northern scarletsnake

(Cemophora coccinea copei)


This species is small to medium in size with smooth scales. It grows to lengths of 14-20 in. (36-51 cm). The adult has red and yellow (or white) bands separated by narrower black bands. The bands are present only on the upper surface and do not extend across the belly as in the kingsnake. Dark dots may occur on the yellow and red areas on older specimens. The belly is whitish or yellowish. The snout is red and pointed and projects beyond the lower jaw. The head is barely distinct from the neck. Juveniles at hatching are patterned as adults but the bands are pinkish rather than red. The colors become darker and duller with age. This species may be confused only with hybrids of the eastern milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum) and the scarlet king snake (Lampropeltis triangulum elapsiodes), whose red, black and white body bands nearly encircle the body. This species mimics the coral snake (Micrurus fulvius), which does not occur in Virginia. This species reproduces in June and July and lays from 2-9 elongate, whitish eggs in moist decaying logs or moist soil. This snake is a burrower that is seldom found in daylight except in or under logs and other surface objects.


Cemophora coccinea is found in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of Virginia, as well as westward up the James River drainage into Alleghany Co. in the Ridge and Valley physiographic province. No specimens are known from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, although several have been found on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. This species is found in areas of light, well-drained soils, often with pine or shrub oaks. They often hide beneath logs, boards, bark and rocks. This species burrows in dirt, wood pulp, sandy soil or even muck.


This species feeds on lizards, frogs, small snakes, mice, insects, slugs, and reptile eggs. Reptile eggs, particularly eggs of small snakes, are preferred.