Eastern Wormsnake
Carphophis amoenus amoenus

** Harmless **

Common Name:

Eastern Wormsnake

Scientific Name:

Carphophis amoenus amoenus



Carphophis is derived from the Greek words karphos which means "straw" or "chaff" and ophios which means "snake"


amoenus is Latin for "pleasing" or "charming" referring to the disposition of the snake.


amoenus is Latin for "pleasing" or "charming" referring to the disposition of the snake.

Vernacular Names:

Blind snake, blind worm, cricket snake, eastern ground snake, eastern twig snake, little red snake, milk snake, thunder snake.

Average Length:

7.5 - 11 in. (19 - 28 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

12.6 in. (32 cm)

Record length:

13.25 in. (33.7 cm)

Systematics: Originally described as Coluber amoenus in 1825 by Thomas Say. He designated no type specimen, but noted that this species "Inhabits Pennsylvania." The type locality was restricted to the vicinity of Philadelphia by Schmidt (1953). The generic name Carphophis was first used for this species by Gervais (1843). Other names found in the Virginia literature are Carphophiops amoenus (Cope, 1900; Dunn, 1915a) and Carphophis amoena (Dunn, 1920, 1936; Lynn, 1936; Richmond and Goin, 1938; Uhler et al, 1939; Hoffman, 1945a, 1953; Werler and McCallion, 1951). Two subspecies are recognized: C. amoenus amoenus (Say) and C. amoenus helenae (Kennicott). Conant and Collins (1991) illustrated the distributions of these geographic races, although they considered the latter to be a full species. Only the nominate subspecies occurs in Virginia.

Description: A small, slender snake reaching a maximum total length of 337 mm (13.3 inches) (Conant and Collins, 1991). In Virginia, maximum known snout-vent length (SVL) is 275 mm (10.8 inches) and total length is 320 mm (12.6 in.). In the present study, tail length/total length averaged 15.8 ± 2.5% (11.3-20.4, n = 161).

Scutellation: Ventrals 108-140 (ave. 124.9 ± 6.5, n = 165); subcaudals 14-40 (ave. = 31.4 ±5.1,n = 159); ventrals + subcaudals 133-176 (156.6 ± 6.0, n = 158); dorsal scales smooth, scale rows 13 (100%, n = 166) at midbody; anal plate divided; infralabials usually 6/6 (96.7%, n = 152) or other combinations of 4-7 (3.3%); supralabials usually 5/5 (97.4%, n = 153) or other combinations of 4-6 (2.6%); loreal present and contacts eye; no preoculars; postoculars 1/1; temporals usually 1 +1/1 + 1 (78.9%, n = 152), 1+2/1+2 (15.8%), or other combinations of 1-2 (5.3%); prefrontal and nasal scales separate (paired).

Coloration and Pattern Dorsum of body and head unpatterned and plain brown; venter unpatterned but pink, with pink coloration extending onto sides of body to include 1st to 2d scale rows. Allard (1945) found an all-pink female in Arlington. The head is slightly flattened and somewhat pointed. The short tail terminates in a sharp spine.

Sexual Dimorphism: Average adult SVL was greater in females (202.3 ± 24.3 mm, 166-275, n = 62) than males (181.8 ± 20.2 mm, 141-237, n = 77). Sexual dimorphism index was 0.11. Body mass (nongravid females 6.6 ± 2.3 g, 4-11, n = 14; males 4.6 ± 1.6 g, 3-7, n = 12) and number of ventral scales (females 128.5 ± 5.5, 113-139, n = 79; males 121.5 ± 5.5, 108-140, n = 86) were also sexually dimorphic. Males exhibited a higher average tail length/total length (17.8 ± 1.3%, 13.4-20.4, n = 83) than females (13.7 ± 1.6%, 11.3-20.3, n = 78) and a greater average number of subcaudal scales (males 35.5 ± 2.5, 25-40, n = 82; females 27.2 ± 3.4, 14-36, n = 77). The average number of ventrals + subcaudals was similar between sexes (males 157.2 ± 5.7, 143-176, n = 81; females 156.0 ± 6.2, 133-166, n = 77).

Juveniles: At hatching, juveniles are patterned as adults but the dorsum is a darker brown and the venter is bright pink. Hatchlings averaged 86.4 ± 3.8 mm SVL (79-92, n = 16), 100.0 ± 5.6 mm total length (87-107), and 0.46 ± 0.32 g body mass (0.11-0.90).

Confusing Species: Other small, uniformly patterned snakes have a light collar on the neck or a dark band across the head. Worm snakes strikingly resemble worms.

