March 15, 2016

The Scarlet Snake

Posted by: Jeanne Christie

The Scarlet Snake

Thank you to Jake Scott for the Scarlet snake photograph!

The Scarlet snake (Cemophora coccinea) is an elusive snake, rarely found by humans. This species is quite slender and reaches a maximum length of about thirty inches. These snakes always have wide red bands separated by yellow or white bands which are bordered with black. The bands do not encircle the entire body, leaving the belly of these snakes white or cream-colored. Often mistaken for a venomous look-alike, the coral snake, there are some morphological differences that can help to distinguish between the two. Firstly, the red bands do not touch the white or yellow bands, as they do in the coral snake. Scarlet snakes also have a pointed snout that is red, while coral snakes have a black-tipped snout.

Scarlet Snakes are the only snake species on Little St. Simons Island that is considered nocturnal, which is usually the only time they are observed moving on the surface of the soil or substrate. These snakes are semi-fossorial, spending most of their time underground. Occasionally Scarlet Snakes are found in or under logs, boards, tin, rocks, or leaf litter. The pointed snout and slender body allows them to burrow through dry, loamy, and sandy soils. These snakes are most commonly found in habitats where this sandy and well-drained soil is predominant, such as pine flatlands, dry prairies, maritime hardwood forests, and sweetgrass prairies. Scarlet Snakes are found from Southern New Jersey, south to Southern Florida, and West to East Texas.

Reptile eggs make up the majority of the Scarlet Snakes’ diet, but they may also prey on lizards, small snakes, or frogs. If an egg is too large for a Scarlet Snake to swallow whole, they may break it open with specialized enlarged teeth before swallowing it. Very little is known about Scarlet Snake reproduction due to the secretive nature and burrowing habits. In early summer (typically June), female snakes will generally lay 3-9 elongated and leathery eggs underground (1-13/8” long). The young are about 6 inches long when they hatch in late summer, and closely resemble adult snakes in coloration.

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