native to Virginia. It is easily recognizable by its large size, brown or gray coloration, and distinctive rattle on the end of its tail. The timber rattlesnake can grow up to 6 feet in length and is typically found in rocky, wooded areas.

Despite its venomous nature, the timber rattlesnake plays an important role in the ecosystem as a predator and its presence is an indication of a healthy environment. It is important to be cautious and avoid disturbing or provoking this species, as their bites can be dangerous if left untreated.

Virginia eastern garter snake

Eastern Garter Snake

Thamnophis sirtalis ssp. sirtalis

The Eastern Garter Snake is a common non-venomous snake found in Virginia. They are small to medium-sized snakes, typically growing up to 2-3 feet in length, and have a distinctive striped pattern that runs along their body. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, forests, wetlands, and suburban areas.

Eastern Garter Snakes are active during the day and feed on a variety of prey, including insects, amphibians, and small rodents. These snakes are not considered dangerous to humans and are actually beneficial to have around as they can help control pest populations.

Virginia DeKay Brownsnake

Dekay’s Brownsnake

Sphecius spp.

Dekay’s brownsnake is a small, non-venomous snake that is found throughout Virginia. It is usually no more than a foot long, with a brown or grayish coloration and a stripe running down its back. These snakes can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and suburban areas. They feed primarily on insects, slugs, and small amphibians.

Despite their small size, they are an important part of the ecosystem and can help control pest populations. Dekay’s brownsnakes are generally harmless to humans and are not known to be aggressive.

Venomous vs. Non-venomous Snakes

One of the most important distinctions when it comes to snakes is whether they are venomous or non-venomous. In Virginia, there are three species of venomous snakes: the Northern Copperhead, the Timber Rattlesnake, and the Eastern Cottonmouth. It is important to be able to recognize these species and understand the risks associated with encounters with venomous snakes.

Venomous snakes have specialized glands that produce toxins that are delivered through their fangs when they bite. These toxins can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild pain and swelling to more serious health issues such as tissue damage, organ failure, and even death in extreme cases.

Non-venomous snakes, on the other hand, do not have these specialized glands or fangs and are generally considered harmless to humans. However, it is still important to exercise caution and avoid handling snakes, as some non-venomous species can still bite and potentially transmit harmful bacteria.

Despite the potential risks associated with venomous snakes, it is important to note that they play an important role in the ecosystem and should not be indiscriminately killed. Instead, it is important to learn how to safely and effectively avoid encounters with venomous snakes, and to understand the myths and misconceptions surrounding these species in order to better protect both humans and snakes.

Remember, if It Has:

  • 2 Sharp Fangs
  • Elliptical Pupils
  • Triangular Head
  • Rattle
  • Hole Between the Eye and Nostril
  • Single Row of Scales on Stomach near Tail

It is Venomous

Identification and Prevention

Identification of snakes in Virginia is essential to prevent encounters and potential bites. A critical characteristic to look for when identifying a snake is its head shape. Venomous snakes in Virginia have a distinct, triangular-shaped head compared to non-venomous snakes, which have more rounded heads. It is also important to note the color and pattern of the snake’s scales, as well as its overall size and shape.

Preventing encounters with snakes involves awareness of the common habitats where snakes may be found. Snakes are commonly found near bodies of water, such as streams, ponds, and marshes, but they can also inhabit wooded areas, fields, and even suburban or urban environments. Caution must be exercised when walking in areas where snakes may be present, especially during the warmer months when snakes are most active.

To minimize the risk of a snake bite while hiking or exploring areas where snakes may be present, it is recommended to wear long pants and boots to protect against potential bites. In addition, it is important to watch where you step and to use a walking stick or other object to probe areas where snakes may be hiding, such as under rocks or logs.

In case of an encounter with a snake, it is crucial to remain calm and give the snake ample space. Most snakes will attempt to avoid humans and will only bite if they feel threatened or cornered. It is also important to remember that killing snakes is unnecessary and can have adverse ecological effects. Instead, it is best to give snakes plenty of space and avoid disturbing them.

Snake Habitat and Behavior

Wasp Habitat and Distribution in Virginia

They are commonly found in fields, forests, and wetlands and are known to be excellent swimmers. They are non-venomous and harmless to humans, but will emit a strong musky odor when threatened. Garter snakes are active during the day and feed on a variety of small prey, such as insects, worms, and small amphibians. In winter, they hibernate in large groups in dens or other protected areas.

Eastern rat snakes are usually found in wooded areas, fields, and even in urban environments. They feed on a variety of prey, including rodents, birds, and eggs. During the day, they can often be found basking in the sun on rocks or tree branches. When threatened, eastern rat snakes may vibrate their tails, hiss loudly, and release a foul odor as a defense mechanism. However, they are generally docile and pose little threat to humans.

They prefer moist habitats such as forests, meadows, and marshy areas but can also be found in urban and suburban areas. Dekay’s Brownsnakes are typically active during the day and can often be seen basking in the sun. They are known for their ability to climb trees and are often found in shrubs and low vegetation. These snakes feed on a variety of prey, including earthworms, slugs, insects, and small amphibians. Despite their small size and non-venomous nature, Dekay’s Brownsnakes play an important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem by controlling pest populations.

These snakes prefer to live in rocky, wooded areas, but can also be found in suburban or urban environments. Copperheads are most active during the warmer months of the year, from April to October, and are primarily nocturnal, although they may also be active during the day. They are generally solitary animals, but may occasionally be found in small groups. Copperheads are ambush predators, meaning they wait for their prey to come to them, and feed on a variety of small animals, including mice, lizards, and insects. When threatened, copperheads will generally try to escape, but if cornered, they may become aggressive and strike.

They can be found in various habitats throughout Virginia, including deciduous forests, rocky outcrops, and wetlands. Timber rattlesnakes are ambush predators and feed primarily on small mammals such as rodents and rabbits, but will also consume birds and reptiles. They are known to be docile creatures and will typically only bite if provoked or threatened. Due to their venomous nature, it is important to exercise caution when encountering a timber rattlesnake in the wild and to give them ample space to retreat.


It is important to note that killing snakes is illegal in Virginia, except in cases where the snake poses an immediate threat to human safety. Snakes play an important role in the ecosystem and are protected by law. Attempting to kill a snake can also be dangerous, as it may provoke the snake and increase the risk of being bitten. If you encounter a snake, it is best to leave it alone and give it plenty of space to avoid any potential conflicts.

Snake Diet and Feeding Habits

Understanding the behavior and diet of snakes in Virginia is crucial to better comprehend their role in the ecosystem and to minimize human-snake interactions. Snakes are fascinating creatures that have adapted to a variety of habitats throughout Virginia. As cold-blooded animals, they rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature, which means they are most active during the warmer months when temperatures are favorable. They are also ectothermic, meaning they cannot produce their own body heat, and rely on the sun to warm up their bodies.

Most snakes in Virginia are solitary and primarily active during the day, but some species are active at night. Many snakes in Virginia spend much of their time hiding in vegetation, under rocks or logs, or in burrows. Some species, such as the Eastern rat snake, are excellent climbers and can be found high up in trees.

Snakes in Virginia have a diverse diet, with many species feeding on rodents, birds, lizards, and amphibians. Some species, such as the Eastern hognose snake, specialize in feeding on toads. Venomous snakes, such as the copperhead and timber rattlesnake, feed on small mammals and birds, and occasionally on other snakes.

While snakes are not aggressive towards humans and will only bite if they feel threatened or cornered, it’s important to avoid handling them as much as possible. If you encounter a snake in the wild, it’s best to keep a safe distance and observe it from afar.

garter eating frog

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