There are A LOT of snakes in Delaware!
And what’s interesting is that they are all incredibly unique and have adapted to fill many habitats and niches.
You’ll see that the snakes that live in Delaware are very different from each other.
For example, some species are venomous, while others use constriction to immobilize their prey. Or the fact that certain snakes are rarely seen because they spend most of their time underground, but others are comfortable living EXTREMELY close to humans.
Today, you’re going to learn about the 14 types of snakes in Delaware!
#1. Eastern Copperhead
- Agkistrodon contortrix
- Adults reach lengths between 20 and 37 inches.
- Stout body, broad head, and elliptical pupils.
- Coloration varies from pale tan to pinkish-tan with darker, splotchy, hourglass-shaped bands, which are darker at the edges.
Look for these VENOMOUS snakes in northern Delaware in deciduous forests and mixed woodlands, often near rocky outcroppings. You’re more likely to see them active during the day in the spring and fall when the weather is cooler. During the middle of summer, Eastern Copperheads are often nocturnal.
Eastern Copperhead Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
This species is an ambush hunter, meaning that it selects a suitable site and waits to surprise its prey. In addition, copperheads are considered “pit vipers,” which means they have a heat-sensing organ located between their eyes. This adaptation helps these venomous snakes find and judge the size of their prey by being able to sense infrared!
Bites from these snakes are rarely fatal in Delaware.
The venom they produce has relatively low potency. In addition, copperheads also frequently employ false strikes, dry bites, and warning bites. Dry bites contain no venom, and warning bites have a relatively small amount of venom.
These snakes primarily feed on small rodents, frogs, birds, and large insects such as cicadas. After the initial bite, they will wait for the venom to take effect before consuming their prey whole.
#2. Northern Watersnake
- Nerodia sipedon sipedon
- Adults range from 24 to 55 inches in length.
- Coloration is pale grey to dark brown with reddish-brown to black bands.
- Large adults become darker with age and appear almost plain black or dark brown.
- Females tend to be larger than males, and coloration is most vivid in juvenile and wet individuals.
This species is the most common watersnake in Delaware!
Northern Watersnakes prefer slow-moving or standing water like ponds, lakes, vernal pools, marshes, and slow-moving rivers and streams. They’re most often seen basking on rocks or logs in or near the water.
Northern Watersnake Range Map (Yellow area below)
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These snakes primarily feed on fish and amphibians by hunting along the water’s edge and shallow water during the day. They grab their prey and quickly swallow while it’s still alive!
When disturbed, Northern Watersnakes flee into the water to escape. However, if grabbed or captured, they’re quick to defend themselves. They will release a foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tale, flatten their body, and strike the attacker.
While non-venomous, they can deliver a painful bite!
Their saliva contains a mild anticoagulant that can cause bites to bleed, making the injury appear worse. These important defense mechanisms help water snakes survive predators such as raccoons, snapping turtles, foxes, opossums, other snakes, and birds of prey.
#3. Plain-bellied Watersnake
- Nerodia erythrogaster
- Adults have thick bodies and range from 24 to 40 inches in length.
- Solid coloration of gray, brown, olive, or black.
- As the name suggests, they have a plain unmarked underside varying from red to yellow.
- Also called Redbelly, Yellowbelly, Copperbelly, or Blotched Watersnake.
The Plain-bellied Watersnake can be found near various water sources, including rivers, floodplains, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. This species spends an unusual amount of time on land compared with other water snakes found in Delaware. Especially during hot, humid weather, they can be found in woodlands quite far from a water source.
Plain-bellied Watersnake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
They feed on BOTH aquatic and terrestrial prey, including crayfish, fish, salamanders, frogs, and other amphibians. Another unusual feature of this species is that they will sit and wait to ambush their prey, especially on land. Almost all other water snakes actively hunt and chase their victims!
If captured, they release a foul-smelling musk and are not afraid to bite! Plain-bellied Watersnakes are eaten by largemouth bass, egrets, hawks, and sometimes other larger snakes.
