Eastern Worm Snake
Carphophis amoenus amoenus

** Harmless **

Common Name:

Eastern Worm Snake

Scientific Name:

Carphophis amoenus amoenus

Etymology:

Genus:

Carphophis is derived from the Greek words karphos which means "straw" or "chaff" and ophios which means "snake"

Species:

amoenus is Latin for "pleasing" or "charming" referring to the disposition of the snake.

Subspecies:

amoenus is Latin for "pleasing" or "charming" referring to the disposition of the snake.

Vernacular Names:

Blind snake, blind worm, cricket snake, eastern ground snake, eastern twig snake, little red snake, milk snake, thunder snake.

Average Length:

7.5 - 11 in. (19 - 28 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

12.6 in. (32 cm)

Record length:

13.25 in. (33.7 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: This species is from 3.5-12 inches long *1101*. It is plain brown above, with the belly pink and the head pointed. The scales are smooth and opalescent *1013*. The young are darker than the adults *1014,1013*. Adults are usually 8-10 inches in length, and the record length is 13.25 inches *11523*. In Virginia, maximum known SVL is 275 mm (10.8 in.) and total length is 320 mm (15.0 in.). Tail length/total length averages 15.8+/-2.5% (11.3-20.4, n = 161).

SCUTELLATION: ventrals 108-140 (avg 124.9+/-6.5, n=165), subcaudals 14-40 (avg. = 31.4+/-5.1, n=159), ventrals + subcaudals 133-176 (156.6+/-6.0, n=158), dorsal scales smooth; scale rows 13 (100%, n=166) at midbody; anal plate divided; infralabials usually 6-6 (96.7%, n=152), other combinations of 4-7 (3.3%); supralabials usually 5-5 (97.4%, n=153), other combinations of 4-6 (2.6%); loreal present and contacts eye; no preoculars; postoculars 1-1; temporals usually 1+1/1+1 (78.9%, n=152) or 1+2/1+2 (15.8%), other combinations of 1-2 (5.3%); prefrontal and nasal scales separate (paired).

COLORATION and PATTERN: dorsum of body and head unpatterned and plain brown; venter unpatterned but pink, with pink coloration extending onto the sides of the body to include the first to second scale rows. Allard (1945) found an all-pink female in Arlington. The head is slightly flattened and somewhat pointed. The short tail terminates in a sharp spine.*10760* An albino specimen was found in Henrico County in 1992 *11523*.

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: Average adult snout-vent length is greater in females (202.3+/-24.3 mm, 166-275 n = 62) than males (181.8+/-20.2 mm, 141-237 n=77). Sexual dimorphism index is 1.11. Body mass (non-gravid) females 6.6+/-2.3 g, 4-11, n=14; males 4.6+/-1.6 g, 3-7, n=12) and number of ventral scales (females 128.5+/-5.5, 113-139, n = 79; males 121.5+/-5.5, 108-140, n=86) are also sexually dimorphic. Males exhibit a higher average tail length/total length ratio (17.8+/-1.3, 13.4-20.4, n=83) than females (13.7+/-1.6, 11.3-20.3, n=78) and a greater average number of subcaudal scales (males 35.5+/-2.5, 21.5-40, n=82), females 27.2+/-3.4, 14-36, n=77). The average number of ventrals + subcaudals is similar between sexes (males 157.2 +/-5.7, 143-176, n=81; females 156.0+/-6.2, 133-166, n=77).*10760*

JUVENILES: At hatching, juveniles are patterned as adults but the dorsum is a darker brown and the venter is bright pink. Hatchlings averaged 86.4 +/-3.8 mm SVL (79-92, n=16), 100.0+/-5.6 mm total length (87-107), and 0.46+/-0.32 g body mass (0.11-0.90).

CONFUSING SPECIES: Other small, uniformly patterned snakes have a light collar on the neck or a dark band across the head. Worm snakes strikingly resemble worms.*10760*

REPRODUCTION: The eggs are 1 inch long and 1/4-1/3 inches in diameter *1008*. The young are 3.5-4 inches at hatching *882*. The eggs hatch in September or October *1008*. Two to six eggs are layed in mounds of humus or in or under decaying moist logs in June. In Kansas, Clark found spermatoza in the reproductive tracts of females of C. amoenus vermis April-May and late-August to October. This suggests either 2 mating periods or that sperm overwinter in the oviducts of females. Known egg-laying dates in Virginia are between 20 June and 17 July. Linzey and Clifford reported a possible communal nest of 11 eggs but did not mention the locality. Mitchell found a communal nest of 9 eggs in Henrico County on 18 September 1978. Eggs we measured averaged 17.9+/-3.1 x 7.8+/0.8 mm (length 14.6-22.8, width 6.7-8.7, n=9) and weighed 0.8+/-0.1 g (0.60-0.84). Allard found a clutch of 4 eggs averaging 20.0 x 7.3 mm in Arlington. The smallest mature female I measured was 166 mm SVL; she contained two enlarged ova. The smallest mature male was 140 mm SVL. Length of incubation is 45-46 days and hatachlings emerge in August and September. Known hatching dates are between 5 August and 7 September.*10760*

POPULATION ECOLOGY: The population ecology of C. a. amoenus has not been studied in Virginia. The small size and fossorial habits of this snake probably account for its limited home range size and movements. In Kentucky, Barbour et. al. found that som home ranges averaged 253 sq. meters. Worm snakes aggregate at favorable sites. In Lancaster Co., Zweifel found an aggregation of 5 snakes in the same depression of a single log and 2 snakes in another.

BEHAVIOR: 2 to 8 eggs are laid in June or July which hatch in late summer *1006*. They emerge in warm days in March from hibernation. On cool nights or days they go back into the ground, even up to May *1008*. This species goes deep underground in dry weather *882*. When held in the hand, it attempts to push its way between the fingers with both its tail and head *882*. They seem to be limited to wooded areas *1008,2780*, or to open fields bordered by woods, and are abundant in less cultivated areas *1008*. They require moist soil *1014,1101* and tend to remain under cover using logs, stumps, rocks, leaf mold, sand soil, loose soil *1008,1013,1101,2780*. The home range is about 1/4 acre *1008*.

ORIGIN: This species is native *2075,1006*.

References for Life History

  • 882 - Conant, R., 1958, A field guide to reptiles and amphibians of the United States and Canada east of the 100th Meridian, 366 pgs., Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA
  • 1006 - Linzey, D.W., M.J. Clifford, 1981, Snakes of Virginia, Univ. of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, VA
  • 1008 - Barbour, R.W., 1971, Amphibians and reptiles of Kentucky, 334 pgs., Univ. of Kentucky Press, Lexington, KY
  • 1013 - Jackson, J.J., 1983, Snakes of the Northeastern United States, 111 pgs., Ext. Serv., Univ. of GA, Athens, GA
  • 1014 - Martof, B.S., Palmer, W.M., Bailey, J.R., Harrison, III J.R., 1980, Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia, 264 pgs., UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 1101 - Mitchell, J. C., 1974, Snakes of Virginia, Virginia Wildl., Vol. 35, Num. 2, pg. 16-19
  • 2075 - Wright, A.H., Wright, A.A., 1957, Handbook of snakes of the United States and Canada, Vol. 1, 564 pgs., Comstock Publ., Ithaca, N.Y
  • 2780 - Barbour, R.W., 1960, Transactions, Kent. Acad. Sci., Vol. 21, Num. 1-2, pg. 10-16
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC

Photos:

*Click on a thumbnail for a larger version.


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