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NC Snake Camouflage

Snake patterns allow the snake to both hide from enemies and to more easily capture the animals they need for food. Besides our patterned non-venomous and venomous snakes, many non-venomous snakes that are a solid color as an adult begin life with a pattern. The pattern is lost as it becomes older. This is common in nature…white-tailed deer give birth to spotted fawns. The spots allow the fawn to avoid being seen.

The same is true with snakes. It seems just about anything will kill and eat a baby snake–birds, larger reptiles, rats, opossums, dogs, cats, and raccoons, to name a few. Patterns allow the baby snake to hide more easily in its natural habitat.
One of our most beneficial snakes is the black rat snake. The adults are black, but the young are patterned. Many young rat snakes are mistakenly identified as copperheads. Keep in mind the reason for the copperhead’s popular name. A copperhead has a rusty patch on the top of its triangular-shaped head. Young rat snakes don’t have this rusty patch on their smaller, more oval-shaped heads. Also, look for markings. Young rat snakes have clear black-and- gray square-shaped splotches. Copperhead markings look like a string of rust-colored hourglasses. Young copperheads have lemon-yellow tails; young rat snakes don’t.

baby rat snake
note spots to end of grey tail
baby copperhead
note lemon yellow tail

Many times people kill snakes such as the young black or gray rat snake and the young racer snake, thinking they are copperheads. This is really a shame, because rat snakes and others do no harm and help keep the rodent and insect population down. The pattern that works so well to protect these baby snakes from natural predators backfires when people become the predator.

Another beneficial snake that is often mistaken for another snake is the scarlet kingsnake. This snake looks like the venomous coral snake. Both snakes have red, yellow and black rings around their bodies. Coral snakes do not live in the southwest Piedmont. Also, a coral snake has red and black rings separated by a yellow ring. The scarlet kingsnake has a yellow ring between 2 black rings. The coral snake’s head is mostly black, with 1 yellow ring and no red. The scarlet kingsnake’s head is mostly red. The scarlet kingsnake is a great predator of other snakes and also keeps down the rodent population. Click here for interesting snake camouflage research results.

red snake with black, yellow, black rings
Coral snake
note black head
Scarlet Kingsnake
note red head

If you find a patterned snake, how can you tell the difference between a venomous copperhead and a harmless rat snake? Start ahead of time by becoming familiar with the appearances of our few venomous snakes. Check out the photos of our adult snakes as well as our young snakes if you still aren’t sure.