Other common names
Florida Scarletsnake, Northern Scarletsnake, Scarlet Snake
Most adult scarletsnakes are about 14-20 inches (36-51 cm) in total length. These thin-bodied snakes have a whitish-gray dorsal ground color with long red blotches bordered by black down the entire body. Both the red and whitish-gray blotches are separated by black. As a result, the red and whitish-gray blotches do not touch one another. The small, pointed head is barely distinct from the neck and is red with a distinct light-colored band just behind the eyes. The coloration of juveniles is the same as described for adults.
Range in Florida
Scarletsnakes are found throughout Florida and in every county except the Florida Keys.
Assessment of risk to people and pets
Non-venomous. Scarletsnakes are not dangerous to people or pets.
Comparison with other species
Harlequin coralsnake (Micrurus fulvius) Harlequin coralsnakes have alternating red and black rings separated by narrower yellow rings and a round, black snout.
Most adult scarletsnakes are about 14-20 inches (36-51 cm) in total length, with a record length recorded of 35.5 inches (82.8 cm). These thin-bodied snakes have a whitish-gray dorsal ground color with long red blotches bordered by black down the entire body. Both the red and whitish-gray blotches are separated by black. As a result, the red and whitish-gray blotches do not touch. The belly pattern is uniformly whitish gray. The scales of the body are smooth and shiny, and there are 19 scale rows at midbody. The small, pointed head is barely distinct from the neck and is red with a distinct light-colored band just behind the eyes. The pupil is round. The coloration of juveniles is the same as described for adults.
Scarletsnakes are commonly found in pine flatwoods, dry prairies, hardwood hammocks, and sandhills. These secretive snakes are primarily burrowers and are usually found under rocks, logs, and other debris. Although they can be locally abundant, they are not commonly seen due to their secretive nature. This species is occasionally found in suburban neighborhoods where development encroaches into favorable habitats.
When captured, scarletsnakes rarely if ever bite in defense. If grabbed or pinned, they will typically hide their head beneath coils of the body, and some individuals raise their tails in apparent attempt to divert any potential attack away from the head. They may also release a foul-smelling musk from a pair of glands in the base of the tail.
Scarletsnakes feed primarily on reptile eggs. However, they have also been documented eating small lizards, snakes, frogs, salamanders, young of small mammals, and invertebrates. Although some small prey may be swallowed immediately, vertebrate prey are typically killed first by constriction.
In Florida, females typically lay around 12-13 white, elongate eggs, which typically hatch in late fall. The eggs are often laid in underground burrows or under rocks and other debris. Females may lay more than one clutch of eggs per year.
- Florida scarletsnake (Cemophora coccinea coccinea) Florida scarletsnakes are found in Florida from about Marion County south and have 7 upper lip scales.
- Northern scarletsnake (Cemophora coccinea copei) Northern scarletsnakes are found in north Florida west through the Panhandle and typically have 6 upper lip scales.
Scarletsnakes may be active all year long in southern Florida. These snakes are nocturnal and are sometimes seen crossing roads after dark.
Scarletsnakes in Florida have color patterns that closely resemble the color pattern of harlequin coralsnales (see section on comparison with other species above). However, the assumption that this similarity is due to mimicry has not been investigated using field studies.
“Red touches yellow, kill a fellow; red touches black, venom lack.” This and similar rhymes are commonly used to differentiate the banding sequence of scarletsnakes from venomous coralsnakes in Florida. Although these rhymes hold true most of the time in Florida, remember that unusual color variations sometimes break the rules. Therefore, if you are not 100% positive of the identification of a snake, it is best to leave the snake alone.
Count data coming soon.
If you have a new or interesting observation for this species, please email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum.
Ernst, C.H. and E.M. Ernst. 2003. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. 668 pp.
Krysko, K.L., K.M. Enge, and P.E. Moler. 2019. Amphibians and Reptiles of Florida. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida. 706 pp.
Powell, R., R. Conant, and J.T. Collins. 2016. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston and New York. xiv + 494 pp.
Share your observations
You can help scientists better understand the biology and distribution of this species by sharing your observations. Send photos or videos of interesting observations, along with associated information, by emailing the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum for documentation in the Museum’s Herpetology Master Database. You can also post your observations on iNaturalist.
Additional helpful information
Do you have snakes around your house? Learn how to safely co-exist with snakes.
Still have questions about snakes or identifications? Feel free to email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum with your questions or feedback on this profile.
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