Northern Scarletsnake

Media
Photo of a northern scarletsnake on a rock surface in Georgia.
Status
Name
Species of Conservation Concern
Scientific Name
Cemophora coccinea copei
Family
Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)
Description

A small to medium-sized, multicolored snake with a pointed head. The back has wide orange or red incomplete bands, bordered by narrow black bands, over a white or light yellow ground color. Large individuals may have some black pigment in the red bands. The snout is usually red or orange. The belly is spotless and white or cream colored.

Similar species: The red milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum syspila) is more common in our state and looks similar. Its snout is usually not orange or red, and its belly is boldly marked with black and white (not spotless and white).

Common Name Synonyms
Northern Scarlet Snake
Size

Length: 14 to 20 inches.

Where To Find
Northern Scarletsnake Distribution Map

Scattered counties in south-central and southern parts of the state.

This secretive snake spends much of its life underground, except on warm nights or after heavy summer rains. It can be found under flat rocks, logs, or other objects. Probably active from late April through October, it is associated with loose or sandy soil because of its burrowing habits. It usually occurs in forested regions often associated with pine. In our state, this species has been found on wooded, rocky hillsides.

This species eats the eggs of turtles, lizards, and other snakes. It may swallow the eggs whole or break the eggshell with its teeth and then swallow the contents. This species may occasionally eat lizards, small snakes, and mice, killing these prey by constriction.

Rare; a Species of Conservation Concern, classified as imperiled or vulnerable in our state. Because so few of these snakes have been found in Missouri, it is difficult to determine their overall status. They may be more common than we think. Because of their secretive nature, they are rarely encountered, so it's hard to tell.

Life Cycle

Little is known about the reproduction of this species. Apparently, mating occurs in the spring, and the eggs are probably laid during June, with 3-8 eggs being produced per female.

Snakes have always captured the imaginations of humans. In myth, religion, and story, snakes perform the role of seducer, sneak, guardian, healer, killer, and transformer. Even though seldom seen, this attractive, harmless snake is part of the natural wealth of our state.

As predators, scarletsnakes control populations of other reptiles by consuming their eggs. As with many other predatory species, they are preyed upon themselves by many larger animals, including snakes, mammals, and birds. The eggs and young are especially vulnerable.

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About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.