Explore and sustain the James River Watershed

Northern scarletsnake


The Northern scarletsnake (Cemophora coccinea) is found throughout the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of Virginia. This snake is indeed a cold blooded reptile that relies on the sun to keep warm and supply energy. When they are not sunning, they often hide beneath logs, boards, bark and rocks. This scarletsnake is a burrower that is seldom found in daylight except in or under logs and other surface objects, so be sure to stay keen on where you place your hands when climbing over and under logs while hiking.

The adult Northern scarletsnake is small, only 14 to 20 inches in length and has red and yellow (or white) bands separated by narrower black bands. At first glance this fellow may appear dangerous or be mistaken for the poisonous coral snake, but think back to your early school years and the rhyme "red touch yellow, kill a fellow; red touch black friend to Jack", which relies on the adjacent colors of the snake to determine its potential threat. As you can see, the red is touching the black areas of the snake, therefore you can be fairly certain this snake is not an immediate threat. Additionally, the bands of the scarletsnake are present only on the upper surface and do not extend across the belly as in the kingsnake. However, even nonpoisonous snakes can bite if threatened, so appreciate this colorful James River resident from a good distance, for his sake and yours.

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