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common rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma erytrogramma)

Distribution Map

Distribution Map

Characteristics

This is a shiny iridescent snake with three red stripes on a bluish-black background. A broad reddish stripe bordered with black spots runs down the center of the belly and is flanked by yellow-orange coloration. The body is relatively stout and the head is barely distinct from the neck. The tail is short and ends in a spinelike tip. The juvenile is similar to the adult. This snake grows to a length of 36-44 inches with a maximum of 60 inches. This species lays up to 52 leathery, white eggs in an underground cavity in sandy soil, usually during July. Females remain with their eggs in the nest, presumably to protect them against predation. The young hatch in the fall and overwinter on land, probably in a burrow near the nest, and move overland to an aquatic area in early spring. These snakes are both aquatic and burrowers. They are excellent swimmers but usually prowl along stream or swamp bottoms. At times they burrow into muck or mud. They have been found in dry sand at depths of up to 10 feet. The young have been found beneath boards logs and other debris. They may use their sharp-tipped tail to probe the soil.

Distribution

This species is found in swamps, marshes (fresh and brackish), or slow-moving streams and adjacent sandy soils in the Coastal Plain. There is no information on loss of populations, but pollution of aquatic habitats is likely to have detrimental affects, especially if eels are affected. Protection of freshwater wetlands would increase the probability that this species will remain a part of our natural heritage for the long term.

Foods

The major food item for this species is eels. The young eat tadpoles and small frogs in addition to eels and salamanders. Prey are eaten alive and usually swallowed head first.

More Information

For more information, please visit the Virginia Fish & Wildlife Information Service (direct link to species booklet).