Snakes

Snakes are scaly, legless, sometimes venomous reptiles having a long, tapering, cylindrical body. Unlike lizards they lack limbs, external ear openings and eyelids. Their life styles vary; some are active by day, others at night.  Some occupy terrestrial or subterranean situations, others live in trees or in the water. All snakes are carnivorous and swallow their prey whole. They continue to increase in length throughout their lives, but the growth rate slows after maturity is reached. Snakes periodically shed their outer layer of skin, usually in one piece beginning at the tip of the snout.

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"Alligators and Snakes: What You Need to Know"

Colubrid Snakes - Family Colubridae

Worm Snake Carphophis amoenus ssp. Fairly common. Known from most regions except portions of Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Ridge and Valley. A secretive small woodland snake of mesic deciduous forest. Includes subspecies C. a. amoenus (Eastern worm snake) and C. a. helenae (midwest worm snake). Lowest Conservation Concern.

Scarlet Snake Cemophora coccinea. Fairly common statewide. A small secretive snake of forested habitat types, especially areas with loose, well-drained soils. Often mistaken for coral snakes or scarlet kingsnakes due to colorful banded pattern. Thought to be declining throughout much of its distribution. Lowest Conservation Concern. 

Black Racer Coluber constrictor ssp. Common statewide, but declining in many areas. A familiar diurnal species that occurs in virtually all terrestrial habitats. Most frequently encountered in open forest and forest edges, and along brushy margins of aquatic habitats. Includes subspecies C. c. constrictor (northern black racer) and C. c. priapus (southern black racer). Low Conservation Concern.

Ring-necked Snake Diadophis punctatus ssp. Fairly common statewide, but less abundant than in the past. A frequently encountered small woodland snake. Alabama populations are intergradient combinations involving two or all of three subspecies, D. p. punctatus (southern ring-necked snake), D. p. edwardsi (northern ring-necked snake) and D. p. stictogenys (Mississippi ring-necked snake). Lowest Conservation Concern.

Eastern Indigo Snake Drymarchon couperi. Endangered/Possibly extirpated. Historically reported from Southern Pine Plains and Hills in Mobile, Baldwin, and Covington Counties in extreme southern Alabama, but not documented from natural populations in state since 1954. Recent reports may be from several experimental introductions in late 1970s and 1980s. Further investigation into possibly extant natural populations is needed, especially in Mobile County. Listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. HIGHEST CONSERVATION CONCERN. Eastern Indigo Brochure

Corn Snake Elaphe guttata guttata. Uncommon to locally fairly common statewide. While still fairly common in northern Alabama, Coastal Plain populations have declined precipitously. Somewhat arboreal, but less so than related rat snakes. Corn snakes nest in loose soil or organic debris, are mainly nocturnal, and are found in a variety of terrestrial habitats that support sizeable small rodent populations. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta ssp. Fairly common statewide. This large arboreal snake, known to many as “chicken snake,” has not declined like corn snakes. Rat snakes may nest high in tree cavities, a position that may reduce mortality from fire ants and other ground-foraging predators. Occurs in most terrestrial habitats, and occasionally may be found in, or near, forested suburbs. Populations in extreme northeastern Alabama are E. o. obsoleta (black rat snake), while others, except intergrades, are E. o. spiloides (gray rat snake). Lowest Conservation Concern.

Mud Snake Farancia abacura ssp. Uncommon to fairly common throughout Coastal Plain, wherever suitable habitat is found. Also known from Interior Plateau near Tennessee River. A large and secretive semi-aquatic snake of beaver swamps, ponds, floodplains, and sluggish streams. Includes two intergrading subspecies, F. a. abacura (eastern mud snake) and F. a. reinwardti (western mud snake). Low Conservation Concern. 

