8 Black Snakes In Virginia: Most Are Harmless

Close up of a southern black racer
© Psychotic Nature/Shutterstock.com

Written by Kristen Holder

Updated: October 6, 2023

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Keep in mind that most snakes in Virginia, even if they’re venomous, are not aggressive. The chances that you’ll be able to spot the 8 black snakes in Virginia on our list in the wild are slim. A snake’s purpose is to remain unseen while it hunts or relaxes.

Kingsnakes do not produce venom and use constriction to subdue their prey.

If you’re dealing with a snake in your yard that’s taken up residence in an unwanted place, try to hire a professional to relocate the animal. Killing removes a vital apex predator from the immediate habitat. You call this habitat your property.

In fact, it’s illegal in Virginia to kill a snake unless it’s a threat to livestock or a person. You can be fined up to $1,000 or receive 6 months of jail time if you’re caught killing snakes.

Yet, we understand that seeing a black snake can cause concern, especially if it’s in your yard. In this guide, we’ll detail 8 black snakes you could encounter in Virginia. For each, we’ll provide a picture and detail whether or not they present immediate danger or are venomous. Let’s dive in!

8 Black Snakes In Virginia

A black snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) crawling over stepping stones in a garden

Adult black snakes are black on top with white or checkered bellies.

©ButtermilkgirlVirginia/Shutterstock.com

These are 8 of the black snakes in Virginia:

  1. Black Rat Snake
  2. Northern Cottonmouth
  3. Eastern Black Kingsnake
  4. Rainbow Snake
  5. Northern Black Racer
  6. Eastern Garter Snake
  7. Timber Rattlesnake
  8. Plain-Bellied Water Snake

1. Black Rat Snake: The Longest Snake In Virginia

A black rat snake, also called a chicken snake, swallows a chicken egg in the nest in North Caroliana. The snake has a wedge-shaped head that's larger than its body.

The black rat snake is the longest snake in Virginia.

©samray/Shutterstock.com

The black rat snake is also known as the eastern rat snake. It grows up to 6 feet long and is the only snake in Virginia that reaches the 6-foot mark.

Their body is black while their ventral side is checkered black and white. Their chin is all white. Almost all the black rat snakes in Virginia will have a uniform appearance without much variation between individuals.

There is one exception to the rule in the southeastern corner of the state. There, the black rat snake may have 4 long black stripes on its back against a grey body.

They like to hang out on the ground and in trees. They’re adaptable to a variety of habitats.

Rat snakes are found in forested wetlands, forested urban areas, and agricultural areas. They like hunt rats in old buildings.

Black rat snakes also enjoy nestling birds and eggs. They will eat an adult if given the chance as well. They don’t have a favorite bird species, though they go for what’s small enough for them to handle.

2. Northern Cottonmouth: A Venomous Snake In Virginia

Virginia only hosts cottonmouths in the south of the state.

©Linda Burek/Shutterstock.com

Cottonmouths in Virginia are only in the streams and swamps of the far south of the state. They’re called cottonmouths because of the characteristic white interior of their mouths which they show when threatened.

Some cottonmouths have a lighter appearance with blotches, but some are so dark they look almost completely black.

Cottonmouth Snake

A cottonmouth showing the light interior color of its mouth that’s its namesake.

©Marcum Havens/Shutterstock.com

When a cottonmouth is swimming, most of its body is out of the water. It’s also called a water moccasin because of its mostly aquatic lifestyle.

They like to hang out near rivers, streams, ponds, prairies, dunes, forests, swamps, and marshes. They’re highly venomous pit vipers so if you think there’s a cottonmouth in your midst, take extreme caution and vacate the situation.

3. Eastern Black Kingsnake In Virginia

Snakes in Mississippi - Eastern Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis nigra)

Eastern black kingsnakes can tolerate the venom of venomous snakes.

©Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

This snake is mostly black, but it does have white rings at various points on its body. Kingsnakes eat venomous snakes like rattlesnakes and copperheads. It is called a chain snake by some because the circle patterns remind some of a chain-link fence.

They’re constrictors that like to eat rodents, birds, and lizards. They’ll also make a meal of turtle and bird eggs. They can tolerate the venom of other venomous snakes in their territory.

They hang out on land, and they vibrate their tail in ground detritus when threatened to mimic a rattlesnake. This is in the hopes that the threat will get scared and retreat.

4. Rainbow Snake In Virginia

Rainbow Snake

Rainbow Snakes usually have a black body with bright colors on it.

©Alan Garrett / Creative Commons – Original / License

Found in the coastal plain, this snake is iridescent with stripes running down the length of its body. Having a black body is most common though some individuals are lighter. Rainbow snakes are relatively nonaggressive and will freeze and release a musk as their first line of defense.

They love the water and spend their time in swamps, mud beds, creeks, and marshes. If you aren’t near water, you’re not looking at a rainbow snake. They’re not easily spotted since they’re nocturnal.

They like to dine on earthworms and tadpoles.