#4. Queen Snake
- Adults are generally around 24 inches in length though individuals up to 36 inches have been reported.
- Coloration is drab brown or olive green with two lighter stripes down the sides.
- The underside is yellow or tan, with four dark stripes that run the length of their belly. No other similar species has this feature!
Queen Snakes prefer moving water and are generally found near streams and rivers with rocky bottoms. They have highly permeable skin, making them susceptible to evaporative water loss. As you can imagine, they are rarely spotted far from water.
Queen Snake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
Queen Snakes are considered less secretive than many other snakes in Delaware.
They are primarily diurnal and can be spotted basking on rocks, overhanging branches, or vegetation near the water’s edge. They often take refuge under rocks along the edges of streams. If you’re lucky, you may see them swimming.
Queen Snakes are specialist predators that primarily feed on crayfish. They almost exclusively prey on newly molted crayfish, which have soft bodies and can’t use their pinchers yet. They hunt by probing under rocks and other submerged objects for crayfish.
#5. Eastern Garter Snake
- Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
- Adults typically range from 18 to 26 inches in length.
- Coloration varies and can be mixtures of green, brown, or black. Look for a distinct yellow or whitish stripe down the center of their back.
- Some individuals may exhibit a checkered body pattern.
- Subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.
Eastern Garter Snakes are common and easy to locate in Delaware!
In fact, they are typically the snake species that people come across the most. They’re well-adapted to living around people and can often be found in city parks, farmland, cemeteries, and suburban lawns and gardens. Though not required, they prefer grassy environments near freshwater sources such as ponds, lakes, ditches, and streams.
Look for these snakes in Delaware basking in the sun in grassy areas near cover.
Eastern Garter Snakes protect themselves when they are cornered or feel threatened. For example, if you capture or continually disturb one, it will defecate and release a foul-smelling musk from its glands. It’s also common for them to bite as a last resort!
The Eastern Garter Snake most commonly preys on toads, frogs, slugs, salamanders, fish, and worms. However, they are very opportunistic and will eat other insects and small animals they can overpower. They’re active during both the day and night, depending on the temperature.
#6. Eastern Ribbon Snake
- Thamnophis saurita
- Adults typically range from 18 to 26 inches in length. A slender snake with a long tail!
- Coloration is brown to nearly black with three bright yellow to cream stripes; one down the back and one down each side.
- Snout and entire head are brownish, lips and underneath head are white.
Did you see a slender snake in Delaware with a long tail?
If so, it was probably an Eastern Ribbon Snake!
This species is semi-aquatic and RARELY found far from a source of water. Look for them in a wide variety of habitats, including marshes, grassy floodplains, streams, ditches with grass, wet areas in meadows, and woodlands adjacent to wetlands. Ribbon snakes are even found in suburban areas that match these conditions.
You might spot these snakes basking on branches of trees, bushes, or grasses overhanging the water. They typically hunt in the water and prey on amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.
When disturbed, these snakes quickly flee into grass or brushy areas. If caught, they are not aggressive and rarely bite. But you can expect them to defecate and spray musk onto your hands. In the wild, Eastern Ribbon Snakes rely on blending into their surroundings to escape predators.
#7. Eastern Milksnake
- Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
- Adults typically range from 24 to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is tan or gray with 3 to 5 rows of reddish-brown, black-edged blotches.
- Look for a gray or tan Y- or V-shaped mark near the rear of the head.
Eastern Milksnakes get their unique name from an old myth that they milked cows since they’re commonly found in barns! Obviously, this isn’t true. Instead, their presence inside barns is likely due to the high number of mice, some of their favorite prey.
Eastern Milksnake Range Map
A member of the kingsnake family, Eastern Milksnakes occupy a wide variety of habitats in Delaware, including fields, woodlands, agricultural areas, and rocky outcrops. These beautiful snakes are somewhat secretive and spend much of their time beneath the ground. You may be able to find one underneath rocks, logs, boards, and other debris.
