16 Black and Red Snakes: Identification Guide and Pictures

Nerodia sipedon
© samray/Shutterstock.com

Written by Megan Martin

Updated: August 25, 2023

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In almost every continent, there’s a chance that you’ll run into a black and red snake. There are over 4,000 species of snakes in the world, coming in a variety of shapes and sizes. This can make identifying a snake you’ve seen difficult, especially because there can be so many species of snakes that look similar. 

This guide to black and red snakes will help you learn about many species that share this morph. Some are venomous, and some aren’t. Therefore, it’s important to never handle a snake, even if you think it might be a non-venomous species. This is especially true for snakes such as coral snakes and kingsnakes, with the non-venomous kingsnake mimicking the extremely venomous coral snake. 

Learning the difference between black and red snakes can help you to better learn about the snakes in your area or even in your backyard! However, it can also help you better understand how different species of snakes are related, even if they may seem like they wouldn’t have anything in common. 

Ready to learn more? Here are sixteen red and black snakes!

With over 4,000 species of snakes in the world, there is a chance you will run into black and red snakes.

©Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

1. Banded Watersnake

The banded watersnake (Nerodia fasciata) is a mid-sized snake home to the southeastern regions of the United States, ranging from North Carolina to Alabama. These red and black snake is semi-aquatic, and they can grow to be anywhere from 24 to 48 inches long. 

Their main prey is made up of what they can find in the freshwater they call home. This includes small amphibians like frogs as well as small fish. They are non-venomous. However, while they may not pose a threat to you and your pets, they still shouldn’t be handled by non-professionals. This is because, like all wild animals, they can deliver a painful bite that can be full of bacteria.

While the banded watersnake is a red and black snake, not all individuals in this species have this morph or appearance. Many are known for their rusty bodies and dark black bands. However, they can also come in various versions of rust and light red or mostly brown. 

Banded Water Snake

This non-venomous black and red snake lives in the southeastern parts of the United States.

©Patrick K. Campbell/Shutterstock.com

2. Black Swamp Snake

The black swamp snake (Liodytes pygaea) is a common snake in the southeastern United States. However, you may never see one. This is because these secretive snakes are almost entirely aquatic. They spend their lives in swampy freshwater areas, lurking within the vegetation and avoiding threats. 

One of many red and black snakes, the black swamp snake is also known as the red-bellied mud snake. There are three different subspecies of this snake:

  • South Florida swamp snake, (L. p. cyclas)
  • Carolina swamp snake (L. p. paludis)
  • North Florida swamp snake (L. p. pygaea).

The black swamp snake is a small- to medium-sized snake. They can grow to be 10 to 15 inches long. The longest black swamp snake ever recorded was 22 inches long. Their dorsal sides, or backs, are black, while they have bright red bellies. Sometimes, their bellies may appear orange. 

This species of snake is non-venomous. 

North Florida Swamp Snake

This black and red snake is very secretive and entirely aquatic living in the southeastern part of the United States.

©iStock.com/passion4nature

3. California Red-Sided Garter Snake

The California red-sided garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis) is an amazing subspecies of garter snake. These beautiful snakes boast a bright red and black checkboard on their dorsal; however, their bellies are much paler, usually white or yellow. You can also find a thin white or yellow stripe running down the center of their dorsal side, from their head to their tail. This is a tell-tale trait for many species of garter snakes.

This red and black snake is found only in California. Even here, however, they have a small population restricted to the northern coastline. They are non-venomous snakes. 

The San Francisco Garter Snake characterized by bright blue-green or green-yellow coloration along the stomach and sides.

This non-venomous black and red snake is only found in California.

©reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

4. Eastern Coral Snake

A few red and black snakes are as well known as the coral snake, which is a member of the family Elapidae. The eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius), also known as the common coral snake, is one species that many people may be familiar with. This highly venomous snake species is found only in the southeastern United States. They’re known for delivering painful bites that could result in neurological damage. 

