Smooth Earthsnake

Virginia valeriae

Last updated: October 17, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

Valeria Biddle Blaney (1828-1900) collected the first specimen in Maryland.

Smooth Earthsnake Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Colubridae
Genus
Virginia
Scientific Name
Virginia valeriae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Smooth Earthsnake Conservation Status

Smooth Earthsnake Locations

Smooth Earthsnake Locations

Smooth Earthsnake Facts

Prey
Earthworms and soft-bodied arthropods including larvae.
Main Prey
Earthworms
Name Of Young
Neonate, snakelet
Group Behavior
  • Solitary except during mating season
Fun Fact
Valeria Biddle Blaney (1828-1900) collected the first specimen in Maryland.
Most Distinctive Feature
Small black ring around the eye and white chin.
Other Name(s)
Eastern earth snake, mountain earth snake, western earth snake (depends on location).
Litter Size
3-12
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal/Crepuscular
Favorite Food
Earthworms
Location
Eastern and southeastern United States

Smooth Earthsnake Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Fawn
Skin Type
Scales
Length
7-9.8 inches
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Smooth earth snakes are tiny predators that lurk in gardens, under rocks and debris, and in the leaf litter of forests.

They’re reclusive and aren’t seen during the day, but at night when their prey is on the move. Smooth earth snakes are docile little snakes that help keep the insect population in check. They’re prevalent across the southeastern United States and can tolerate at least some habitat changes.

Incredible Smooth Earth Snake Facts

  • These small, fossorial snakes are part of the insect-control crew and keep the population of snails, slugs, and earthworms from exploding.
  • They give birth in the summer to 3-12 babies that are only about 3-4 inches long.
  • Smooth earth snakes are often mistaken for other small snakes like ring-necked snakes and De Kay’s snakes.

Smooth Earth Snake Scientific Name and Classification

This nonvenomous snake is a member of the Colubridae family in the Natricidae subfamily. The subfamily includes many 37 genera of very common snakes. European grass snakes and garter snakes. Their scientific name is Virginia valeriae, its specific name of valeriae came from Valeria Biddle Blaney (1828-1900), who collected the first specimen.

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Types of Smooth Earth Snakes

  • Western earth snake (Virginia valeriae elegans) – occurs in southern Indiana through Tennessee and western Kentucky to the Gulf of Mexico, in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Central Texas.
  • Mountain earth snake (Virginia valeriae pulchra) – inhabits the mountains of West Virginia, western Maryland, and western Pennsylvania.
  • Eastern earth snake (Virginia valeriae valeriae) – The furthest east of the smooth earth snakes, it occurs from New Jersey to Georgia, then west through Tennessee, southern Ohio, and northern Alabama.

Currently, three subspecies, including the nominate subspecies, are valid among herpetologists. That said, there’s also discussion regarding moving one or more into full species status, and some already consider the mountain earth snake (Virginia valeriae pulchra) its own species and not a subspecies.

Smooth Earth Snake Appearance

Smooth Earthsnake
These small, fossorial snakes are part of the insect-control crew and keep the population of snails, slugs, and earthworms from exploding.

Mike Wilhelm/Shutterstock.com

Smooth earth snakes are small and only measure about 7-9.8 inches in length. Their coloration is varying shades of brown to light fawn and lighter colored belly.

However, the description may not be 100 percent accurate in the case of adults. It seems that the original description was made using a preserved specimen. Sometimes colors are washed out in the preservation liquid, giving a somewhat distorted idea of the organism’s living colors.

According to an article by Charles W. Myers in Herpetologica, published in January 1963, there may be an ontogenic color shift. He observed a female in Missouri that had given birth to several babies. The adult female had a yellow-green belly color, whereas the babies’ bellies were grayish-white. He also noticed that the newborn snakes were darker brown on their backs than were adults; however, he noted that this could become less obvious after their first shedding cycle.

Although some populations may have slightly keeled scales, these snakes, true to their name, have relatively smooth, glossy scales. A distinguishing feature many have is a small black ring around their dark eyes and white under the chin. Along the dorsal side are darker-colored spots; some may also have a faint stripe that runs the length of their body.