Geographic Variation: The number of ventral + subcaudal scales averaged less in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Ridge and Valley provinces (150.6 ± 6.0, 133-158, n = 20) than in the Coastal Plain (158.0 ± 4.9,140-176, n = 110) and Piedmont (155.4 ± 6.9,139-175, n = 28). This pattern also held for both males and females separately. Burger (1975) identified a single specimen he found in Lee County in 1958 as Carphophis amoenus helenae. It has not been located and is presumed lost. Specimens collected in the same area are all C. a. amoenus. A. G. Smith (1948) found that 6 of 17 worm snakes from Middlesboro, Kentucky, immediately west of Cumberland Gap, possessed C. a. helenae characters, 1 appeared to be an intergrade, and the remaining 10 had C. a. amoenus characters. Extreme southwestern Virginia does not appear to be included in the intergrade zone between these two subspecies. Additional specimens are needed, however, to clarify the geographic pattern of subspecific variation in this region.

Biology: Eastern Wormsnakes are secretive and occur in forested and wooded habitats where the soil allows burrowing. Richmond and Goin (1938) found them to be fairly common in open fields. They have been found under all manner of surface objects, including logs, tree bark, boards, rocks, and trash, as well as in moist logs and stumps. Hoffman (1986) noted that they were usually under flat stones on soft loamy soil, often associated with termites. This snake is seldom found in an active state on the surface and is only rarely seen crossing paved roads at night. Martin (1976) reported that only 5 of 545 snakes seen on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1969 and 1974-1975 were worm snakes. Clifford (1976) noted that 21 of 278 snakes reported to him between 1972 and 1975 in the central Piedmont were worm snakes. Carphophis amoenus can be found in Virginia March through December, depending on the weather; most of Clifford's records were May-August.

The primary prey of Eastern Wormsnakes is worms. Remains of worms were found in 61% of the 36 snakes examined for stomach contents. Uhler et al. (1939) found worms and a fly larva in two of four specimens from the George Washington National Forest. Wright and Wright (1957) listed insects, earthworms, slugs, and snails. Prey are eaten alive. Known predators of Virginia worm snakes include Eastern Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix), Northern Black Racers (Coluber constrictor), and free-ranging domestic cats (Mitchell and Beck, 1992; C. H. Ernst, pers. comm.). Linzey and Clifford (1981) mentioned toads (Anaxyrus spp.) and opossums (Didelphis virginiana).

Eastern Wormsnakes are oviparous, laying 2-6 eggs (ave. = 3.6 ± 0.9, n = 26) in mounds of humus or in or under decaying, moist logs in June. Fourteen clutches from northern Virginia averaged 4.0 eggs (2-6) (C. H. Ernst, pers. comm.). Mating has not been observed in the field (Ernst and Barbour, 1989a). In Kansas, Clark (1970) found spermatozoa in the reproductive tracts of females of C. vermis April-May and late August to October. This suggests either two mating periods or that sperm overwinter in the oviducts of females.

Known egg-laying dates in Virginia are between 20 June and 17 July. Linzey and Clifford (1981) reported a possible communal nest of 11 eggs but did not mention the locality. I found a communal nest of nine eggs in Henrico County on 18 September 1978. Eggs averaged 17.9 ±3.1 x 7.8 ± 0.8 mm (length 14.6-22.8, width 6.7-8.7, n = 9) and weighed 0.8 ± 0.1 g (0.60-0.84). Allard (1945) found a clutch of four eggs averaging 20.0 x 7.3 mm in Arlington. The smallest mature female I measured was 166 mm SVL; she contained two enlarged ova. The smallest mature male was 140 mm SVL. Length of incubation is 45-46 days, and hatchlings emerge in August and September. Known hatching dates are between 5 August and 7 September.

The population ecology of C. a. amoenus has not been studied in Virginia. The small size and fossorial habits of this snake probably account for its limited home-range size and movements. In Kentucky, Barbour et al. (1969) found that home ranges averaged 253 m2. Eastern Wormsnakes aggregate at favorable sites. On 16 April 1968 in Lancaster County, R. G. Zweifel (pers. comm.) found an aggregation of five snakes in the same depression of a single log and two snakes in another.

When released in the woods or in a terrarium, the first activity of this snake is to burrow into the leaf litter and soil. They do not bite, but when held attempt to "burrow" between your fingers with their head and pointed tail.

Remarks: Other common names in Virginia are ground snake (Hay, 1902; Uhleretal., 1939; Carroll, 1950) and blind snake (Linzey and Clifford, 1981).

Eastern Wormsnakes are usually not written about in folklore, but Beck (1952) found a myth from Rappahannock County that may have pertained to this species. He recorded that the "horned snake" is a poisonous variety equipped with a horn on each end; it is nondescript in color, small, and stings with the tail, and "some of the more enterprising members of this species sport two horns on their heads." This story is usually attributed to Farancia, but the two species in this genus do not occur in Rappahannock County.

Conservation and Management: This species appears to be secure in Virginia, although continued urbanization is fragmenting populations into smaller and smaller units in some areas and eliminating them in others. The continued existence of this species in areas of rapid urbanization requires tracts of forested land with a natural leaf litter and humus community on the forest floor. Land surface preparation for housing, roads, and shopping centers and other buldings completely destroys worm snake habitat.

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