World Snake Day 2020
Happy World Snake Day! Are you aware that there are more than 3,500 species of snake around the world? World Snake Day urges increasing awareness of different species of snakes found globally. While snakes are threatened by many of the same issues that affect all wildlife, negative attitudes toward snakes may be the biggest barrier to their conservation. To bring awareness about snake species, we wanted to share some information about ten snake species that are commonly found in Loudoun County and what to do if you encounter one. Read on to become a local snake expert and how you can aid in the conservation conversation!
Eastern Copperhead - Venomous
Eastern Copperheads are one of the two species of venomous snakes found in Loudoun County. They are medium-sized, heavily bodied snakes with a pinkish tan- to dark brown- to nearly black- colored body and tail, along with a series of chestnut to dark brown hourglass crossbands. This species is found in wooded habitats throughout the state, including rural, suburban and even some urban areas. They are diurnal (active during the day) and nocturnal during warm weather and are primarily diurnal in cooler seasons.
Eastern Copperheads are generally calm-natured animals that lie quietly, depending on their excellent camouflage to escape detection. They will strike if accidentally stepped on or otherwise threatened. Copperheads will also vibrate their tails when disturbed but will usually remain alert and motionless, especially if found under vegetation or in other diurnal retreats. Bites can be especially serious if venom is actually injected, causing much pain and swelling. Human fatalities from the venom can occur but are extremely rare. The rule of thumb is: If you find one, leave it alone. Some bites occur when people try to kill or move the snake. They won’t bother you if you do not bother them.
Timber Rattlesnake - Venomous
Timber Rattlesnakes are the other venomous snake species that can be spotted in Loudoun County. They are large snakes with zig-zag shaped blotches and dark brown to black crossbands with a pinkish to nearly black body. This species is diurnal in the spring and fall while crepuscular (active during twilight) and nocturnal in the summer.
Timber Rattlesnakes are found in swamps, canefields, low pine woods, moist woodlands, flood plains, stumps and logs. They also inhabit creek bottoms, rocky ridges, cultivated and overgrown fields, thickly wooded areas, and areas full of fallen logs and weeds. These snakes usually live on land but will ascend low shrubs where necessary.
Eastern Wormsnake - Harmless
Eastern Wormsnakes are small slender snakes with plain brown heads and bodies along with pink coloration on their sides. This species is secretive (question--by secretive, do you mean that they stay hidden?) and occur in forested and wooded habitats where the soil allows burrowing. They are typically found in open fields, under all manner of surface objects, including logs, tree bark, boards, rocks as well as moist logs and stumps. They also tend to be found under flat stones on soft loamy soil.
Northern Black Racer - Harmless
Northern Black Racers are long shiny black snakes. These snakes are found in open, grassy areas or in open forests adjacent to grassy areas. Their habitat is usually dry and they tend to inhabit agricultural and urban areas, as well as barrier islands and grasslands in the mountains. They are diurnal, so they seek refuge under surface objects, such as logs, discarded boards, and car hoods, as well as other debris during the night and on cool days during the normal activity season.
Northern Ring-necked Snake - Harmless
Northern Ring-necked snakes have bodies that are uniformly bluish to black to slate gray or brownish with a cream to yellow collar across the neck. This species is secretive and is usually found associated with hardwood or mixed hardwood pine-forests. They are inhabitants of leaf litter and upper soil horizon community. They are seldom encountered in the open; most are found under all types of objects, including logs, rocks, boards, and debris. This species is also found in urban and agricultural settings as well as mixed forest types.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Harmless
Eastern Hog-nosed snakes are stocky, moderate-sized snakes with black or dark-brown blotches with alternating black spots on their sides. Their body consists of varying combinations of gray, tan, pink, yellow, orange and red. Their body and tail are also immaculate cream to dark gray in color. This species inhabits areas with sandy soils, found in fields, open grassy areas adjacent to woods and in open pine, mixed pine, and deciduous hardwood and pure hardwood forests.
They also inhabit agricultural and urban areas with patches of appropriate habitat. This species is completely terrestrial but will enter water to migrate between areas. They are diurnal, seldom found under surface objects and burrow into the sandy soil surface at night and for winter hibernation.
