Black Snakes in Virginia

by Angel

Black snakes are very common in Virginia. There are three kinds of black snake found here. Lets explore the Northern Black Racer, Eastern Black Kingsnake, and Black Rat Snake.

Virginia is the home to 34 different snake species. The most common snake here in Virginia is the black snake. Most people don't differentiate between the three types when they see one. They just say they have seen a black snake. Black snakes mate during the spring time of the year and are out and about. I have already seen one laying across my back step off the deck in our back yard. This prompted me to research the black snake and figure out exactly what type of snake I saw. The Black Rat Snake seems to be the one making a home in back yard. Come take a look at some of the different types of black snakes that make their home in Virginia and see which one might be laying in your back yard.

Black Rat Snake

The Largest Snake in Virginia

The Black Rat Snake is the largest snake in Virginia. It can grow up to 8 feet long. That is one big snake in my opinion. The one I saw in my back yard was around 6 feet long. After we poked at it a little with a stick it slowly slithered under our deck to get away from us curious people. The Black Rat Snake will bite if it feels threatened but most of the time it will either stay put if you come up on it or go on about its business. It is a non poisonous snake that really benefits us here in Virginia by keeping the rodent population down. Farmers love to see the Black Rat Snake on their farms.   

What Does The Black Rat Snake Look Like?

It is black right? Of course it is black! But there are a few other distinguishing features that set it apart from the other two types of black snakes found here in Virginia. Take a close look at the scales and underside of this snake. It is white between the scales and has a white underbelly. Little hatchlings look like a totally different type of snake. They have gray and black patterns all over them that fades as they grow.

The pattern is similar to the gray and black patterns seen on the underbelly of this grown Black Rat Snake except they are covered in the pattern. Hatchlings are mistaken for other venomous type snakes all the time.

Photo Credit - Wikimedia Commons

CC by SA 2.5 

Black Rat Snakes Mating
Black Rat Snakes Mating
Wikimedia Commons, CC by SA 3.0
Black Rat Snake in a Tree
Black Rat Snake in a Tree
Wikimedia Commons, CC by SA 2.0
Where is the Black Rat Snake Found?

Most of the time they are in forests, fields, marshes, in trees, and on farmland. They do venture out into residential areas to see what they can find to eat in back yards. They are seen all over back roads here in Virginia. Unfortunately most of them are dead. They get run over and die before getting to where they were going. During the Spring (mating season) they are very active during the day and can be seen all over the place. During the summer they are not seen as much during the day as they are more active at night. Their eggs can be found in old logs, stumps, under dead leaves, or under rocks. The Black Rat Snake can often be found in a den of poisonous snakes during the winter while hibernating. For some reason they like to hibernate with poisonous snakes such as the Copperhead.   

What Does The Black Rat Snake Eat?

They eat rodents, frogs, lizards, small mammals including squirrels and even birds. They are also known to eat other snakes. They aren't too picky. They have excellent climbing skills which make it easy for them to find bird's nests and squirrel nests. They kill their prey by constriction. They wrap their body around their prey and squeeze them to death.

Eastern Black King Snake

What Does an Eastern Black King Snake Look Like?

The Eastern Black King Snake grows to 45 inches long. Yes they are black too. But it also has distinguishing marks that set it apart from other black snakes. It is black with a yellow chain like pattern on the underbelly. Sometimes the pattern is faint on its back. This is the type of snake that my grandmother would tell me about as a child. She would talk about black snakes that would eat poisonous snakes. She really prohibited anyone from killing a black snake in her yard. She felt they kept the poisonous snakes away. This particular one does just that. They are immune to the venom of poisonous snakes and will eat them any chance they get. It vibrates its tale when it is disturbed or if it is picked up it will discharge a nasty smelling musk from the glands at the base of its tale.  So don't try to pick one up or you will get stinked by a snake!

Photo Credit - Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain

Where are Eastern Black King Snakes Found?

They are found in swamps, banks of streams, ponds, and lakes. They like rocky areas too. They are also found under logs, boards, and stumps. They are typically out and about during the day so you may see one if you are somewhere it likes to hang out. They mate during the spring and are very active during this time. You will see them a lot during this time of year.

What does an Eastern Black King Snake Eat?

The Eastern Black King Snake eats lizards, frogs, other venomous snakes, rodents, birds and bird eggs. It also kills its prey by constriction before eating it.

