Identifying a Snake by Color

By Chris Sherwood


Snakes can be identified through a host of observations. You can tell snakes by their body length, head shape, markings, pattern, scales, eye shape and texture. However, one of the most easily identifiable characteristic on snakes is their color markings.

Head Color

When identifying a ringneck snake, a crown snake or a pinewood snake, one of the most recognizable features is their head color. These snakes all have a darker colored head than the rest of their body. In the ringneck, there may also be a ring of color where the snake's head meets the body.

Colored Spots

When identifying a northern brown snake or a Carolina pygmy snake, look for dark colored spots. These spots usually run in a line down the length of the body, but can be more random patterned depending on the snake.


When identifying a banded water snake or a midland water snake you will be looking for colored bands. A band is a color marking that runs circular, or crosswise, around the snake's body, similar to horizontal stripes on a shirt. In many cases the bands will run around the entire body. However, in some areas the snake's bands may be broken up in the middle and continue around the belly.


Corn snakes and diamondbacks can be identified by blotched color markings. A blotch is similar to a band except it has rounded edges and in some cases can form shapes such as a diamond. The color inside the blotch will usually be much darker than the surrounding scales of the snake.


An easy way to identify the eastern ribbon snake is by its stripes. Snakes with stripes will usually show them starting at the neck, tracing the snake all the way to its tail.

Bright Colors

A bright color on a snake almost always means the snake is venomous. The bright color is a way for the snake to warn its enemies to stay away, as it would rather persuade its predators not to attack, than have to defend itself, expelling venom and energy. These colors can come in many different patterns like the banded red and yellow of the coral snake.