The eastern coral snake can grow to be around 31 inches long. This maximum length includes their tail. However, the largest ever recorded was around 51 inches. Their scales have an eye-catching pattern of rings. They have a thick yellow band at their head and then a series of red and black bands with thin yellow rings in between each color. 

Many snakes may borrow the red, black, and yellow coloration of this venomous snake for protection from predators. However, you recognize a coral snake by this old saying: “red and black, give it some slack; red and yellow kill a fellow.” However, while common, this rhyme isn’t also completely accurate. As a result, don’t handle a snake that could potentially be a coral snake, as this rhyme doesn’t apply to all species, especially outside of the United States. 

The eastern coral snake has a black snout followed by a band of yellow, then black, then yellow or white, then red, then yellow then black all the way down to the tail.

The largest black and red coral snake ever recorded was 51 inches long.

©iStock.com/JasonOndreicka

5. Eastern Hognose Snake

The eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos), or spreading adder, is a mildly venomous species of snake found only in North America. They can be found in various areas and habitats across the country, from Ontario to southern Florida. 

Eastern hognose snakes prefer dry areas with loose soil. This can include sparse forests and old agricultural fields. The reason that they prefer these areas is that hognose snakes like to burrow. Areas with loose soil are the perfect places to create nests, live, and lay eggs. 

On average, the eastern hognose snake grows to be around 28 inches long. However, the largest individual ever recorded grew to be 46 inches long!

Eastern hognose snake

The eastern hognose snake is a black and red snake that prefers dry areas with loose soil.

©iStock.com/Rex Lisman

6. Eastern Worm Snake

The eastern worm snake is a small, docile snake that can range in color from brown to black. It also has a pink-to-red belly, making this one of many red and black snakes that you may encounter in the western hemisphere. 

This is one snake that has absolutely no way to hurt humans. Not only is this a non-venomous snake, but it doesn’t have the ability to bite you! However, it’s still important to limit or completely avoid handling them. While it may not be dangerous for you, handling can be dangerous to these wild snakes and cause them a lot of stress. Their main mechanism of defense is to release a foul-smelling odor that deters predators looking for a quick, tasty meal. 

An Eastern Worm Snake crawls over the ground

This black and red snake is small, non-venomous, and doesn’t have the ability to bite.

©Jason Patrick Ross/Shutterstock.com

7. Gray-Banded Kingsnake

Because they have adapted and evolved to resemble coral snakes, many species of the non-venomous kingsnake are considered red and black snakes. That includes the gray-banded kingsnake (Lampropeltis alterna), which you may also know as the alterna or the Davis Mountain king snake. 

The gray-banded kingsnake is a medium-to-large-sized snake. They can grow up to a total size of up to four feet. Their body is mainly gray with red and black banding. 

While most snakes on this list so far have favored the American southeast, the same cannot be said for the gray-banded kingsnake. Instead, this species favors areas desert and rocky areas. This includes areas associated with the Trans-Pecos/Chihuahuan Desert, such as Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. Although they’re common in these areas, you may never see one due to their secretive, nocturnal lifestyle. 

Gray-Banded Kingsnake

This gray snake with black and red banding can grow up to four feet long and is known as a gray-banded kingsnake.

©Breck P. Kent/Shutterstock.com

8. Ground Snake

Do you know one of the most common nicknames for the ground snake (Sonora semiannulata)? It just so happens to be a “variable snake” due to this snake’s ability to develop a variety of different morphs. However, one of the most common morphs is a ringed black and red design. 

The ground snake is found in the United States and Central America. Because they are small, only growing to be around 8 inches long, their diet is mainly made up of a variety of insects. This includes crickets as well as other animals like centipedes and spiders. While most ground snakes stay small, some grow to be as large as 20 inches long. 

A Western Ground Snake displays its alternating bands of color

The western ground snake is a small black and red snake that can grow up to eight inches long.

©Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

9. Mud Snake

The mud snake (Farancia abacura) is a large, semiaquatic snake that calls the southeastern United States home. Female mud snakes tend to be larger than males, with adults of the species as a whole ranging between 40 to 54 inches in length. The largest mud snake on record size is around 80 inches in length. 

The dorsal side of the mud snake is completely black and glossy. Its underside, however, is a striking red with black accents. This black and red snake can also be identified by the short spine on its tail.

As a semi-aquatic snake, you won’t find the mud snake too far from a freshwater source. They prefer to live near streams, rivers, and swamps in the mud. Some scientists even consider this snake to be almost fully aquatic because of its tendency to be found in or on the edge of the water. The only time you’ll find it in the mud is during hibernation, during the breeding season, and droughts. 

mud snake

The black and red mud snake prefers to live near bodies of water and can grow up to 54 inches long.

©Nathan A Shepard/Shutterstock.com

10. Pygmy Rattlesnake

The pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) is a species of pit viper found only in the southeastern United States. There are three subspecies:

  • Dusky pygmy rattlesnake (S. m. barbouri)
  • Carolina pygmy rattlesnake (S. m. miliarius)
  • Western pygmy rattlesnake (S. m. streckeri)

As a pygmy species, the pygmy rattlesnake is a fairly small species, especially for such a venomous snake. Adults grow to be anywhere from 16 to 24 inches long, with the longest on the record being around 31 inches long. Their bodies are mainly white or grey. However, they have a striking pattern of black and red spots on their dorsal side. 

There have been studies conducted to see if the venom of the pygmy rattlesnake affects different species differently. This mainly refers to native versus non-native species of prey. 

Curled up pygmy rattlesnake

The pygmy rattlesnake is one of the smaller black and red snakes despite its strong poison.

©Gerald A. DeBoer/Shutterstock.com

11. Rainbow Snake

The rainbow snake or eel moccasin (Farancia erytrogramma) is a beautiful species of aquatic snake. They’re fairly rare and can only be found in the coastal plains of the southeastern United States. While there are two different subspecies, the common rainbow snake (F. e. erytrogramma) and the southern Florida rainbow snake (F. e. seminola), the latter is extinct as of 2011. 

Between their rarity, aquatic nature, and secretive behaviors, you may never see a rainbow snake, even if you share their habitat. However, if you happen to see one, you’ll notice that it boasts a beautiful scale pattern. Their body is mainly black, with a red and yellow stripe running down the length of their body. 

Farancia erytrogramma (rainbow snake)

This beautiful snake has black and red within its scale patterns and is one of the snake species that prefers water life.

©Charles Baker / CC BY-SA 4.0 – Original / License

12. Red-Bellied Snake

Red-bellied snakes (Storeria occipitomaculata) are a common black and red snake species in the United States. There are three different subspecies:

  • Florida redbelly snake (S. o. obscura)
  • Northern redbelly snake (S. o. occipitomaculata)
  • Black Hills redbelly snake (S. o. pahasapae).

This species of snake is almost completely harmless to humans. They’re non-venomous as well as quite small, only growing to be between 4 and 10 inches long as adults. They have black dorsal sides with bright red bellies. This is where they get their name from. 

Because red-bellied snakes are ectotherms, they are unable to produce their own body heat like humans and other mammals. As a result, they rely on outside sources, like the sun, for body heat. This means that you won’t find them in cool climates too often. If you do find a red-bellied snake in a cold environment, chances are, they’ve made their home in an abandoned ant hill. Ant hills are designed in such a way that they can hold heat, making sure that this red and black snake gets the warmth they need.

In warmer climates, the shy red-bellied snake prefers to live in woodland areas, either under leaves or fallen logs. Because they are non-venomous and small, their diet is made up of relatively easy prey like insects, slugs and snails, and salamanders. 

red bellied snake Storeria occipitomaculata in defensive posture showing underside

Red-bellied snakes are cousins to Dekay’s brown snakes.

