Delaware may be one of the smallest states in the United States, but it still has its fair share of fascinating wildlife. When it comes to reptiles, one group that captures both awe and fear is snakes. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the different snake species found in Delaware, from the sleek and speedy Black Racer to the colorful and eye-catching Northern Milk Snake.
Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a herpetologist in the making, or simply curious about the reptilian residents of Delaware, join us as we explore the diverse world of snakes in the state. From their appearances and habitats to their behaviors and unique characteristics, get ready for an informative and captivating journey into the world of Delaware’s snakes.
Northern Water Snake
The Northern Water Snake, also known as Nerodia sipedon, is a common species of snake found in Delaware. It is a non-venomous snake that is often mistaken for the venomous water moccasin due to its similar appearance and behavior.
The Northern Water Snake has a thick body and can grow up to 4 feet in length. Its coloration varies from brown or gray to reddish-brown, with dark blotches along its body. It has a distinct, wedge-shaped head and round pupils.
As its name suggests, the Northern Water Snake is often found near bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and marshes. It is an excellent swimmer and is often seen basking on rocks or logs near the water. It feeds on a diet of fish, amphibians, and small mammals.
Despite its harmless nature, the Northern Water Snake can be defensive if threatened. It may bite or release a foul-smelling musk as a defense mechanism. However, it is important to remember that they are harmless and play an important role in their ecosystem by controlling populations of pests such as rodents and amphibians.
If you encounter a Northern Water Snake in Delaware, it is best to observe it from a distance and not disturb it. Appreciate its presence as a valuable member of the state’s wildlife.
Eastern Rat Snake
The Eastern Rat Snake, also known as the Black Rat Snake, is one of the largest snake species found in Delaware. It can reach lengths of up to 6 feet or more, making it an impressive reptile to encounter.
This snake species is non-venomous and plays an important role in controlling rodent populations, hence its common name. It is known to feed on rats, mice, birds, and even other snakes.
The Eastern Rat Snake can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, marshes, fields, and suburban areas. It is an excellent climber and is often observed in trees or basking on rocks and branches.
When threatened, the Eastern Rat Snake may vibrate its tail to mimic a rattlesnake, but in reality, it’s just a defense mechanism. Despite its intimidating appearance, this snake is not aggressive towards humans and will typically try to escape if encountered.
It is important to appreciate the Eastern Rat Snake from a safe distance and not attempt to handle or disturb it. Like all wildlife, it plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem.
Eastern Garter Snake
The Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is one of the most common snake species found in Delaware. It is a non-venomous snake and is often encountered in gardens, fields, and wooded areas.
The Eastern Garter Snake has a long and slender body, with a background color that can vary from olive green to brown. It has three yellow or white stripes running along its body, which give it its characteristic appearance. These stripes are often bordered by black or dark brown coloration.
This snake is a good climber and can often be found in trees and shrubs, especially when hunting for prey. It feeds primarily on small animals such as frogs, toads, mice, and insects.
The Eastern Garter Snake is known for its ability to release a foul-smelling musk when threatened, as a defense mechanism. While not harmful to humans, this musk can deter potential predators.
During the breeding season, which typically occurs in the spring, male Eastern Garter Snakes will engage in a behavior known as “mating balls,” where multiple males will compete for the attention of a female. After mating, the female will give birth to live young, usually between 10 to 40 in number.
Overall, the Eastern Garter Snake is a common and harmless snake species that plays an important role in controlling populations of small animals and insects in Delaware’s ecosystem.
Northern Brown Snake
The Northern Brown Snake, scientifically known as Storeria dekayi, is a small, non-venomous snake found in Delaware. It is one of the most common snake species in the state and can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, wetlands, and suburban areas.
Appearance-wise, the Northern Brown Snake is typically brown or reddish-brown in color with darker blotches along its back. It has a slender body and a distinctive ring around its neck. Adults can grow to be around 9-13 inches in length.
Despite its small size, the Northern Brown Snake is an excellent hunter. It primarily feeds on small invertebrates, such as earthworms, slugs, and insects. It is also known to eat small amphibians and lizard eggs.
