North Carolina has its fair share of snakes of all colors, types, and dimensions, but a lot of them are very similar to one another. Black snakes, especially, are a category of their own, which we will discuss today because there are many species and variations to consider.
If you’re traveling to North Carolina and want to learn more about the local ecosystem, you’ve come to the right place. Today, we will look into the 9 most popular black snakes in North Carolina and surrounding environments, so let’s get right in!
We’re starting the list with the blackest of them all. The black racer is common throughout Central and North America, where it inhabits a variety of semi-aquatic habitats. These include grasslands, forests, wetlands, and even open fields with plenty of vegetation and trees. The snake’s ecosystem variety makes sense, too, given the reptiles’ immense adaptability. This one can swim, move fast on land, and climb like a monkey when chasing prey or trying to evade predators.
The black racer can reach 6.5-7 feet in length, although most specimens won’t get past 5. The snake’s body is slim but powerful, with a narrow head and large, black eyes. Almost all individuals are completely black, with slightly lighter shades on the underbelly.
The snake’s primary diet consists of rodents, birds, other small mammals, and amphibians, but they won’t refuse anything else they can catch and consume with ease. These reptiles rely on speed and agility to catch their prey relatively easily and use their jaw strength to immobilize and kill their meals.
While black racers are generally reclusive and solitary, they aren’t exactly easy to intimidate. They prefer to flee when sensing danger, but they will most definitely hold their ground when surprised. Some of the preferred defensive tactics include fleeing, climbing trees, playing dead (thanatosis), or inflating their bodies and hissing to appear more intimidating.
They are not venomous, though, so you have nothing to fear.
Black Rat Snake
Rat snakes are some of the most popular American snakes for their size, appearance, and overall behavior and lifestyle. They are very adaptable and resilient and usually inhabit a wide range of habitats, including forests, fields, swamps, and, most importantly, agricultural areas. As the name suggests, this species has a sweet tooth for rodents like mice and rats, which brings them close to human settlements.
Fortunately, rat snakes are not aggressive towards humans and are non-venomous, so they cannot cause any meaningful harm. The rat snake is fairly recognizable, with a long and thick body covered by shiny scales. The reptile can reach 6 feet as a full-grown adult and has a white underbelly with black spots or broken lines.
These snakes are great climbers, but they prefer to hunt on the ground because that’s where their primary food is. The black rat snake specializes in rat hunting, and it is quite good at it.
Overall, rat snakes are of great value to their ecosystem by keeping the rat population in check. They are especially prized by snake connoisseurs near farmlands and suburban areas, where the snake prefers to hunt. Fortunately, this reptile is generally docile and won’t attack humans. The rat snake prefers to flee and hide when sensing danger, but you should never count them out. Some may prefer to hold their ground, hiss, and posture up menacingly, hoping to intimidate you.
The mud snake may not be as popular as other species on today’s list, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting. The name can be misleading because the mud snake looks nothing like what it sounds. This is a gorgeous specimen that often comes in 2 colors, like black and red, black and yellow, or dark blue and orange. There are plenty of color variations to consider.
The snake is typically black with a colored underbelly and a banded pattern. The typical mud snake can reach 4.5 feet, so it’s decently large for a reptile that prefers to dwell in swamps, marshes, and muddy ecosystems. These reptiles prefer to hunt near a water source, which is why most of their food consists of aquatic or semi-aquatic animals like crayfish, frogs, fish, and other reptiles.
This is also a non-venomous species, so you have nothing to fear, really. Mud snakes are also docile and reclusive and prefer to skip any introductions and plunge into the water whenever danger is nearby. They also don’t make for great pets due to their preference for a solitary lifestyle and the need for unique living conditions.
The coachwhip is probably the most recognizable on today’s list. This species is widespread throughout the southern US and some areas of New Mexico and can reach 6-7 feet in length, depending on the specimen. The reptile mostly inhabits grasslands, deserts, and scrublands, but it doesn’t have a trademark ecosystem; in essence, the coachwhip stays close to its food, wherever that may be.
The snake is easily identifiable thanks to its light-brown body with a black head and neck. The tail is extremely long and thing, similar to a whip, which is where the snake’s name comes from. Most specimens have a head of a different color than the body, but some have one color to account for. The head is narrow with a pointy snout and large black eyes.
This reptile feeds on small mammals and other reptiles but prefers rodents like mice and rats above all else. This feeding preference has allowed the coachwhip to adapt to its prey’s profile. Because of this, coachwhips rely on their agility and strength to strike the rodents fast and with full force. This brings a swift death, allowing the coachwhip to secure its prey with minimal effort. Furthermore, coachwhips have also evolved to hunt and consume venomous species, making them that much more valuable in their respective ecosystem.
Coachwhips are somewhat aggressive and difficult to intimidate, as they will often stand their ground when confronted or surprised. The snake has learned to mimic the rattlesnake’s behavior, which is why they tend to vibrate its tails and hiss in a manner specific to that of the rattlesnake.