The Eastern Milksnake prefers to feed on small mammals such as mice and shrews. However, they’ll also consume various types of prey, including birds and bird eggs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, fish, earthworms, slugs, insects, and carrion.
Like other individuals in the kingsnake family, they will prey on venomous pit vipers. So how do they combat the venom? Interestingly, their blood contains venom-neutralizing properties!
#8. Eastern Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis getula
- Adults typically range from 36 to 48 inches in length.
- Coloration is shiny black with white or yellow chain-link bands, but some individuals may be entirely black.
- Stout head and small beady eyes.
- Also called the Common Kingsnake.
Eastern Kingsnakes thrive in various habitats in Delaware!
Look for them in hardwood and pine forests, bottomlands, swamps, and wetlands, as well as farmlands and suburban areas. They are a terrestrial species but are often associated with water preferring riparian habitats along stream banks or marsh edges.
Eastern Kingsnake Range Map
A very secretive species, the Eastern Kingsnake is frequently spotted when moving logs, boards, tin, or other objects they use for cover. They’re constrictors and feed on various types of prey, including rodents, lizards, birds, and turtle eggs. Incredibly, they’re immune to venom from pit-vipers and regularly feed on smaller venomous snakes like copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes!
If disturbed, these snakes can mimic rattlesnakes by shaking their tails in dry leaves. They may also release a foul-smelling musk and bite if captured.
Unfortunately, the Eastern Kingsnake has seen dramatic declines in many areas. This is most likely due to habitat loss and degradation, imported fire ants, and disease.
#9. Eastern Ratsnake
- Pantherophis alleghaniensis
- Adults range from 42 to 72 inches in length though individuals up to 101 inches have been recorded.
- Coloration varies. In Delaware, Eastern Ratsnakes are typically completely black.
- There may be red, white, or yellow flecking on the scales.
These snakes are found in many habitats in Delaware.
Look for them in agricultural areas, forests, and swampy woodlands. Make sure you look UP, as Eastern Ratsnakes are arboreal and are often found in trees!
They’re also often seen in and around barns and old buildings because of the abundance of rodents, which they kill using constriction. Birds and eggs are also on the menu, with the latter being swallowed whole and broken once in their throat!
Eastern Ratsnakes are active during the day and night, especially just after sunset. They travel considerable distances and are often killed on roadways.
If disturbed, Eastern Ratsnakes will first try to slither away. When they feel cornered, the next step is they’ll flatten their heads and lift the front of their bodies off the ground in an S-shape to appear more threatening and increase their striking range. They may also hiss from this position and bite if grabbed.
#10. Red Cornsnake
- Pantherophis guttatus
- Adults range from 24 to 72 inches in length.
- Coloration is orangish-brown with black-bordered orange, red, or brownish blotches and a spear-shaped pattern on the head and neck.
- The underside usually has a black and white checkerboard pattern which may have some orange.
Cornsnakes got their name because of their frequent presence near corn storage areas due to an abundance of rodents that also hang out at these locations. However, some sources maintain that they were named for the pattern on their underside, which sometimes looks like kernels of bi-color corn.
Red Cornsnakes occupy various habitats in Delaware, including overgrown fields, pinelands, swamps, and agricultural areas. They are sometimes found in suburban areas near other favorable habitats. Make sure you don’t only look on the ground, as they’re known to ascend trees, cliffs, and other elevated surfaces.
Red Cornsnakes prey on rodents, lizards, frogs, and birds and their eggs. These snakes are constrictors that squeeze and asphyxiate larger prey, but small prey may be swallowed whole without constriction.
These snakes are generally quite docile and are the second most popular pet snake (behind Ball Pythons) worldwide. However, if disturbed in the wild, they may vibrate their tail and lift the front of their body into an S-shape to appear more threatening. If grabbed or pinned, it’s not out of the question for them to bite their attacker, but they typically calm down quickly when being held.
- Cemophora coccinea
- Adults range from 14 to 26 inches in length.
- Coloration is red with light gray, yellowish, or white bands with black borders.
