There are A LOT of snakes in West Virginia!
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 West Virginia 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 12 types of snakes in West Virginia!
#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 West Virginia 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 West Virginia.
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. Timber Rattlesnake
- Crotalus horridus
- Adults typically range from 30 to 60 inches in length.
- Coloration is variable and generally ranges from yellowish-brown to gray to almost black. Look for dark brown or black crossbands on their back.
- Heavy-bodied with characteristic rattle on the tail.
The Timber Rattlesnake, also known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake, is found in a wide variety of habitats in West Virginia. Look for these venomous snakes in lowland thickets, high areas around rivers and flood plains, agricultural areas, deciduous forests, and coniferous forests.
Timber Rattlesnake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These snakes are ambush predators, waiting for unsuspecting prey to come within range of their strike. They feed primarily on small mammals but may also consume frogs, birds, and other smaller snakes. Timber Rattlesnakes strike their prey and release them, waiting until their venom has taken effect before eating them.
These venomous snakes are potentially the most dangerous species found in West Virginia due to their large size, long fangs, and high venom yield. Luckily, Timber Rattlesnakes have a mild disposition and don’t bite often. They typically give plenty of warning by rattling and posturing.
The Timber Rattlesnake played a noteworthy role in U.S. history. Found in the original 13 colonies, it was used as a symbol during the American Revolution. In 1775 it was featured at the center of the “Gadsden Flag.” This yellow flag depicts a coiled and ready-to-strike Timber Rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
#3. 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 West Virginia!
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 these snakes survive predators such as raccoons, snapping turtles, foxes, opossums, other snakes, and birds of prey in West Virginia.
#4. 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 West Virginia!
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 West Virginia 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.
#5. 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 West Virginia 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.
#6. 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 West Virginia, 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!
#7. Eastern Black Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis nigra
- Adults typically range from 35 to 48 inches in length.
- Coloration is black with white, cream, or yellow speckles, larger and more numerous on the sides.
- Stocky body, head indistinct from the neck, and a yellow or cream underside with black checkering.
- Also frequently referred to as just “Black Kingsnake.”
Eastern Black Kingsnakes occupy various habitats in western West Virginia.
They can be found in forests, agricultural lands, thick brush around streams and swamps, floodplain and wetland edges, and even suburban areas!
Eastern Black Kingsnake Range Map
These snakes are very secretive, and they often seek shelter under logs and other debris. They’re primarily active during the daytime but are most active in the morning during the summer.
Being constrictors, Eastern Black Kingsnakes use their strong coils to asphyxiate their prey. They frequently prey on lizards, rodents, birds, turtle eggs, and other snakes, including venomous pit vipers.
Though they’re non-venomous, these snakes may shake their tails if disturbed. In dry leaves, the noise sounds like a rattlesnake! If handled, they may also release a foul-smelling musk and strike.
#8. Gray Ratsnake
- Pantherophis spiloides
- Adults range from 42 to 72 inches in length though individuals up to 101 inches have been recorded.
- Coloration varies. Most Gray Ratsnakes are typically completely black.
- There may be red, white, or yellow flecking on the scales.
Look for these snakes in West Virginia in trees!
Gray Ratsnakes are excellent climbers and often hunt and spend time in trees. Growing up, I used to see them all the time in a large walnut tree in our backyard! They occupy various habitats, including pinelands, stream banks, swamps, marshes, prairies, and agricultural areas.
They’re also spotted near barns and old buildings since these places provide them access to their favorite food, which is rodents.
Like other rat snakes, this species is an active hunter and a powerful constrictor. Adults typically feed on small mammals, birds, bird eggs, lizards, and frogs. They suffocate larger prey using their strong coils but often swallow smaller prey immediately.
If disturbed, Gray Ratsnakes either flee for cover or remain motionless in an attempt to avoid detection using their excellent camouflage. They may also vibrate their tail, producing a rattlesnake-like sound in dry leaf litter. Finally, when they feel cornered or are grabbed, these snakes will strike their attacker as a last resort.
#9. 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.
These snakes don’t spend much time on the ground in West Virginia!
Their bright green color makes for excellent camouflage against the foliage. Rough Greensnakes are 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.
#10. Smooth Greensnake
- Opheodrys vernalis
- Adults are SLENDER and typically range from 14 to 20 inches in length.
- Coloration is uniformly light green with a yellow or white underside and a red tongue with a black tip.
- Juveniles may be olive-green, blue-gray, or even brown until they shed their skin for the first time.
Also called Grass Snakes, these bright green snakes can be found in West Virginia in marshes, meadows, pastures, savannas, open woods, and along stream and lake edges. They prefer moist areas near permanent water sources.
They prey almost exclusively on insects and spiders and don’t use constriction; instead quickly striking and swallowing their prey alive.
Smooth Greensnakes hibernate during the winter in West Virginia, seeking shelter in old mammal burrows and abandoned anthills. They often hibernate communally with other small snakes. They emerge in the spring, typically in April, and are active until October.
Here’s how to tell the difference between a Smooth Greensnake and Rough Greensnake in West Virginia:
- Smooth prefer being on the ground. Rough prefers climbing.
- Pay attention to their names. Rough Greensnakes are named for the raised keels on their scales. Smooth Greensnakes feel smooth.
- Their ranges seldom overlap. Look at the range map above to determine which snake you have found!
#11. 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 West Virginia 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. 🙂
#12. 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 in West Virginia 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 in West Virginia, 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 West Virginia?
Try this field guide!
Which of these SNAKES have you seen before in West Virginia?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other West Virginia guides!