Snakes in Virginia

cottonmouth at False Cape State Park (City of Virginia Beach)
cottonmouth at False Cape State Park (City of Virginia Beach)
Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), Flickr

In the Blue Ridge and on other mountain ridges, copperheads and rattlesnakes gather together to overwinter in dens underneath rocks. When the Skyline Drive was being built in the 1930's, the operator of a power shovel excavated more than a bucketful of rocks. An observer later described the moment:1

Much to everyone's surprise the shovel came up with a scoopful of those rocks along with many snakes from beneath the surface where they had made a den for the winter. In his excitement, the operator stopped the shovel with the scoop in midair and snakes were dangling in all directions...

One snake traveled down the shovel boom onto the operator's platform. As I recall there were about eight or ten workers in the immediate area and I believe both men and snakes were about equally frightened trying to get out of harm's way. When the excitement was over no person was harmed and most of the snakes made to safety. However, the shovel operator scrambled off the rig, walked off the job and didn't return.

There are three species of venomous snakes in Virginia - rattlesnakes, water moccasins (northern cottonmouth), and copperheads. Snakebites from poisonous species in Virginia are rarely fatal, and average just one every five years.

Timber rattlers are in the Blue Ridge. and canebrake rattlesnakes are found in the southeast corner of the state. Common blacksnakes, found throughout Virginia, may imitate rattlers by vibrating their tails.

Water moccasins are in creeks and wetlands in the southeastern corner of Virginia. A disjunct population also survives near the confluence of the James River and the Appomattox River.

Copperheads are the most common venomous snake in Virginia, found in all regions. They have a distinctive color pattern of brown patches and a triangular head.

The Eastern garter snake is the official snake of Virginia, as designated by the General Assembly in 2016. It is common and not poisonous. It is against the law to kill them, or any other snake in Virginia, with the exception of a poisonous snake threatenening the health of people or farm animals. Though snakes may evoke a fear reaction in people, that is not an adequate reaon for murdering the wild creature.2

black rat snake at Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area (Prince William County)
black rat snake at Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area (Prince William County)
Source: Judy Gallagher, Flickr

Links

References

1. Walter Mallonee, "The Origin of Skyline Drive," Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, https://www.patc.net/PATC/Library/PATC_-_History/Origin_of_Skyline_Drive.aspx (last checked November 20, 2018)
2. "Slithering Season," Richmond Magazine, March 30, 2017, https://richmondmagazine.com/life-style/health/snake-season/; "Spare the snakes: Know these six serpents," Virginia Mercury, May 2, 2019, https://www.virginiamercury.com/2019/05/02/spare-the-snakes-know-these-six-species/ (last checked May 3, 2019)

black snake skin at Brawner Farm (Manassas National Battlefield Park)
black snake skin at Brawner Farm (Manassas National Battlefield Park)


Habitats and Species
Virginia Places