Northern Mole Kingsnake - Harmless
Northern Mole Kingsnakes have a tan to dark brown body, head, and tail with a yellowish tinge. This species is subterranean typically found in agricultural fields, abandoned fields undergoing succession, pine woods and mixed pine-hardwood forests. They occasionally occur above ground during the day or night, crossing roads usually after it rains. They burrow into sandy and loamy soils as well.
Eastern Kingsnake - Harmless
Eastern Kingsnakes are large black snakes with thin white to yellow cross bars or with an irregular number of small white to yellow spots. This species occurs in a variety of habitats, including hardwood forests, mixed pine-hardwood forests, pine forests, abandoned fields, upland portions of swamps and adjacent freshwater marshes, as well as along creeks and streams in agricultural and urban areas. They are completely terrestrial, seldom climbing into vegetation. They are found most often under surface objects, such as boards, logs, and discarded car hoods.
Eastern Milksnake: Harmless
Eastern Milksnakes have tan or gray ground color and three to five rows of reddish-brown, black-edges blotches. There is a gray or tan Y- or V- shaped mark usually presents at the rear of the head. This species is secretive and are often found beneath rocks, logs, stumps, and boards. They are also burrowers and spend much of their time beneath the ground.
Northern Watersnake: Harmless
Northern Watersnakes are moderate- to large-sized snakes. Their bodies and tails have a variable number of complete, closely spaced, dark crossbands that break up at about midbody to form a series of rectangular, alternating blotches. Their body color is brown to gray with varying amounts of red, yellow, or white. This species is found in a variety of habitats in Virginia including lakes, ponds, rivers, freshwater, and tidal creeks, ditches, swamps, freshwater, and brackish marshes and low, wet areas.
What to do if you encounter a snake
If you come across a snake on your daily walk, hike, or even your backyard, leave it alone. Try to identify the snake by its species as some of the snakes in our area are venomous and could cause harm. A snake identification “hotline” was created in 2017 by a private wildlife removal business in Virginia. Residents can share images of snakes through the Virginia Wildlife Management and Control Facebook page and receive a response with details about the snake species. Continue to leave the snake alone so long as it is not venomous and not inside a house or building.
All outdoor encounters with nonvenomous snakes should be resolved by letting the animal go away on its own. You will most likely not see the snake again. If you encounter a venomous snake in your yard, take it seriously. The snake should be removed to ensure that no one, including pets, gets hurt. This, however, doesn’t mean the snake has to be killed. In many cases, you can call animal-control or local first responders to remove the snake.
Around the world, snakes are often feared or hated. Simply put, they’re just misunderstood! There are many good reasons to respect these animals and maybe even appreciate them more.
First of all, snakes help maintain balance in the food web. They can be both predator and prey. Snakes become prey for birds, mammals and even other snakes. On the other hand, snakes like the kingsnake can prey on rattlesnakes because they are immune to their venom.
Secondly, snakes are a form of pest control. For example, rodents reproduce a great deal when predators aren’t around. Humans may try to control the rodent population with chemicals that increase pollution, when instead snakes provide an environmentally friendly and free pest control option.
In the eastern U.S., timber rattlesnakes prey on rodents that are hosts to ticks, who in turn spread Lyme disease. Without snakes, Lyme disease would spread like wildfire. Our area needs these snakes to help lower the risk!
Fortunately, there are snake conservation organizations that work tirelessly to reduce the risk of snake extinction. One in particular is Save The Snakes, which has its own worldwide network of snake conservationists. Their efforts support the U.S., Brazil, Ecuador, Indonesia, Mexico, Argentina, and many other countries.
Save The Snakes’ (STS) works to create a community-based approach in their programs for ensuring long-term impacts of snake conservation. They also educate the public about snake ecology, wildlife conservation, and how to live harmoniously with these creatures. We can coexist with snakes by respecting their space, making our homes “snake safe,” and being aware of these reptiles in the great outdoors.
Do your part to save snakes for the Earth! Help organizations like Save The Snakes continue their great work by donating, volunteering, or spreading the word. Every bit makes a difference.
We hope this provides you a better understanding of the snakes in our area. When you encounter any snake, make a conscious effort to stay out of their way and be sure to leave their habitats alone unless truly necessary. Want to show off your snake expertise skills? If you come across a snake, test your knowledge by sending a photo to the Virginia Wildlife Management and Control Facebook page and see if you correctly identified the species!