Smooth Earth Snake Behavior

For such a common snake, smooth earth snakes are surprisingly difficult to observe. They’re extremely reclusive and, at first glance, can be mistaken for worms themselves. They hide under rocks and logs, in loose soil and compost, and under debris in and around gardens.

This docile snake is very unobtrusive. They are nocturnal and take refuge under logs and rocks during the day, coming out at night to hunt. As small, nonvenomous snakes, they have few defenses against predators themselves and typically choose flight over fight. The most they can do to defend themselves is to musk a perceived threat.

If you find one and need to relocate it, be gentle because it’s a little snake. Surprisingly, snakes are far more delicate than you would think. They’re all spine and ribs, and this species is completely harmless to people and pets – unless your pet happens to be a slug, earthworm, or snail.

Smooth Earth Snake Habitat

Smooth earth snakes are prevalent, if secretive, throughout their range in the United States. They’re found from Texas, north to Iowa, east to New Jersey, and south to Florida.

These snakes are fossorial and spend much of their time underground, either sheltering from the sun or hunting. They, like their prey, prefer moist, dark locations with loose soil and lots of leaf litter or debris under which to hide. Smooth earth snakes are often found under logs, rocks, around compost piles, and other similar places.

Smooth Earth Snake Diet

This species only eats soft-bodied invertebrates. Earthworms, larvae, snails, and slugs make up the smooth earth snake’s diet. They help keep insect populations in check by feasting on these slow-moving creatures.

Smooth Earth Snake Predators, Threats, Conservation, and Population

Their tolerance for habitat changes and typical prey sources gives them a pretty good chance for survival as a species. On an individual basis, these snakes are prey for many animals. Smooth earth snakes are very small and don’t move very fast, so they’re easy prey for animals that can get to their daytime hiding spots or catch them out at night when they’re hunting.

The IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species lists them as a species of least concern. They’re not endangered and have no significant threats. Judging from the number of sightings in their typical range, smooth earth snakes probably have a rather large population of more than 100,000 adult individuals.

Smooth Earth Snake Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

These snakes most likely become sexually mature when they have enough physical mass instead of by age. Smooth earth snakes mate sometime in the spring, then the females give birth to 3-12 babies in mid to late summer. Similar to the rough earth snake, they’re very reclusive, and there’s actually even less research on smooth earth snakes. Their lifespan in the wild is a bit of a mystery, but if theirs is similar to others, it’s probably a few years, possibly as many as seven.

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About the Author

Gail is a musician, author, and artist with more ideas than time. She loves learning about all things in the natural world. Her upcoming book, Pebble Worms and Fast Walkers is filled with all the random bits that kids love! She lives in North Texas with her husband, twin sons, dogs, cat, two red-eared sliders, and two ball pythons.

Smooth Earthsnake FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where do smooth earthsnakes live?

They’re pretty common across the eastern half of the United States.

How do smooth earthsnakes hunt?

They seek out their prey, rooting under loose soil, debris, and whatever else after food.

What do smooth earth snakes eat?

Any small, soft-bodied insect, but they prefer earthworms, slugs, and snails.

Do smooth earth snakes bite?

They don’t usually try to bite, but even if they did, these snakes are so small that they couldn’t hurt you – and there’s no venom to be concerned with either.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Hammerson, G.A. 2007. Virginia valeriae. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2007: e.T64003A12733555. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2007.RLTS.T64003A12733555.en. Accessed on 16 September 2022., Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/64003/12733555
  2. Anthony, Travis 2019. Herpetological Survey of Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest and Holliday Lake State Park, 30 September, 2018. Catesbeiana 39 (1): 3-9 , Available here: https://virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/catesbeiana-pdf/cat39n1/cat39n1.pdf
  3. Charles W. Myers Herpetologica Vol. 18, No. 4 (Jan. 22, 1963), pp. 273-274 (2 pages) Published By: Herpetologists' League, Available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3890200

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