5. Northern Black Racer In Virginia

northern black racer

Northern Black Racers like to hang out in Virginia’s oil fields.

©Breck P. Kent/Shutterstock.com

This is a thin and long snake with a shiny sheen. While they’re nonvenomous, they are aggressive so no attempt should be made to handle them in the wild. They are fast, which is why they’re called racers.

In Virginia, they like to hang out in oil fields, grasslands, and sandpits.

6. Eastern Garter Snake: The State Snake Of Virginia

Eastern Garter Snake on Log

The state snake of Virginia is the eastern garter snake.

©Erik Agar/Shutterstock.com

While not entirely black as they have yellow stripes down the length of their bodies, garter snakes are predominantly black. They are also the state snake of Virginia. They’re ubiquitous and live almost anywhere.

At a little over 2 feet in length, this snake is totally harmless. They’re easy to handle, and even if they do bite, it barely hurts and does no damage.

They’re terrestrial and make a meal out of spiders, small fish, toads, and earthworms.

7. Timber Rattlesnake: A Venomous Snake In Virginia

Rattlesnakes While HIking - Timber Rattlesnake

Timber rattlesnakes are highly venomous snakes in Virginia.

©Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com

While most timber rattlesnakes exhibit patterning, some individuals are all black. Like all rattlesnakes, the timber rattler has a rattle on the end of its tail.

Timber rattlesnakes like forests, rocky areas, and flatlands. They prefer to chow down on small mammals which they lie in wait for so they can ambush.

They’re highly venomous, and when hunting, they strike their prey and let their venom take effect before dining. If struck by a timber rattlesnake it’s extremely important to seek medical attention as their venom can pose serious harm.

8. Plain-Bellied Water Snake In Virginia

Plain-Bellied Water Snake - Yellow Belly Water Snake
The plain-bellied water snake ventures farther from water than other water snakes.

This snake likes to hang out near rivers, wetlands, ponds, floodplains, and lakes. Compared to other water snakes in Virginia, Plain-bellied water snakes tend to hang out on land a lot longer than their counterparts. On humid and hot days, they can be found away from water.

Not all individuals are black. Some are olive, brown, gray, or a shade somewhere in between. There are enough of them that are black that they still deserve their place on our list of 8 black snakes in Virginia.

Plain-bellied water snakes eat both terrestrial and aquatic animals. Some of these animals are frogs, fish, crayfish, and salamanders. While other water snakes chase their prey, these water snakes like to wait in ambush.

Summary Of 8 Black Snakes In Virginia

RankBlack SnakeVenomous?
1Black Rat SnakeNo
2Northern CottonmouthYes
3Eastern Black KingsnakeNo
4Rainbow SnakeNo
5Northern Black RacerNo
6Eastern Garter SnakeNo
7Timber RattlesnakeYes
8Plain-Bellied Water SnakeNo
Summary Of 8 Snakes Found In Virginia

Other Reptiles Found in Virginia

Crocodile Skink Lizard sunbathing on moss.

The Eastern fence lizard, the Five-lined skink, and the Southeastern Five-lined skink are lizards that can be found in Virginia.

©Kurit afshen/Shutterstock.com

Virginia is also home to a wide variety of other reptiles in addition to snakes. These animals can be found in a range of environments, including marshes, grasslands, and woods.

These additional reptiles are equally fascinating and crucial to the ecosystem of Virginia, despite the fact that they might not be as well-known as some of the state’s snake species.

Here are a few examples of other reptiles in the area:

  • Virginia is home to a variety of reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and crocodilians.
  • Common turtles found in Virginia include the Eastern box turtle, the Eastern painted turtle, and the Common snapping turtle.
  • Lizards that can be found in Virginia include the Eastern fence lizard, the Five-lined skink, and the Southeastern five-lined skink.
  • The only crocodilian species native to Virginia is the American alligator, which is found in the southeastern part of the state.

What State Has the Most Snake Attacks?

Copperhead Snake (Agkistrodon contortrix)

The venomous copperhead snake is among the snakes responsible for snake bites in North Carolina.

©Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com

In Virginia, which ranks 5th for the most snake bites annually per U.S. state, there are an estimated 48.7 bites per million population reported per year. But what state ranks the highest in snake bites? That would be North Carolina. This southeastern state’s bite rate is 157.8 bites per million population per year. How does that average out? Well, the population as of 2021 was a little over 10 million (10.55 to be exact). If we were to just figure it off of 10 million, that would mean that there are roughly 1,580 reported snake bites per year.

The top 6 states for reported snake bites are as follows:

  • North Carolina–157.8 bites per million
  • West Virginia–105.3 bites per million
  • Arkansas–92.9 bites per million 
  • Oklahoma–61 bites per million
  • Virginia–48.7 bites per million
  • Texas–44.2 bites per million

In North Carolina, there are 6 different kinds of venomous snakes: copperhead, cottonmouth, timber rattlesnake, pigmy rattlesnake, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and eastern coral snake. In 2019, 92 people were bitten by venomous snakes in that state.


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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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