During the breeding season, which occurs from April to June, Northern Brown Snakes engage in a mating ritual known as “mating balls.” This involves multiple males pursuing a female and attempting to mate with her. After mating, the female will lay a clutch of 3-20 eggs, which she will bury in a protected location, such as rotting logs or leaf litter.
The Northern Brown Snake is a harmless species and plays an important role in controlling pest populations. Despite its common presence in Delaware, it is a secretive snake and is often overlooked by humans. If encountered, it will typically try to flee or may release a pungent musk as a defense mechanism.
Overall, the Northern Brown Snake is an interesting and beneficial snake species that contributes to the biodiversity of Delaware’s ecosystems.
The Black Racer is a common snake species found in Delaware. It is known for its sleek black color and slender body. This non-venomous snake can grow up to 6 feet in length and is a fast and agile predator.
The Black Racer is often found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and wetlands. It is a diurnal snake, meaning it is active during the day. This snake is known for its quick movements and ability to climb trees and shrubs, making it an excellent hunter of small mammals, birds, and reptiles.
Despite its name and appearance, the Black Racer is not aggressive towards humans and will typically flee when encountered. It is known for its defensive behavior of vibrating its tail rapidly against the ground, creating a noise similar to that of a rattlesnake. This behavior is meant to intimidate potential predators.
Like other snake species, the Black Racer plays an important role in the ecosystem by helping to control populations of rodents and other small animals. It is a native species to Delaware and is protected by state laws.
When encountering a Black Racer in the wild, it is important to observe from a distance and not to attempt to handle or harm the snake. In doing so, we can appreciate the beauty and ecological significance of this fascinating reptile.
Eastern Worm Snake
The Eastern Worm Snake (Carphophis amoenus) is a small, non-venomous snake commonly found in Delaware. It is often mistaken for an earthworm due to its slender body and pinkish-gray coloration. Despite its name, the Eastern Worm Snake is not actually a worm but a legless reptile.
This snake primarily inhabits forested areas with moist soil, such as woodlands, meadows, and gardens. It can also be found under logs, rocks, and other debris where it feeds on small invertebrates, including earthworms, slugs, and insects.
The Eastern Worm Snake is typically around 8-10 inches in length and has a smooth, glossy appearance. It has a small, pointed head and a sharp, upturned snout, which it uses to burrow into the soil. Its scales are smooth and shiny, allowing it to move easily through the dirt.
Despite its small size, the Eastern Worm Snake is a secretive and elusive species. It is rarely seen above ground and spends most of its time hidden beneath the soil or leaf litter. When threatened, it may release a musky odor as a defense mechanism.
Although the Eastern Worm Snake is harmless to humans, it plays an important role in its ecosystem by controlling populations of small invertebrates. It is a valuable predator of pests, such as slugs and insects, and helps maintain a balanced ecosystem.
Overall, the Eastern Worm Snake is a fascinating and unique species that contributes to the diversity of Delaware’s reptile population.
Eastern Milk Snake
The Eastern Milk Snake is a species of non-venomous snake found in Delaware and other parts of the eastern United States. It is a medium-sized snake, typically growing between 2 and 4 feet in length. The Eastern Milk Snake has a distinctive pattern of reddish-brown or grayish-brown blotches on a light-colored background, with some individuals having a checkerboard pattern.
These snakes are often found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and wetlands. They are not venomous and are harmless to humans. The Eastern Milk Snake primarily feeds on small mammals, such as mice and voles, but will also eat other small vertebrates, including birds and reptiles.
Despite its name, the Eastern Milk Snake does not produce milk. The name comes from the belief that the snake would suck milk from cows, which is now known to be a myth. Instead, they are called milk snakes because of their habit of being found near barns or other locations where mice and other small mammals are commonly found.
Eastern Milk Snakes are generally docile and will rarely bite humans unless threatened or handled improperly. If encountered in the wild, it is best to admire them from a distance and not attempt to handle or disturb them.
Overall, the Eastern Milk Snake is an interesting and important part of Delaware’s reptile fauna. Its distinctive pattern and harmless nature make it a fascinating snake to observe in its natural habitat.
Northern Ringneck Snake
The Northern Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii) is a small, non-venomous snake that is native to Delaware. As the name suggests, this snake is known for the distinctive yellow or orange ring around its neck, which is most visible when the snake is excited or threatened.
