Rainbow Snake

Farancia erytrogramma erytrogramma

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    Rainbow snakes can be found in streams, swamps, marshes and bodies of brackish water. They are also often hidden under floating vegetation or debris, and may burrow within the moist sand or mud of stream banks. The rainbow snake is a nocturnal species.

  • Range

    Rainbow snakes primarily inhabit the southeast United States. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, they can be found in southern Maryland and eastern Virginia.

  • Diet

    Tadpoles, small frogs and American eels

  • Lifespan

    Estimated to be up to 19 years

  • Status

    Endangered

The rainbow snake is a beautifully colored, non-venomous snake that lives in streams, swamps and marshes in southern Maryland and eastern Virginia.

Appearance

The rainbow snake grows to three to four feet in length. It has a glossy, iridescent body and a bluish-black back with three red stripes running lengthwise. Its underside is red or pink with two to three rows of black spots. There is a yellow tint on its head and sides. It has a short tail with a sharp tip.

Feeding

Juvenile rainbow snakes eat an assortment of fish, salamanders, tadpoles, earthworms and small frogs. Once fully mature, adult rainbow snakes prey only on American eels. Rainbow snakes eat their prey alive, typically swallowing it headfirst. 

Predators

The rainbow snake is susceptible to a wide variety of predators, including raccoons, Virginia opossums, red-tail hawks and eastern indigo snakes. The rainbow snake is mostly defenseless. It is not aggressive and does not bite, nor is it capable of injuring a predator with its tail. When threatened, the rainbow snake may send out warning signals by coiling its body and placing its head down while raising its tail in the air.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Rainbow snakes reach sexual maturity at two to three years and breed once yearly, typically in the late spring or early summer. Rainbow snakes build nests, where the female lays about 20 eggs. She stays with her eggs until they hatch in the fall. Once hatched, the young receive no parenting. The rainbow snake’s exact lifespan is unknown. However, its close relative, the mud snake, has been known to live up to 19 years in the wild. It is likely that the rainbow snake has a similar lifespan.

Did You Know?

  • The rainbow snake’s scientific name comes from the Greek erythro meaning “red” and gramma meaning “line.”
  • Rainbow snakes are also known as “eel moccasins” because adults only eat eels.
  • Rainbow snakes are listed as an endangered species in Maryland.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    Rainbow snakes can be found in streams, swamps, marshes and bodies of brackish water. They are also often hidden under floating vegetation or debris, and may burrow within the moist sand or mud of stream banks. The rainbow snake is a nocturnal species.

  • Range

    Rainbow snakes primarily inhabit the southeast United States. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, they can be found in southern Maryland and eastern Virginia.

  • Diet

    Tadpoles, small frogs and American eels

  • Lifespan

    Estimated to be up to 19 years

  • Status

    Endangered