©Kevin Collison/Shutterstock.com

13. Ring-Necked Snake

The ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) is a harmless snake to humans. While they do have a mild venom, they’ve evolved it specifically for hunting and protection from small animals. As a result, they don’t pose any threat to humans, to the point that they’re even kept as pets!

Ring-necked snakes derive their name from the ring of light color around their neck. This can be an open or closed ring, depending on the subspecies. Typically, they have dark brown to black bodies. This ring is then much paler, ranging from light yellow to red in color. Like many other species of snake, they prefer to spend their time by themselves at night. 

Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

Black and red snakes, like the ring-necked snake, are harmless to humans and are even kept as pets.

©Tucker Heptinstall/Shutterstock.com

14. Sharp-Tailed Snake

When you look at the sharp-tailed snake (Contia tenuis) for the first time, you probably won’t focus too much on the fact that they’re a red and black snake. Instead, you’ll most likely be drawn to the tell-tale sharp tail they have. You see, the sharp-tailed snake gets its name from the fact that it has a sharp spine on its tail that is the tip of its last vertebrae. While there is no venom in this spine, the sharp-tailed snake can use it to help hold its prey steady when hunting. It can seem intimidating, but it’s harmless for humans. 

The sharp-tailed snake is common throughout the western United States and southern Canada. As an adult, they grow to be between 12 and 18 inches long. 

A Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis), near Lake Nacimiento, San Luis Obispo County, California

The sharp-tailed snake is a unique black and red snake because of the spike it has at the end of its tail.

©Bill Bouton / CC BY-SA 2.0 – Original / License

15. Sonoran Coral Snake

Also known as the western or Arizona coral snake, the Sonoran coral snake (Micruroides euryxanthus) is a venomous species found in the southeastern United States and the northwestern region of Mexico. Like other species of the coral snake, this small- to medium-sized snake has black, red, and yellow rings. The black and red rings are of equal size, while the yellow rings are smaller. However, the yellow rings of this species are larger and paler than those of the eastern coral snake. 

The Sonoran coral snake is nocturnal and spends much of its time underground. This makes encounters uncommon compared to other venomous species, such as rattlesnakes or even other types of coral snakes. 

A Sonoran coral snake crawling over sandy desert

The extremely venomous, small Sonoran coral snake is a black and red snake that prefers to be underground.

©Alexander Wong/Shutterstock.com

16. Tamaulipan Milk Snake

The Tamaulipan, or Mexican, milk snake (Lampropeltis annulata) is a species of kingsnake. As a result, although they closely resemble the species of coral snakes, they’re completely non-venomous. They are found in Texas and northern Mexico.

The red bands of the Tamaulipan milk snake are larger than the black and yellow, which are of equal sizes. The yellow rings are completely encapsulated on either side by black rings, including on the snake’s head. 

milk snake or milksnake (Lampropeltis micropholis) in Colombia

The milk snake is a non-venomous black and red snakes related to the kingsnake.

©Guillermo Ossa/Shutterstock.com

Summary of the 16 Black and Red Snakes

RankSnake
1Banded Water Snake
2Black Swamp Snake
3California Red-Sided Garter Snake
4Eastern Coral Snake
5Eastern Hognose Snake
6Eastern Worm Snake
7Gray-Banded Kingsnake
8Ground Snake
9Mud Snake
10Pygmy Rattlesnake
11Rainbow Snake
12Red-Bellied Snake
13Ring-Necked Snake
14Sharp-Tailed Snake
15Sonoran Coral Snake
16Tamaulipan Milk Snake

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About the Author

Megan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is birds, felines, and sharks. She has been researching and writing about animals for four years, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in biology and professional and technical writing from Wingate University, which she earned in 2022. A resident of North Carolina, Megan is an avid birdwatcher that enjoys spending time with her cats and exploring local zoological parks with her husband.

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