Prince William County Wildlife - Reptiles

Out on the trail, you never know what you're going to encounter. It's important to know how to identify dangerous and non-threatening creatures so you can react and observe accordingly. Please see our list below for identifying features on commonly seen reptiles in the PWC region.

 

 


Name

Description
Eastern Snapping Turtle 

This turtle has a flattened carapace (upper shell) with knobby keels that smooth out with age. It can grow very large, reaching up to19 inches in length and weighing from 10 to 35 pounds.

It has a large head, a small plastron (lower shell), and a long tail which is saw-toothed along the upper side. The carapace is brown; the plastron and bridge are cream to light brown with varying amounts of black on the surface. The skin of the head, neck, and limbs is dark brown or black, and the large head has a blunt, protruding snout. The carapace is often covered with algae. Juveniles are similar to adults in morphology and color. The breeding season is from late April until November.

Eastern Box Turtle
This is a medium-sized terrestrial turtle that reaches a maximum length of about 8 inches. The shell is highly domed, elongate, and smooth on the rear edge. The rear edge may be flared in some adults. The color is brown, or sometimes black, with orange to yellow spots, blotches or lines, the pattern of which varies greatly. The underside (plastron) may be brown or black and may have an irregular pattern of cream or yellow. The skin of the head, neck, and legs is brown with orange to yellow spots, streaks, or blotches. The adult may have a sharply defined beak on the upper jaw.
Eastern 
Chicken Turtle

A medium-sized turtle with a carapace (top of shell) that has a reticulated (netlike) yellow pattern on a dark brown to black background. In adults, the carapacial pattern can be quite faded. The patternless plastron (bottom of shell) is yellow with (or without) black streaks on the bridge area. Black spots occur on the plastral side of the marginal scutes. The wide, flattened head with a notably long neck has two or three yellow stripes. The front feet and legs have a broad yellow stripe on black skin, while the feet have multiple thin yellow stripes. Feet are weakly webbed. Females are larger than males and have a highly domed carapace. The pattern is much bolder in hatchlings and juveniles.

  Eastern
Fence
Lizard

This is a medium-sized, rough-scaled lizard that reaches total lengths of 4-7 1/4 in. (10-18.4 cm). The scales are not glossy, are heavily keeled and pointed, and overlap. Colors on the dorsum of the head, body, and tail are brown to gray in a pattern of undulating crossbands. The sides are light gray, brown, or black, and the chin, throat, and belly are white or cream.

Males are usually brown and have a blue to green-blue patch on the side of the belly and a broad blue patch at the base of the throat. Females are mostly gray with a very defined pattern on the back, and have smaller light blue spots on the side of the belly and throat. Mating starts in mid-April and 6-10 eggs are laid in rotten logs or sawdust piles in late spring. Eggs hatch in mid-summer. There may be second clutch. This lizard often runs along fences, rotting logs, stumps, and up trees. It hibernates until March.

Eastern Slender Glass Lizard

This lizard looks like a snake, as it has no legs. From the head to the base of the tail, it measures as long as 13 in. (330 mm.) and including the tail, up to 41.9 in. (1,065 mm.). This lizard has a groove on each side of the body, and it is smooth and glossy, with scales that overlap. It has a tan stripe, with a narrow black stripe in the center, that runs from head to tail, and stripes that run down the sides above and below the groove. The fragile tail is often broken and the regenerated part is a solid light brown. There are 4 to 19 eggs per clutch.

Females are oviparous and coil around the eggs until they hatch. The only other legless lizard is the eastern glass lizard, Ophisaurus ventralis, which does not have the black stripes below the lateral groove, but has several white lines outlined in black behind the eye. The eastern slender glass lizard is seldom seen, as it is very secretive and tends to hide in burrows or under dry grass.



 
Brown Watersnake

This is a large, heavy-bodied snake that reaches lengths of 36-48 in. (76-152 cm). The adult has large, square, dark brown blotches on a lighter brown background. One row of squares runs down the back with an alternating row on each side. The belly is yellowish-brown with with dark blotches. The patterns darken and become less distinct with age. The juvenile is similar to the adult but lighter. Mating occurs in the spring and 12-50 live young are born from late August to mid-September.

The brown watersnake is generally diurnal, but may be nocturnal in midsummer. It frequently basks on logs and overhanging vegetation during midday in spring and fall and in the morning during summer.

 

Common Rainbow Snake 

This is a shiny iridescent snake with three red stripes on a bluish-black background. A broad reddish stripe bordered with black spots runs down the center of the belly and is flanked by yellow-orange coloration. The body is relatively stout and the head is barely distinct from the neck. The tail is short and ends in a spinelike tip. The juvenile is similar to the adult. This snake grows to a length of 36-44 inches with a maximum of 60 inches.

