Danger noodles? Rarely. What to know about Delaware's 19 snake species

Danger noodles. Nope ropes. Spicy pasta.

Humanity’s primal fear of snakes reigns even in the meme age. They’re slithery, slimy and sneaky and can induce fear in even the bravest of today’s keyboard warriors.

Delaware is home to 19 species of snakes, according to state herpetologist Nate Nazdrowicz, and the truth is, they're mostly harmless.

“Many snakes prey on other species that we would consider pests so it’s beneficial to have them around,” Nazdrowicz said. “Several snakes feed on rodents that might tear up your lawn. Some feed on slugs that will eat your garden plants.”

As part of the food web, they’re also food themselves for species like hawks and owls.

“If you’re not afraid of them, the best thing to do is just leave them be,” Nazdrowicz said.

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But many people, if not most, are afraid of snakes. If you’re one of them, Nazdrowicz has some recommendations for you.

“Snakes are found in areas that provide food, shelter and areas where they find it easy to regulate their body temperatures. If you have noticed a snake hanging around your house, then your yard is likely providing these resources for the snake,” he said.

To keep snakes out of your yard, make it less attractive to them and the species they eat. Mow frequently and keep flower beds neat. Don’t allow leaves to collect or pile sticks. Don’t feed pets or store birdseed outside. Don’t use rocks in landscaping.

“Snakes are less likely to move through low grass or sparsely vegetated areas because they feel exposed to avian predators,” Nazdrowicz said.

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If you encounter a snake and feel the need to force it to move along, you can do so safely with a garden hose, Nazdrowicz said.

If you're bitten by a snake, try to take a picture of it so it can be positively identified. Bites from Delaware's only venomous snake, the eastern copperhead, are uncommon, according to Nazdrowicz. Death from such bites is even rarer, but if you are bitten by a copperhead, seek medical attention immediately.

Snakes of Delaware

You’ll likely only ever see four of Delaware’s 19 species of snakes; the eastern rat snake, black racer, common garter snake and common watersnake.

The rest are rarely seen, for a variety of reasons. They’re secretive, burrowers, just plain tiny or all of the above.

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Three of them — the plain-bellied watersnake, scarletsnake and red cornsnake — are endangered. Five others are considered critically imperiled, including Delaware’s only venomous snake: the eastern copperhead.

Using some information from the Virginia Herpetological Society, here is a little about each snake and how to identify them. It’s important to keep in mind that juvenile snakes can look vastly different from adults.

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Eastern garter snake

The common garter snake is on the small side, growing to about 2.5 feet. Adults are brownish-green with a black checkerboard pattern and usually have a yellowish stripe down their back center. They’re found in a variety of habitats and feed on frogs, fish and slugs.

Black rat snake

As an adult, the eastern black rat snake will grow to be about 5 feet long. It’s black with white on its belly and around its mouth. These skilled climbers eat mainly small warm-blooded animals, such as mice and birds, as well as bird eggs. They live in many different habitats.

When feeling threatened, they may take a striking position and vibrate their tails, like a rattlesnake.

Northern black racer

Black racers and rat snakes are often confused. They are similar in size and color and also live in a variety of habitats, but the racer has smooth scales, while rat snakes’ are more textured. Racers also eat small mammals, as well as frogs and even other snakes. They are very fast, as their name suggests.

Common watersnake

Most common watersnakes grow to about 3 feet long and have black, white and reddish-brown crossbands. As their name suggests, they are usually found near water – mainly freshwater but sometimes brackish. They eat mostly fish and frogs.

Dekay's Brownsnake

DeKay’s brownsnakes are usually only about 1 foot long. They vary in color from gray to brown and have paired black spots. They’re easily confused with garters.

Dekay’s brownsnakes are nocturnal and not often seen. They’re found in a variety of habitats under logs, rocks or other debris, and eat mainly slugs and earthworms.

Plain-bellied watersnake

Plain-bellied watersnakes are brownish with orangey undersides and can reach lengths of 5 feet. Their habitats and diets are similar to those of the common watersnake. They are endangered in Delaware.


Endangered scarletsnakes grow to between 14 and 20 inches. Often confused with milksnakes, scarletsnakes have red blotches outlined in black with a cream color in between. They are burrowers, found in sandy, loose soil, usually among pine trees. They eat a variety of small reptiles, mammals and insects, but prefer reptile eggs.

Eastern copperhead

Eastern copperhead.
Eastern copperhead.

The eastern copperhead is Delaware’s only venomous snake. People confuse all kinds of snakes for copperheads, especially juvenile rat snakes, hog-nosed snakes and watersnakes.

This species has vertical pupils, like a cat. It’s tan in color with hourglass-shaped crossbands of varying shades of brown.

According to Nazdrowicz, copperheads are only found in southern Sussex County and near Wilmington in Delaware.

Common wormsnake

The secretive wormsnake grows to be about 1 foot long. They’re uniformly brown with pinkish bellies. They’re found in a variety of habitats, usually under surface debris, logs or rocks, and eat mainly worms.

Eastern milksnake

Eastern milksnakes have reddish blotches outlined in black, with a cream color in between, and usually grow to be about 3 feet long. They’re another secretive burrower, eating mostly small mammals.

Eastern kingsnake

Eastern kingsnakes are black with thin white crossbars and usually about 4 feet long. They live in a variety of other habitats and are known for eating other snakes, though they also eat a variety of other prey.

Eastern hog-nosed snake

Hog-nosed snakes vary greatly in color, from all black to crossbanded with black, brown, orange, red and gray tones. They are best identified by their turned-up snout. They can grow to between 3 and 4 feet long. Hog-nosed snakes are found in a variety of sandy-soil habitats and eat mostly toads. If approached, they may take a striking position, inflate and hiss, or even feign death.

Ring-necked snake

Ring-necked snakes are usually about 1 foot long. Color ranges from blueish black to gray to brown, with a yellow or cream-colored “ring” around the neck. They inhabit forest surface debris, eating worms, salamanders and skinks.

Smooth earthsnake

Smooth earthsnakes are uniformly reddish-brown to dark gray, often with tiny black flecks. They eat mainly worms and are found in a variety of habitats, mainly underground or under surface debris.


Queensnakes are on the smaller side, reaching a maximum length of 3 feet. Their color ranges from gray to brown to olive green, with two cream-colored or yellowish stripes and sometimes several other dark stripes running their lengths. They’re often confused with garters. Queensnakes are usually found along shallow, rocky streams and eat crayfish almost exclusively.

Rough greensnake

Rough greensnakes grow to be 2-to-3 feet long. They live in trees in a variety of habitats and eat mainly insects.

Common ribbonsnake

Common ribbonsnakes are dark brown or black with three yellow or cream-colored stripes down their length. They can grow to about 2 feet. They are semiaquatic and can be found in many habitats near water, often in trees. They eat mainly frogs, salamanders and small fish.

Red-bellied snake

The red-bellied snake is usually only between eight and 10 inches long. It can be gray, brown or black and has two or four dark stripes. Like Dekay’s brownsnake, the red-bellied snake is nocturnal and can be found in multiple habitats, often under logs, rocks or other debris. They eat slugs almost exclusively.

Red cornsnake

Red cornsnakes can grow to about 4 feet long. They have reddish-brown blotches outlined in black with tan in between. This secretive snake lives in forests and eats mostly rodents.

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This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: What kind of snakes are in Delaware: Guide