Elaphe guttata guttata

written by Adam Mann


Photo by Tom Allen of WVDNR

Natural History


The Cornsnake is arguably the most attractive snake found in the state.  It is a medium-sized ratsnake, normally reaching an adult size of 4 feet in length; however, specimens have been known to reach 6 feet in length.  In cross section, the bodies of these snakes are not round, but instead resemble a loaf of bread.  The dorsal scales are weekly keeled, while the lateral scales are smooth.  Anal plate is divided.

Unlike the Black Ratsnake, there is little distinction between the juvenile and adult coloration.  The dorsal pattern consists of 27 to 41 red blotches on a background of orange or gray.  There is a distinct hollow, spear-shaped dorsal blotch extending from the neck to between the eyes.  There is a red stripe on each side of the head, extending from the eye and continuing down the neck.  The venter is strongly checkered in black and white at midbody with 2 black stripes running lengthwise under the tail (Conant and Collins, 1998).

Similar Species:

Cornsnakes are often confused with Eastern Milksnakes (Lampropeltis t. triangulum), juvenile Black Ratsnakes (Elaphe o. obsoleta), and Northern Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) due to the reddish-blotched pattern.  Milksnakes have smooth scales and a single anal plate and lack black stripes under the tail.  Juvenile Black Ratsnakes lack the spear-shaped blotch between the eyes and the lateral head stripe ends at the jaw.  Copperheads have crossbands with an hourglass shape and lack the checkered pattern on the venter. 

Habitat and Habits:

Cornsnakes are hardwood forest dwellers but have been known to inhabit dry fields, thickets, and open grassy areas.  They are excellent climbers, but generally remain on or near ground under cover.   Very secretive by nature, they often hunt for food in subterranean burrows.  Rodents and other small mammals are the chief prey items, however birds and lizards have been taken on occasion (Mitchell, 1994).   Prey is subdued by constriction.  Little is known about their behavior in the wild, but they are generally not aggressive and seldom bite. 


Cornsnakes mate from March to May.  One clutch of 5 to 20 eggs is laid between late May and July.   Incubation takes almost two months.  Hatching occurs as late as September, with young measuring 10 to 12 inches in length.  Due to their secretive nature, little is known of their reproductive ecology and nesting behavior in the wild.



Cornsnakes are rare in West Virginia.  There are only a few isolated records from the Eastern Panhandle.  Grogan first reported it in 1971 in Morgan County (Green and Pauley, 1987).  Since then, there have been limited documented sightings.


The Cornsnake is extremely rare and secretive.  In West Virginia, it is considered a species of concern, but it is not listed as threatened or endangered on the state or federal level.


Interesting Facts

1)      Cornsnakes are sometimes known in as “red ratsnakes” or “scarlet racers.”

2)      In many parts of their range, Cornsnakes are often killed because of their similarity to copperheads.

3)      Because of their vivid coloration and docile nature, Cornsnakes are very common animals in the pet trade.  Many color morphs have been produced as a result of captive breeding programs.



Conant, Roger, and Joseph Collins.  1998.  A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern/Central North America.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Green, N. Bayard, and Thomas K. Pauley.  1987.  Amphibians and Reptiles in West Virginia.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Mitchell, Joseph C.  1994.  The Reptiles of Virginia.  Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.



Page created by Adam Mann
Last Updated - February 2003
Questions or comments on the web site?  Email Dr. Thomas K. Pauley at