The Northern Ringneck Snake is typically black or dark gray in color, with smooth scales and a slender body. It grows to an average length of 10-15 inches, making it one of the smaller snake species found in Delaware.
This species is primarily nocturnal and spends most of its time hiding in leaf litter, under rocks or fallen logs, or in other dark, damp places. It is a secretive snake and is rarely seen by humans.
The diet of the Northern Ringneck Snake consists mostly of small invertebrates, such as earthworms, slugs, and insects. It is also known to eat small salamanders and other small snake species.
During the breeding season, which occurs in the spring or early summer, male Northern Ringneck Snakes engage in combat to establish dominance and win the right to mate with females. Mating usually takes place in underground burrows or other hidden locations.
Females lay 2-10 eggs in moist soil or decaying vegetation, and the eggs hatch after an incubation period of approximately 6-8 weeks. The hatchlings are independent from birth and will start feeding on small invertebrates soon after hatching.
The Northern Ringneck Snake is a harmless species and poses no threat to humans. If encountered, it will usually try to escape rather than defend itself. It is important to respect and appreciate these snakes as they play an important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem.
The Eastern Kingsnake is a non-venomous species of snake that is found in Delaware. It is known for its distinctive black coloration with yellow or white bands that run across its body. The Eastern Kingsnake is a constrictor, meaning it subdues its prey by coiling around it and squeezing until it cannot breathe.
Eastern Kingsnakes are opportunistic feeders and eat a variety of prey, including rodents, birds, lizards, and other snakes, including venomous species. They are immune to the venom of copperheads and other pit vipers, making them valuable in controlling populations of these venomous snakes.
These snakes are found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and wetlands. They are excellent climbers and can often be found in trees or shrubs. Eastern Kingsnakes are active during the day and night, depending on the temperature and availability of prey.
When threatened, Eastern Kingsnakes will often mimic the aggressive behavior of venomous snakes by flattening their head and releasing a foul-smelling musk. However, they are harmless and rarely bite unless they feel threatened or cornered.
The Eastern Kingsnake plays an important role in the ecosystem by controlling populations of rodents and other small animals. They are also an important species to study and conserve, as they can indicate the health of local ecosystems.
Eastern Box Turtle
The Eastern Box Turtle is a species of turtle native to Delaware and other parts of the eastern United States. It is known for its distinctive appearance and behavior.
Physical Features: The Eastern Box Turtle has a domed shell that ranges in color from olive to brown, with yellow or orange markings. It also has a hinge on the bottom of its shell that allows it to fully close and protect itself from predators. The turtle’s head and legs are usually dark brown or black, and it has bright orange or red eyes.
Habitat and Diet: The Eastern Box Turtle can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and wetlands. It prefers areas with dense vegetation and access to water. The turtle is an omnivore, with its diet consisting of both plant matter and small invertebrates.
Behavior: The Eastern Box Turtle is known for its ability to retract its head, legs, and tail into its shell for protection. It is often seen walking slowly and deliberately, and it may bury itself in leaf litter or mud to stay hidden. The turtle is also known to hibernate during the winter months.
Conservation Status: The Eastern Box Turtle is listed as a species of concern in Delaware due to habitat loss, road mortality, and illegal collection for the pet trade. It is important to respect and protect these turtles if encountered in the wild.
Overall, the Eastern Box Turtle is a fascinating reptile that contributes to Delaware’s biodiversity. Its unique appearance and behaviors make it a valuable species to study and conserve.
Delaware is home to a variety of snake species, including the Northern Water Snake, Eastern Rat Snake, Eastern Garter Snake, Northern Brown Snake, Black Racer, Eastern Worm Snake, Eastern Milk Snake, Northern Ringneck Snake, Eastern Kingsnake, and Eastern Box Turtle. It’s important to be aware of these species and their habits when spending time outdoors in Delaware.
By knowing how to identify these snakes and understanding their behavior, you can coexist with them safely and respectfully. Remember, snakes play an important role in the ecosystem and should be appreciated from a distance. Enjoy the natural beauty of Delaware, and may you have many safe and wonderful outdoor adventures!