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 L. 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.
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 southwest 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 cultivated 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.
Rodents are the preferred prey of this snake, although fledgling birds and lizards are occasionally taken.