Rainbow Snake Farancia erytrogramma erytrogramma. Rare and possibly threatened. Seldom encountered in known distribution, which includes Coastal Plain and possibly adjacent regions above Fall Line Hills. Recorded from fewer than 10 locations in Alabama. A large semi-aquatic burrowing snake of rivers, large creeks, and occasionally ponds. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake Heterodon platirhinos. Uncommon to rare in many places where formerly common. Statewide in distribution. Often called “spreading adder,” this familiar snake is apparently declining for unknown reasons. Typically inhabits fields, open woods, and disturbed areas. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Southern Hog-nosed Snake Heterodon simus. Endangered/Possibly extirpated. Known from portions of Coastal Plain and Ridge and Valley. A small secretive snake of sandy woods, fields, and other upland habitats. Although at least 10 records exist, none are known since 1975. Reasons for apparent decline unknown. Southern hognose snakes are declining throughout their distribution, but still occur in parts of southern Georgia South Carolina, and Florida, and may persist in very low numbers in Alabama. HIGHEST CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Prairie Kingsnake Lampropeltis calligaster calligaster. Peripheral and uncommon in Interior Plateau, and possibly Appalachian Plateau north of Tennessee River. Known from Madison County, and may occur in Limestone and Jackson Counties. A secretive and poorly known burrowing snake of open woodlands and grassy areas. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Mole Kingsnake Lampropeltis calligaster rhombomaculata. Uncommon to rare in Coastal Plain, uncommon elsewhere. Thought to occur statewide, but records are lacking from substantial areas. A secretive burrowing snake of woods and fields. Occasionally found above ground after dark, especially after rains. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Eastern Kingsnake Lampropeltis getula getula. Rare to uncommon, and possibly threatened. Found in south-central and eastern portion of Coastal Plain and adjacent Piedmont. Also known from Dauphin Island. A large, diurnal, conspicuous ground-dwelling snake of most terrestrial habitats. Formerly one of Alabama’s most commonly encountered snakes, it and speckled kingsnake have declined markedly for reasons not well understood. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Speckled Kingsnake Lampropeltis getula holbrooki. Rare to uncommon, and possibly threatened. Coastal Plain inhabitant, except for those portions occupied by eastern and black kingsnakes. Attains its greatest population densities in Blackland Prairie. This subspecies is similar in both habits and conservation status to eastern kingsnake. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Black Kingsnake Lampropeltis getula nigra. Fairly common above Fall Line Hills in northern Alabama. Similar in habits to eastern and speckled kingsnakes, but apparently has not declined to extent of Coastal Plain forms of L. getula. Low Conservation Concern.

Scarlet Kingsnake Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides. Uncommon to fairly common. Presumed statewide in distribution, but many areas lack records. Secretive and rarely seen except in spring. Along with scarlet snake, sometimes confused with the coral snake due to its similar colorful banded pattern. Low Conservation Concern.

Red Milk Snake Lampropeltis triangulum syspila. Uncommon and infrequently encountered in northwestern portion of Appalachian Plateau. Inhabits woodland, often near rocky areas. A secretive snake usually found in, and under, rotting logs, and occasionally seen on roads at night. Intergrades eastward with eastern milk snake. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Eastern Milk Snake Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum. Uncommon and infrequently encountered in eastern portions of Appalachian Plateau, including Lookout Mountain. Similar in habits and habitat preference to red milk snake, with which it intergrades westward in DeKalb and Jackson Counties. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Eastern Coachwhip Masticophis flagellum flagellum. Formerly common, now declining and generally rare to uncommon, especially in northern Alabama. A large conspicuous snake of sparse grassy woods and fields from Tennessee River to coastal dunes. While some northern populations are feared extirpated, a few areas of scrubby or frequently burned Coastal Plain habitats still support fair numbers. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN. 

Gulf Saltmarsh Snake Nerodia clarkii clarkii. Uncommon to fairly common in suitable habitat, which is limited. This coastal water snake has specialized habitat requirements and has declined due to destruction and degradation of salt marshes in both Baldwin and Mobile Counties. Formerly considered a subspecies of N. fasciata. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Mississippi Green Water Snake Nerodia cyclopion. Peripheral and fairly common in Southern Coastal Plain from Tensaw Delta westward. A large snake of forested swamps, oxbows, and sluggish, tree-lined streams, where it may be found as far as 97 kilometers (60 miles) inland from coastal areas. Less frequently encountered in lower Mobile Bay area, where forest gives way to marsh and grass flats. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Plain-bellied Water Snake Nerodia erythrogaster ssp. Common statewide. A large snake of most permanently aquatic habitats, especially swamps, sluggish streams, and weedy lakes and ponds. Chiefly nocturnal. Includes two intergrading subspecies, N. e. erythrogaster (red-bellied water snake) and N. e. flavigaster (yellow-bellied water snake). Lowest Conservation Concern.