This species lays up to 52 leathery, white eggs in an underground cavity in sandy soil, usually during July. Females remain with their eggs in the nest, presumably to protect them against predation. The young hatch in the fall and overwinter on land, probably in a burrow near the nest, and move overland to an aquatic area in early spring. These snakes are both aquatic and burrowers. They are excellent swimmers but usually prowl along stream or swamp bottoms. At times they burrow into muck or mud. They have been found in dry sand at depths of up to 10 feet. The young have been found beneath boards logs and other debris. They may use their sharp-tipped tail to probe the soil.

   Eastern Black Kingsnake This subspecies is mostly black on the back, lacking the chainlike pattern of white to yellow that is found in the subspecies of eastern kingsnake. Young individuals of this subspecies may display a faint pattern on the back. The belly may have yellowish spots or irregular patches and is darker posteriorly. It is a large, stout snake that grows to lengths of 36-45 in. (90-114 cm). The only other black snakes in Virginia are the northern black racer, Coluber constrictor, and the black rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta. Neither of these species has white or yellow crossbars or spotting on the head and belly.

Mating takes place in the spring, 10-24 eggs are laid in June/July, and the eggs hatch in August/September. Kingsnakes are noted for vibrating their tails when disturbed and for discharging musk from glands at the base of the tail when picked up. These snakes are immune to poisonous snake venom and will eat venomous snakes when given a chance. They are preyed upon by raccoons, opossums, and skunks.
 

Northern
Copperhead 

This is a heavy-bodied, medium-sized venomous snake that grows to a length of 24-36 in. (61-90 cm). The head is triangular and coppery-red with an hourglass pattern. There are dark, rounded spots on the sides of the belly and the scales are weakly keeled. The upper side of the body and tail are pinkish tan to dark brown, with hourglass-shaped crossbands colored chestnut to dark brown; most dorsal scales are sprinkled with black flecks. Juveniles have the same color patterns as the adults, except that the tip of the tail is a sulfur yellow and juveniles lack the black flecking of the adults. There are regional differences in body color and pattern throughout Virginia. This species mates in April or May and 1-17 young are born from mid-August to early October.

The copperhead will often hibernate in the company of other snakes. It is a sluggish snake that relies on camouflage to escape detection. It may vibrate the tail rapidly when alarmed.

Warning: Venomous

   Northern Rough Green Snake This species is plain light green above and white, cream or yellow underneath, often with a greenish cast. The body is very slender and the head is wider than the neck. The adults average 22-32 in. (56-81 cm) in length. Juveniles are patterned and colored as adults, except that juveniles are a paler green color. The rough greensnake may be confused only with the smooth greensnake (Opheodrys vernalis). The latter is similar in color but is smaller and has smooth scales. The females lay up to a dozen eggs in rotting logs or stumps during June or July. The eggs hatch in late summer. This snake is distinctly arboreal in nature and does most of its activity in trees, low bushes, or tall grass. It is docile and will not bite. It seeks escape from predators by climbing into dense vegetation where it is difficult to see.
  Smooth Green Snake  This is a slender snake that is bright green above and greenish-white, cream, or light yellow below. Adults measure 11 7/8-20 in. (30.3-51 cm). Juveniles are similar to the adults, except that they are a paler color. This snake may be confused with the rough greensnake (Opheodrys aestivus), which is larger and has keeled dorsal scales. Mating occurs in spring and summer, and 3-12 eggs are laid in summer under rocks in loose, loamy soil. The young often hatch less than a month later.

This species is usually found at grass level rather than in shrubbery although they are more arboreal in wet areas. It will hibernate in large groups in the north. Ant mounds seem to be favorite sites. Communal nesting sites have also been found. Little is none about the biology of this species in Virginia.
   Red Corn Snake Also known as the "red rat snake", this is a stout, medium-sized snake that grows to lengths of 30-48 in. (76-122 cm). It is red to orange in color, although there is individual variation. Upland specimens tend to be browner. Dorsal spots and blotches are outlined with black and the first blotch on the neck is divided into 2 branches that extend forward and meet in a spearpoint between the eyes. The belly is whitish, strongly checkered or cross-banded with black. The underside of the tail is striped and the scales are weakly keeled. Juveniles are patterned as adults but often have chocolate brown to dark chocolate blotches on a gray to reddish orange body.

This species may be confused with Lampropeltis calligaster and L. triangulum, especially the mountain form of the latter. Both of these species have a short eye-jaw stripe that does not extend beyond the mouth and neither have the blotch on the head. Cornsnakes are often mistaken for copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix), but the latter has hourglass-shaped crossbands and lacks the strong checkerboard pattern on the venter. There are 3-27 eggs/clutch laid in July and August.