Carolina Swamp Snake
We’re now moving on to a smaller but one of the cutest snake species in the region. The Carolina swamp snake mostly inhabits Carolina’s swamps and wetlands, as you may have guessed. You can also find them in similar ecosystems like marshes, bogs, and, generally, habitats with muddy and vegetation-rich waters.
The reptile spends much of its time looking for prey in the murky water and the surrounding region, as it can hunt both in the water and on land. The snake’s favorite meals are amphibians, small reptiles, fish, and even insects, which makes sense due to the snake’s small size. The typical Carolina snake can only get to 22 inches at most.
You can easily recognize the species by its black body and blood-red underbelly, although some individuals may be completely black. The head is typically small but with large black eyes, almost too large for the skull.
As you can probably tell, the Carolina swamp snake isn’t aggressive toward humans. They prefer to stay within their comfort zone, in the water, and only come out to hunt on land, mate, or bask in the sunlight. They are also docile and friendly, which could recommend them as great snake pets if they weren’t so pretentious with almost-impossible housing requirements.
Glossy Crayfish Snake
Despite its exciting name, the glossy crayfish snake is relatively bland in appearance. Not boring, though, because it does have some unique characteristics that are worth discussing. This species is relatively common throughout the southeast US and can reach 25 inches in size.
The reptile qualifies as a semi-aquatic animal, as it prefers to inhabit marshes, swamps, and everything else with water in it. You can recognize the snake by its thick body, shiny scales, and a small head with massively oversized black eyes. Most individuals are brown with yellow underbellies, no markings visible anywhere.
The snake’s name is a pretty good indicator of its feeding preferences. The crayfish snake feeds almost exclusively on crayfish, which makes it quite difficult to keep as a pet. It can also consume other aquatic animals if necessary, although it rarely is; this snake always follows crayfish populations to make sure it can feast on its favorite prey.
The reptile is docile and friendly and prefers to avoid human contact, which is fairly easy to achieve thanks to its habitat’s layout and lifestyle. Crayfish snakes are nocturnal, so the likelihood of human contact is minimal.
Black Phase Pine Snake
You may know this one as the black pine snake, which is a non-venomous reptile that inhabits the pine forests of the southern US. This reptile has a very specific living range, as it prefers to stick to the local pine forests. Although, you can find it in other forested areas, depending on the species.
You can easily identify the black phase snake by its extremely thick and powerful body, capable of reaching up to 8 feet in length. The snake’s head is very short and bulky, with a round snout and powerful jaws. You can tell that this is a powerful snake by its body composition, which reminds of a constrictor.
Black phase snakes consume rodents as their main meals but can eat whatever Mother Nature provides them with. Their body composition is indicative of their preferred hunting method, which is the sit-and-wait strategy. These snakes often bury themselves in the leaf litter or under logs to stalk their prey and hit as the oblivious animal comes close.
The snake is typically non-aggressive towards humans and prefers to avoid contact if possible. They will hide for most of the day and only come out to hunt or bask in the sunlight. They also make for decent pets, but they’re by no means easy to care for. The most glaring challenge is that of crafting the ideal layout for them, as these reptiles are rather pretentious about their housing conditions.
The ringneck snake is quite popular in North Carolina’s local ecosystems thanks to its delightful appearance and flashy coloring. These snakes can only reach 15 inches in maximum size and usually come in 2 colors. The dorsal area is typically black, brown, silver, or even blue, while the underbelly is red, yellow, or orange. All specimens also possess a noticeable color ring around their necks as their trademark feature.
This small reptile inhabits the local grasslands, forests, and even suburban areas, where they hunt for insects, earthworms, and amphibians for the most part. They can only consume small prey because they’re not venomous, so they lack the means to subdue larger animals.
This being said, this is an intelligent and resourceful little reptile, capable of several defensive mechanisms. These include releasing a foul odor to deter predators, playing dead, and even curling up into a ball and exposing its brightly-colored underbelly to resemble a venomous species. Fortunately, these are non-venomous snakes that pose no danger to humans.
The red-bellied snake is often mistaken for the ringneck snake due to the glaring similarities between them. This non-venomous species is mostly found throughout the northern US, where it thrives in various habitats like forests and grasslands. The snake can only grow up to 10-12 inches and comes with a black or dark body (brown or grey) and a red or orange underbelly, hence the name. Some individuals are different shades of orange, depending on the subspecies.
This species also prefers to eat insects, worms, small amphibians, and reptiles and showcases defensive behaviors similar to those of the ringneck snake. They are docile and reclusive and prefer to flee than confront the danger. However, if they’re not able to do so, they may choose to intimidate their attackers instead.
The snake’s small size and distinctive appearance don’t prevent it from flattening its head and vibrating its tail, looking to resemble a copperhead. This may not fool you, but it often fools many of the snake’s predators, increasing the little one’s chances of survival.
Carolina is definitely rich in snakes and many other reptiles that occupy numerous ecosystems. It’s important to learn which is which to prevent cases of misidentification, which can have deadly outcomes. Fortunately, most black snakes that you can find in Carolina and the surrounding regions are non-venomous. This means that you’re more of a threat to the snakes’ lives than they are to yours.