Southern Water Snake Nerodia fasciata ssp. Common across southern portions of Coastal Plain. Inhabits most permanently aquatic habitats, especially sinkhole ponds and streams with abundant vegetation. Includes subspecies N. f. fasciata (banded water snake), N. f. confluens (broad-banded water snake), and N. f. pictiventris (Florida water snake) and intergrades. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Florida Green Water Snake Nerodia floridana. Peripheral and locally common in Southern Coastal Plain from Mobile Bay eastward in Baldwin County. Similar in appearance to Mississippi green water snake, but inhabits marshes and wet prairie habitats instead of forested wetlands. Not known more than 48 kilometers (30 miles) inland from coastal areas, and susceptible to local extirpations from hurricanes. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Diamond-backed Water Snake Nerodia rhombifer. Fairly common to common in western portions of Coastal Plain, extending eastward along Tennessee and Tallapoosa drainages to Macon County A heavy-bodied large snake of river sloughs, lakes, and swamps. Low Conservation Concern.

Midland Water Snake Nerodia sipedon pleuralis. Common statewide, except southernmost portions of Coastal Plain, where apparently confined to immediate vicinity of Conecuh, Yellow, and Choctawhatchee Rivers. A conspicuous inhabitant of ponds, lakes, and streams, and the most frequently encountered water snake in the northern two-thirds of Alabama. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Brown Water Snake Nerodia taxispilota. Fairly common in southeastern portion of Coastal Plain. Most frequently encountered in streams and stream impoundments. Large and active by day, it basks conspicuously and is frequently subject to human persecution. Low Conservation Concern.

Rough Green Snake Opheodrys aestivus. Uncommon to fairly common statewide. Formerly more common, this familiar slender and docile snake is found in a variety of heavily vegetated terrestrial habitats, including overhanging branches around lakes and streams. Reasons for apparent decline unknown. Low Conservation Concern.

Black Pine Snake Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi. Rare and possibly endangered in southern Pine Plains and Hills region west of Mobile Bay. Also known from Buhrstone/Lime Hills of Clarke County. Apparently extirpated from large area around Mobile. Intergrades east of Mobile Bay with Florida pine snake. large snake of dry, periodically burned open pine or mixed pine-scrub oak forest with abundant groundcover vegetation. Currently a candidate for federal listing. HIGHEST CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Northern Pine Snake Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus. Rare and possibly threatened. Populations may be disjunct and very localized in Ridge and Valley, Appalachian Plateau, and Interior Plateau. A large upland snake of relatively open, periodically burned pine or mixed pine-hardwood forest and adjacent clearings in sandy or gravelly uplands. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Florida Pine Snake Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus. Threatened in southern portion of Coastal Plain east of Mobile Bay. Also known from Southern Hilly Gulf Coastal Plain region of Russell County in extreme eastern Alabama. Individuals from Escambia and Baldwin Counties are intergradient with black pine snake, and a Fall Line Hills population in Elmore County appears to be intergradient with northern pine snake. A large snake of open, periodically burned pine forest with abundant groundcover. Frequently associated with burrows of gopher tortoise and southeastern pocket gopher. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Glossy Crayfish Snake Regina rigida sinicola. Fairly common in Coastal Plain, except extreme northwestern portions. A small secretive snake of ponds and swamps. Believed to be stable throughout most of its distribution. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Queen Snake Regina septemvittata. Fairly common to uncommon. Nearly statewide, but apparently absent from Coastal Plain west of Tombigbee River, and from southern portions of Baldwin County. Believed to be declining, especially in southern Alabama. A small slender water snake of streams and stream impoundments, often seen basking on limbs overhanging water. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Pine Woods Snake Rhadinaea flavilata. Peripheral and rare in southern Coastal Plain and southern Pine Plains and Hills of southwestern Alabama where known from only a few localities in Mobile, Washington, and Baldwin Counties. A small secretive snake of damp pine flatwoods; occasionally appears in residential areas. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

North  Florida Swamp Snake Seminatrix pygaea pygaea. Peripheral and rare in extreme southern Coastal Plain. Known from three Covington County localities and one locality west of Conecuh River in Escambia County that represents the northwestern limit of the known United States’ distribution. A small secretive snake of swamps and weedy ponds. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

DeKay’s Brown Snake Storeria dekayi ssp. Common essentially statewide, but lack of records from much of southeastern Coastal Plain may reflect actual scarcity or absence there. One of Alabama’s most common snakes north of Buhrstone/Lime Hills. Often encountered around human dwellings and erroneously called “ground rattler.” Includes three intergrading subspecies, S. d. dekayi (northern brown snake), S. d. limnetes (marsh brown snake), and S. d. wrightorum (midland brown snake). Lowest Conservation Concern.

Northern Red-bellied Snake Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata. Fairly common statewide. A small, secretive ground-dwelling snake of mesic forested habitats where soils are moderately heavy. Often found under logs, rocks, and other objects. Believed to be declining in many areas. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Southeastern Crowned Snake Tantilla coronata. Fairly common statewide, but thought to be declining. A small, secretive ground-dwelling snake of dry woodland ridges and hillsides. Often found under rocks, logs, and in rotting stumps. Low Conservation Concern.

