Northern Pinesnake
Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus

** Harmless **

Common Name:

Northern Pinesnake

Scientific Name:

Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus



Pituophis is derived from the Greek words pitys which means "pine" and ophios meaning "serpent".


melanoleucus is derived from the Greek words melanos which means "black" and leukos meaning "white".


melanoleucus is derived from the Greek words melanos which means "black" and leukos meaning "white".

Vernacular Names:

Bull snake, black and white snake, carpet snake, chicken snake, horned snake.

Average Length:

48 - 66 in. (122 - 168 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

66.1 in. (167.8 cm)

Record length:

83 in. (210.8 cm)

Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier I - Critical Conservation Need - Faces an extremely high risk of extinction or extirpation. Populations of these species are at critically low levels, facing immediate threat(s), or occur within an extremely limited range. Intense and immediate management action is needed.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: A large, stout-bodied snake reaching a maximum total length of 2108mm. In Virginia, maximum known total length is 1678mm *4206*. Outside Virginia, the maximum known total length is 83 inches *11523*. Adults are usually 48-60 inches in length *11523*. There are dark irregular blotches on a white, cream, yellow, or light gray background color. The blotches are black, turning brown and more distinct near the tail. This is a large robust snake with at somewhat elongated snout and a head that seems small for the large body. The belly is white with dark spots on the sides. It has an enlarged rostral scale. In Va., max known SVL is 1495 mm (58.9 in.). Tail length/total length ratio 10.9-11.4% (n=2).

SCUTELLATION: ventrals 217-224 (avg. = 220.8+/-3.3, n=4); subcaudals 48-53 (avg. = 50.7+/-2.5, n=3); ventrals + subcaudals 267-274 (270.3+/-3.5, n=3); dorsal scales keeled; scale rows 27-29 at midbody; anal plate entire; infralabials 10-10, 12-12, and 12-13; supralabials 8-8 (2), 8-7 (1); loreal scale present; preoculars 1-1; postoculars 2-2, 2-3, 3-3, and 3-4; temporal scales 3+4/3+4 (2), 4+6/4+4 (1), or 4+5/2+3 (1); rostral scale elongated and partially separates nasal scales; four prefrontal scales present.

COLORATION and PATTERN: Dorsal body color cream, white, or yellow with a series of irregular black blotches that become more distinct posteriorly; anterior blotches are more diffuse and there is considerable melanism in the spaces between them; black lateral blotches alternate with dorsal blotches, except on tail; blotches usually black anteriorly, but may be brown posteriorly; white or yellow body scales usually edged in black; venter of body and tail cream, white, or yellow and patternless; head cream to white with irregular pattern of black spots on the dorsum; black crossbar connecting the eyes may be present; labial scales and chin white; supralabials may be partially edged in black. This a large, robust snake with a somewhat elongated snout.*10760*

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: Sexual dimorphism cannot be described for Virginia P. melanoleucus due to the lack of specimens. Tail length/total length ration in males is 11-14% whereas in females it is 10-12.*10760* Juveniles: Juveniles are patterned as adults but have black on a white body. No data are available on hatchlings from Va. Hatchlings in New Jersey are 337-526 mm total length (avg. = 41.6) and weigh 23.2-41.4 grams (avg. = 32.4.*10760*

CONFUSING SPECIES: Pine snakes may be confused with hognosed snakes (Heterodon platirhinos), which also hisses. Hognosed snakes are usually multicolored with orange, red, black, and yellow, have a sharply upturned snout, and are smaller. They are not just black and white (or yellow).*10760*

GEOGRAPHIC VARIATION: The lack of specimens precludes an analysis of geographic variation in Virginia. Variation among the subspecies is based on color and pattern differences.*10760*

REPRODUCTION: There are up to 27 creamy white eggs laid in the late spring and early summer. The eggs are usually deposited in a burrow several inches beneath the surface of the ground. The 14 to 18 inch long young hatch in August and September. Juveniles are patterned as adults but have black or a white body. At hatching they can be 337-526mm in length *4206*. The following is from Zappalorti et al.: Mating occurred in May. Females laid 4-16 eggs (avg. = 9.5+/-2.0) 17 June - 14 July in side chambers of long burrows which females excavated in sandy soil; some of these were used for several years. Snakes used their heads to loosen the soil, push it back, and penetrate deeper; body coils and the tail were used to shift sand backwards. Nest burrows were in large clearings with less than 10% tree cover. Eggs measured 46.3-78.6 x 21.7-44.7 mm and weighed 20.3-74.4 g. Laboratory incubation time was 51-75 days. Comparatively, one road-killed female from Va. contained 9 oviductal eggs when found on 9 July 1989. The eggs averaged 59.3+/-2.3 x 34.0+/-2.0 mm in size (length 58-62, width 32-36, n=3) and 30.5+/-1.8 g in mass (27.5-32.2, n=5). Another female from an unknown location in Va. laid 5 eggs in captivity.*10760*

BEHAVIOR: This is another very secretive snake and it spends most of its time burrowed underground. This species is primarily diurnal, though a juvenile was found after dark on September 27 *11499,11523*. When cornered they coil up, hiss loudly, vibrate the tail, and strike rapidly. They kill by constriction and feed mostly on small mammals, birds and birds eggs. This snake is seldom seen, despite its large size. Pine snakes excavate burrows in sandy soil for nests and hibernations sites. The head is used to loosen the soil and push it back, the body coils and tail are used to shift the sand backward. They have few enemies and can hold off most predators for hours. In Virginia, there is little known about this snakes habits, since there are few specimens recorded in this state. Thus, more research is needed *11523*. All of the specimens that Thorp has encountered in North Carolina were active around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thorp has found several of his telemetered snakes using the same hibernaculum. He has not found any specimens in the mountain areas of North Carolina, from where the species is known *11523*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: The longevity record for this species is 20 years and 9 months *11523*.

References for Life History

  • 1006 - Linzey, D.W., M.J. Clifford, 1981, Snakes of Virginia, Univ. of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, VA
  • 1013 - Jackson, J.J., 1983, Snakes of the Northeastern United States, 111 pgs., Ext. Serv., Univ. of GA, Athens, GA
  • 3067 - Conant, R., 1978, Field guide to reptiles and amphibans of eastern and central North America 2nd.ed., 429 pgs., Houghton Mifflin, Boston
  • 4296 - Taylor, W.H., 1984, Dove call-count survey, Virginia Wildl. Investig. Ann. Report, July 1, 1983 - June 30, 1984, pg. 290-293, Virginia Comm. Game and Inland Fish, VA
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC
  • 11499 - Palmer, W.M., A.L. Braswell, 1994, The Reptiles of North Carolina, UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 11523 - Thorp, T.J., 2001, Personal Communication, Expert Review for GAP Analysis Project, Three Lakes Nature Center and Aquarium


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Verified County/City Occurrence

Augusta County
Bath County
Botetourt County
Craig County
Verified in 4 Counties/Cities.


Virginia is home to 28 species of frogs and toads.


We have a large diversity of salamanders consisting of 56 different species and subspecies.


Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.


The Commonwealth is home to 34 species and subspecies of snake. Only 3 species are venomous.


Virginia has 25 species and subspecies of turtle. Five of these species are sea turtle.