- Small, pointed red head with a light-colored band behind the eyes and light gray or white underside.
These beautiful snakes are commonly found in Delaware in pine flat woods, dry prairies, hardwood hammocks, sandhills, and open woodlands. They are burrowers and prefer areas with loose, sandy soil, leaf litter, logs, and other material they can easily hide beneath.
There are THREE subspecies of Scarletsnake, and they all look similar. You would need to be a trained herpetologist to tell the difference!
The Scarletsnake is non-venomous, but it’s sometimes confused with venomous coral snakes. An easy way to tell the difference between the two species is to remember the rhyme, “Red touches yellow, kill a fellow; red touches black, a friend of Jack.”
Incredibly docile, these snakes rarely bite even when picked up by humans. But even though they’re common throughout their range, it’s rare to actually see one. Scarletsnakes are very secretive and spend most of their time hidden.
#12. Rough Greensnake
- Opheodrys aestivus
- Adults typically range from 22 to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is bright green with a yellow or whitish underside.
- SLENDER bodies and large eyes.
- Also commonly called a Grass Snake.
This species is hard to mistake for any other snake in Delaware!
Their bright green color makes for excellent camouflage against the foliage. They’re highly arboreal and spend much of their time climbing in low vegetation. Look for them coiled and sleeping in shrubs, tangles of vines, or other thick vegetation, especially if it’s near water.
When disturbed, Rough Greensnakes typically freeze and rely on their camouflage. They’re nonvenomous and generally very docile, seldom striking even if grabbed.
The Rough Greensnake is fairly common, but they do face several threats. They’re one of the most exploited pet snake species in North America. They’re also often killed on roads and face habitat loss, especially when small waterways are cleared of vegetation in developing areas.
#13. Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
- Heterodon platirhinos
- Adults typically range from 20 to 30 inches in length.
- Coloration can be yellow, gray, brown, black, olive, or orange, often with darker blotches or spots down its side and back, though solid gray and black individuals are fairly common.
- Thick-bodied, broad, triangle-shaped heads, and an upturned snout.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes prefer areas in Delaware with sandy soil.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes primarily prey on toads and use their upturned snout to dig for them in their burrows. They also have enlarged teeth at the rear of the upper jaw that they use to puncture and deflate toads that puff up when threatened. These snakes also have large adrenal glands, which secrete large amounts of hormones to counteract the toad’s potent skin poison!
When disturbed, Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes lift their head off the ground and flatten their neck like a cobra! They may also hiss and false strike with a closed mouth.
If this display fails to scare off a predator, then the snake will play dead. They’ll roll onto their back, let their tongue hang out, and emit musk from glands near the base of their tail. Interestingly, when the threat has left, the snake will right itself and continue as normal. 🙂
#14. Dekay’s Brownsnake
- Storeria dekayi
- Adults typically range from 6 to 13 inches in length.
- Coloration is light brown or gray to dark brown or black with two rows of dark spots down the back, which are sometimes linked.
- A dark streak down the head and may have a light stripe down the center of the back.
Dekay’s Brownsnakes occupy various terrestrial habitats as long as there’s plenty of cover available such as rocks, logs, boards, and all sorts of trash and organic debris. They’re often found in backyards and gardens under objects.
These secretive, nocturnal snakes hunt during the evening and night, feeding primarily on slugs and earthworms. However, they’ve also been known to consume snails, insects, insect larvae, small tree frogs, tadpoles, frog eggs, spiders, and fish. Prey is typically grabbed and quickly swallowed alive.
These docile snakes usually don’t bite in defense. Instead, if captured, they often squirm vigorously or flatten their bodies and may release foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tail.
This species is considered common in most of its range and is not a major conservation concern. It adapts well to human development and has a reputation as a “city snake.” However, pesticide usage and clean-up of cover objects may reduce their populations in urban areas by reducing their habitat and food source.
Do you need additional help identifying snakes in Delaware?
Try this field guide!
Which of these SNAKES have you seen before in Delaware?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other Delaware guides!