Northern Black Racer

What Does a Northern Black Racer Look Like?

It is a very shiny black with a white chin and a gray underbelly. Sometimes their body is a gray color and is mistaken for another type of snake. It can grow up to 71 inches long but averages 36- 60 inches long. It will not bother you unless you try to catch it. They will then become aggressive and will bite. They also vibrate their tale when they are alarmed.

Photo Credit -Wikimedia Commons - CC by SA 2.5

Where are Northern Black Racers Found?

The Northern Black Racer is found in a lot of the same areas that the other two types of Virginia black snakes are found. In marshes, banks of streams, lakes, and ponds. Also under dead leaves, stumps, logs, and rocks. They also mate in the spring and can be seen out and about a lot during this time of year. 

What Does a Northern Black Racer Eat?

It preys on small mammals, rodents, birds and eggs, lizards, frogs and insects. This snake prefers to eat its prey alive. No time for constriction here.  

Don't Kill That Black Snake!

Virginia is home to three types of black snakes. The Eastern King Snake, Black Rat Snake, and Northern Racer. All are non venomous snakes and do a lot to benefit us. They keep the rodent population down and the Eastern King Snake works to keep the venomous snake population down. I was always told as a child to leave a black snake alone because they did good things for us. Despite my fear of snakes I will not kill a black snake.  

Updated: 05/28/2012, Angel
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RebeccaE on 11/30/2012

they are rather interesting animals, and i found this a great read. Although I didn't know much about the Eastern Black King Snake

Ragtimelil on 07/22/2012

When I was a kid, I kept snakes I caught as pets. It was tricky though because my mom was terrified of them. I worked on a goat ranch in Texas that had a rattlesnake problem. The owner bought and released some king snakes to get it under control. too bad they didn't eat the scorpions in the tack room...

Angel on 06/10/2012

@teddletonmr - You have made me laugh! Thanks - needed a good laugh... can't help but picture you coming face to face with this snake and the comment about soiling your shorts was pretty funny. I am like you.. I want to grab the hoe and start whacking at it....but I try to keep my cool and remember they will do a lot more good alive than dead. I am ok as long as I see them first. I don't like getting surprised by any snake! Thank you for checking out my article and commenting!

teddletonmr on 06/08/2012

@Angel your encounter with the blacksnake reminded me of my own up close and personal snake encounter.
While doing a little weeding in the strawberry patch, I found myself nose to nose to a rather large black snake. The snake raised its head, made an alarming sound while all the while produced a terrible smell. Now I must admit the snake in my backyard strawberry patch did it’s best to cause me to soil my shorts and go in search of my trusty garden hoe.
No I didn’t kill the snake, just relocated the critter , you see I too grew up with folks telling me how the black snake, king snake and racer are beneficial critters to have around, after all what better organic rodent pest control could there be?
Keep working on that green thumb, happy gardening, Mike

Angel on 05/31/2012

Brenda - If they eat squirrels then they may eat a very small dog or cat. Ughh. Gives me goose bumps thinking about it. There is only one type of rattlesnake here in VA - the timber rattlesnake. I believe it is mostly in the southwestern part of the state - mountains. I don't really like any kind of snake. I try to go in the other direction! Thanks for stopping in.

BrendaReeves on 05/31/2012

I wonder if they would eat a small dog or a cat? In CA we have rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the road. Those you definitely don't want to get near.

Angel on 05/30/2012

Katie - I am also glad I didn't step on that snake! I would have had a heart a stroke. Look me up if you come close to Virginia. Would love to get together with you.

katiem2 on 05/30/2012

Really nice images of black snakes, I now will be able to identify one when I see it. I do love the south and plan on visiting this summer. Glad you didn't step on the snake you found...

Angel on 05/29/2012

Hi Janices7! I know about getting the crap scared of ya - I stepped off my back deck and almost stepped right on the one I wrote about. It was huge. I am ok as long as I can see them from a distance. I don't like it when I get scared by them like that. Gives me the heebee jeebees... Thanks for reading and commenting.

janices7 on 05/29/2012

I used to live in Virginia. Saw plenty of black rat snakes on the golf course and running trails. The longest was probably 6-8 feet and it scared the crap out of me. I had no idea how many species of black snakes there were in Virginia so this was an interesting read.

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