red cornsnake (Elaphe guttata)
CHARACTERISTICS: Also known as the "red rat snake", this is a
stout, medium-sized snake that grows to lengths of 30-48 in. (76-122
cm). It is red to orange in color, although there is individual variation.
Upland specimens tend to be browner. Dorsal spots and blotches are
outlined with black and the first blotch on the neck is divided into 2
branches that extend forward and meet in a spearpoint between the
eyes. The belly is whitish, strongly checkered or cross-banded with
black. The underside of the tail is striped and the scales are weakly
keeled. Juveniles are patterned as adults but often have chocolate
brown to dark chocolate blotches on a gray to reddish orange body.
This species may be confused with Lampropeltis calligaster and Lam-
propeltis triangulum, especially the mountain form of the latter. Both
of these species have a short eye-jaw stripe that does not extend beyond
the mouth and neither have the blotch on the head. Cornsnakes are often
mistaken for copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix), but the latter has
hourglass-shaped crossbands and lacks the strong checkerboard pattern
on the venter. There are 3-27 eggs/clutch laid in July and August.
DISTRIBUTION: This species is found below 760 meters elevation in
the upper Coastal Plain, most of the Piedmont, and in the Blue Ridge
Mountains and Valley and Ridge north of the New River. It has not been
found in the southeastern Coastal Plain, on the Eastern Shore, or south-
west of the New River. This species spends most of its time underground
or hidden. It frequents corn cribs and is found in open woodland and cul-
tivated fields. This is a very secretive snake, infrequently seen even in
areas from which it is known. Cornsnakes are terrestrial and fossorial,
utilizing rodent burrows and tree root canals for shelter and foraging areas.
It is often found on rocky hillsides and in barns. It is most often associated
with hardwood forests, although they may be occasionally found in pine-dominated agricultural and urban areas.
FOODS: Rodents are the preferred prey of this snake, although fledgling
birds and lizards are occasionally taken.
Crooked Run Valley