Eastern Ribbon Snake Thamnophis sauritus sauritus. Fairly common statewide, but not as frequently encountered as in the past. A semi-aquatic snake of marshes, beaver swamps, lake and stream margins, and wet meadows. Low Conservation Concern.

Eastern Garter Snake Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis. Fairly common statewide. Very generalized in habitat preferences, and found in most terrestrial habitat types. Frequently encountered, especially in northern Alabama. Low Conservation Concern. 

Rough Earth Snake Virginia striatula. Fairly common across most of Alabama, and present in all regions except Interior Plateau. Absent from northeastern portions of Appalachian Plateau and Ridge and Valley. Inhabits relatively drier woodlands than smooth earth snake. More commonly encountered in Coastal Plain, and believed to have declined in recent decades. Lowest Conservation Concern.

Smooth Earth Snake Virginia valeriae ssp. Common statewide. Usually inhabits more mesic woodlands than rough earth snake, but both may occur together, and are very similar in appearance. Most Alabama populations are V. v. valeriae (eastern smooth earth snake), but western populations may show influence of intergradation with V. v. elegans (western smooth earth snake). Lowest Conservation Concern.

Coral Snakes - Family Elapidae

Eastern Coral Snake Micrurus fulvius. Rare and possibly threatened. A colorful, venomous snake principally occurring in Coastal Plain from Buhrstone/Lime Hills southward, but also known from disjunct localities in southern Ridge and Valley (Bibb and St. Clair Counties) and Piedmont (Coosa County). Spends much time underground, emerging to forage in early morning and late afternoon. Inhabits a variety of terrestrial habitats having loose, friable soils. Few recent observations may indicate that this secretive species has declined in Alabama. Two more common and similarly patterned nonvenomous snakes, scarlet kingsnakes and scarlet snakes, are frequently mistaken for eastern coral snakes. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Pit Vipers - Family Viperidae

Copperhead Agkistrodon contortrix ssp. Common statewide. Most frequently encountered venomous snake in Alabama. Inhabits a wide variety of upland habitats. May be increasing in parts of Coastal Plain, especially where fire is suppressed. Includes subspecies A. c. contortrix (southern copperhead) and A. c. mokeson (northern copper-head). Lowest Conservation Concern. (Fig. 105, p. 116)

Cottonmouth Agkistrodon piscivorus ssp. Common statewide. Occurs in most aquatic habitats, but reaches greatest abundance in Coastal Plain swamps. The only venomous aquatic snake in North America. Includes subspecies A. p. piscivorus (eastern cottonmouth), A. p. conanti (Florida cottonmouth), and A. p. leucostoma (western cottonmouth). Lowest Conservation Concern.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake Crotalus adamanteus. Uncommon to rare and possibly threatened. Alabama’s largest venomous snake. Exploits a variety of upland habitats from extreme southern portion of Southern Hilly Gulf Coastal Plain to Gulf Coast, favoring relatively dry pine flatwoods and longleaf pine-turkey oak sandhills. Overwinters in stump holes and gopher tortoise burrows, where it is vulnerable to “gassing” by snake hunters. Infrequently encountered where formerly common, and now absent from many areas of historic occurrence. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

Timber Rattlesnake Crotalus horridus. Fairly common to uncommon statewide, except for extreme southern Alabama. Commonly called canebrake or velvet-tail rattlesnake. A large venomous snake of upland and lowland forested habitats, especially in sparsely settled areas. Declining or absent from many formerly inhabited areas because of direct persecution, habitat fragmentation, and gradual loss of deciduous and mixed forest types, but still apparently secure in some areas. Low Conservation Concern.

Pigmy Rattlesnake Sistrurus miliarius ssp. Uncommon to rare. Statewide in distribution, but rarely encountered in recent years except in extreme southern Alabama. Believed to be declining. Inhabits a variety of upland habitats.  Often called "ground rattler" by those who recognize it.  Includes subspecies S. m. miliarius (Carolina pigmy rattlesnake), S. m. barbouri (dusky pigmy rattlesnake) and S. m. streckeri (western pigmy rattlesnake).  MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

References Cited:

Mirarchi. Ralph E., ed. 2004. Alabama Wildlife, Volume One.  A Checklist of Vertebrates and Selected Invertebrates: Aquatic Mollusks, Fishes, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and Mammals.  The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL. 209 pp.

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