Southeastern Crowned Snake
Tantilla coronata

** Harmless **

Common Name:

Southeastern Crowned Snake

Scientific Name:

Tantilla coronata



Tantilla is derived from the Latin word tantillus which means "so little".


coronata is derived from the Latin word corona which means "crown".

Vernacular Names:

Ground snake, southeastern black-headed snake, Tantilla, Tantilla snake.

Average Length:

8 - 10 in. (20 - 25.4 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

9.9 in. (25.1 cm)

Record length:

13 in. (33 cm)

Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier IV - Moderate Conservation Need - The species may be rare in parts of its range, particularly on the periphery. Populations of these species have demonstrated a significant declining trend or one is suspected which, if continued, is likely to qualify this species for a higher tier in the foreseeable future. Long-term planning is necessary to stabilize or increase populations.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Dorsal surface is light brown to reddish-brown with no markings. Head is black. Light band or collar present across back of head bordered by a black band 3 to 5 scales wide. Belly white, often with a pinkish or yellowish cast. Flat, rather blunt head, small eyes, slender body. Adults are usually between 8 and 10 inches long; the dorsal scales are smooth; there are 15 scale rows; the anal plate is divided; preocular scale present; loreal scale absent *1006*. This species typically grows to a length of 8-10 inches (20-25 cm); the maximum recorded length is 13.0 inches (33.0 cm) *883*. In Virginia, max known SVL is 215 mm (8.5 in.) and max total length is 251 mm (9.9 in.). Tail length/total length ratio 14.3-21.3% (avg. = 18.7+/-2.8, n=5).

SCUTELLATION: ventrals 130-136 (avg. = 132.2+/-2.3, n=5); subcaudals 33-50 (avg. = 44.4+/-6.6, n=5) or 7-6 (20.0%); supralabials 7-7 (100%); loreal scale absent; preoculars 1-1; postoculars 2-2; temporal scales 1+1/1+1 (100%). Coloration and pattern: dorsum of body and tail uniform tan to dark brown; venter cream to pinkish; head with a black cap extending from the posterior portion of the parietal scales to the snout; cap black to dark brown, may be less densely pigmented anteriorly; tan to light brown crossband (1 1/2-2 scales wide) separates the cap from a black collar on the neck that is 3-4 scales wide; black collar begins on dorsal scale row 2 and does not extend onto the venter; a white patch may be present on supralabial 5 and part of the anterior temporal scale in some individuals; chin cream; infralabials lightly pigmented with brown.*10760*

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: Adult females are larger (190-215 mm SVL, n=2) than adult males (149-203 mm SVL, avg. = 184.7+/-30.9,n=3), and females reach a larger total length (251 mm). Sexual dimorphism index is 1.10. The ratio of tail length to total length is higher in males (19.5-21.3%, avg. = 20.4+/-0.9,n=3) than in females (14.3-18.1, n=2). In a South Carolina study, Semlitsch et al. found no significant differences between males and females in body size or mass, but determined that males have significantly longer tails than females of similar sizes. Telford noted that males have fewer ventrals but more subcaudals than females. In VA., males have 130-132 ventrals and 45-50 subcaudals, whereas the single female available had 136 ventrals and 33 subcaudals.*10760*

JUVENILES: Juveniles are patterned and colored as adults. Size at hatching has not been reported. The smallest known juvenile was 76 mm SVL.*10760*

CONFUSING SPECIES: This species may be confused with Diadophis punctatus but this species has a light neck collar, a dark brown to gray body, and many have a row of small spots on the venter. The black cap and crossband on the neck is distinctive for T. coronata. The 2 species of Virginia are darker brown and lack the black crossband on the neck.*10760*

GEOGRAPHIC VARIATION: The small sample available from VA. precludes any analysis of geographic variation based on scutellation. The black crossband on the neck in 2 specimens from the Coastal Plain is 4 scales wide, whereas it is 3 scales wide in specimens from the southwestern Piedmont.*10760*

REPRODUCTION: Female lays between one and six eggs in early summer. The eggs are placed in rotting logs, stumps, or other decaying material *1006*. In South Carolina, mating occurs in summer and spring, with ovulation in June and oviposition in June and early July. Telford reported the smallest mature male T. coronata was 134 mm SVL and the smallest female was 153 mm SVL. Aldridge and Simlitsch noted the left ovary was fully functional despite the lack of a functional left oviduct. Eggs from an Alabama female were 21.3-23.7 x 5.0-5.6 mm in size. Nothing is known of reproduction in this species in VA.*10760*

BEHAVIOR: Primary foods include centipedes and insects. This is a very shy species, and seldom found in the open; it may hide in logs, stumps, under loose bark, stones, rocks, or in crevices; may also burrow into the soil; the somewhat wedge-shaped head can be a useful tool in the snake's maneuvering through these environments. Thorp has found this species under logs and coverboards, in trash piles, and on roads *11523*. Prey may be partially immobilized by the snake's venom while being swallowed *1006*. Semlitsch et al. examined some aspects of the ecology of this snake in South Carolina. They found that few juveniles could be collected, the sex ratio of active adults was 2 males to 1 female, activity was coupled with maximum and minimum air temperatures. Xeric microhabitats with sufficient rock, log, or stump cover were more important habitat features than predominant vegetation type. *10760* The presence of weak venom has been suggested for this species *11546,11523*. This small snake will not bite when captured. It does possess small venom glands and enlarged, grooved, rear teeth that are presumably used for envenomation of invertebrate prey. This has yet to be proven, however. T. coronata is not harmful to humans.*10760* This species was the most common snake species caught in drift fence traps in North Carolina *11545,11523*.

ORIGIN: Native *1006*.

References for Life History

  • 883 - Conant, R., 1975, A field guide to reptiles and amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, 429 pgs., Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA
  • 1006 - Linzey, D.W., M.J. Clifford, 1981, Snakes of Virginia, Univ. of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, VA
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC
  • 11523 - Thorp, T.J., 2001, Personal Communication, Expert Review for GAP Analysis Project, Three Lakes Nature Center and Aquarium
  • 11545 - Reynolds, J.H., 1980, A Mark-Recapture Study of the Scarlet Snake, Cemophora coccinea, in a Coastal Plain Sandhill Community, M.S. thesis, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
  • 11546 - Telford, S.R., Jr., 1966, Variation Among the Southeastern Crowned Snakes, Genus Tantilla, Bulletin of the Florida State Museum, Vol. 10, Num. 7, pg. 261-304, 44 pgs.


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Verified County/City Occurrence

Amherst County
Campbell County
Halifax County
Henry County
Isle of Wight County
Pittsylvania County
Verified in 6 Counties/Cities.


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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.