Virginia valeriae

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Virginia valeriae
Iowaherps-virginia valeriae.jpg
A smooth earth snake from Madison County, Iowa
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Genus: Virginia
Species: V. valeriae
Binomial name
Virginia valeriae
Baird & Girard, 1853

Virginia valeriae, commonly known as the smooth earth snake, is a species of nonvenomous natricine colubrid snake native to the eastern half of the United States.


The specific name or epithet, valeriae, is in honor of Valeria Biddle Blaney (1828–1900), who collected the first specimen in Kent County, Maryland, and was a first cousin of Spencer Fullerton Baird.[3][4]

Geographic range[edit]

V. valeriae is found from Texas and Iowa to New Jersey and Florida.


The following is a description of the scalation of V. valeriae. Rostral nearly as deep as broad, visible from above; internasals much shorter than the prefrontals; frontal longer than broad, shorter than the parietals; loreal one and a half to two and a half times as long as deep; two or three postoculars; temporals 1+2; six upper labials, third and fourth entering the eye; four lower labials in contact with the anterior chin shields, which are as long as or shorter than the posterior. Dorsal scales in 15 or 17 rows. Anal divided. Ventrals 111-135; subcaudals 24-37.[5]

The following description of coloration of a live specimen (not in alcohol) uses Robert Ridgway's Color Standards and Color Nomenclature (1912). Dorsally Virginia valeriae is benzo brown, deep brownish drab, mars brown, or light brownish drab. The first row of dorsal scales is colored like the adjacent ventrals, which are light vinaceous-fawn, pale vinaceous-fawn, pale grayish vinaceous, or pale vinaceous-pink. The top of the head is hair brown or like the dorsum, with many dark spots on the plates. The upper labials are ecru-drab or lighter, some with drab-gray spots. There is a small black ring around the eye. The ventral surface of the head is white.[6]

Sometimes a faint median light line is present. Also, there may be tiny black spots on the back and sides, especially in the nominate race (Virginia valeriae valeriae).[7]

Adults are usually 18–25 cm (7.1–9.8 in) in total length (including tail); record 33.7 cm (13 14 in).[2]


V. valeriae is a small, fossorial species which spends most of its time buried in loose soil or leaf litter.


The smooth earth snake eats primarily earthworms and other soft-bodied arthropods.


Given their lack of sufficient defense mechanisms against larger animals, earth snakes are generally not aggressive towards humans and are harmless if encountered. While they do have teeth, the size of the mouth and teeth make any strikes against humans superficial at worst. They can defecate as a defense mechanism to make them less palatable to would-be predators. If necessary, they can be safely picked up by hand and relocated.


Including the nominotypical subspecies, three subspecies of Virginia valeriae are recognized as being valid. These subspecies have been considered full species.[1]

Nota bene: A trinomial authority in parentheses indicates that the subspecies was originally described in a genus other than Virginia.


V. valeriae bears live young in August. Brood size is usually fewer than 10. The total length of a newborn is about 6 cm (about 2.5 in).[6]


  1. ^ a b "Virginia valeriae ". The Reptile Database.
  2. ^ a b Conant R (1975). A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Second Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. xvii + 429 pp. + Plates 1-48. ISBN 0-395-19979-4 (hardcover), ISBN 0-395-19977-8 (paperback). (Virginia valeriae, pp. 167-168 + Plate 22 + Map 125).
  3. ^ Beltz, Ellin (2006). Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America – Explained. [1]
  4. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Virginia valeriae, p. 271).
  5. ^ Boulenger GA (1894). Catalogue of the Snakes in the British Museum (Natural History), Volume II., Containing the Conclusion of the Colubridæ Aglyphæ. London: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History). (Taylor and Francis, printers). xi + 382 pp. + Plates I-XX. ("Virginia valeriæ", p. 289).
  6. ^ a b Wright AH, Wright AA (1957). Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Ithaca and London: Comstock. 1,105 pp. (in 2 volumes) (Haldea valeriae, pp. 290-293, Figure 89 + Map 27 on p. 288).
  7. ^ Smith HM, Brodie ED Jr (1982). Reptiles of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. New York: Golden Press. 240 pp. ISBN 0-307-13666-3 (paperback). (Virginia valeriae, pp. 152-153).
  8. ^ Schmidt KP, Davis DD (1941). Field Book of Snakes of the United States and Canada. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 365 pp. (Haldea valeriae, pp. 232-234, Figure 76).

Further reading[edit]

  • Baird SF, Girard CF (1853). Catalogue of North American Reptiles in the Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Part I.—Serpents. Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution. xvi + 172 pp. ("Virginia valeriæ ", new species, p. 127.)
  • Conant R, Bridges W (1939). What Snake Is That? A Field Guide to the Snakes of the United States East of the Rocky Mountains. (With 108 drawings by Edmond Malnate). New York and London: D. Appleton-Century. Frontispiece map + viii + 163 pp. + Plates A-C, 1-32. (Virginia valeriae, pp. 112–113 + Plate 21, Figure 62.)
  • Kennicott R (1859). "Notes on Coluber calligaster of Say, and a description of new species of Serpents in the collection of the North Western University of Evanston, Ill." Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia 11: 98-100. (Virginia elegans, new species, p. 99).
  • Morris PA (1948). Boy's Book of Snakes: How to Recognize and Understand Them. A volume of the Humanizing Science Series, edited by Jacques Cattell. New York: Ronald Press. viii + 185 pp. ("The Ground Snake", pp. 73–74, 180.)
  • Richmond ND (1954). "The ground snake Haldea valeriae in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, with a description of a new subspecies". Annals of Carnegie Museum 33 (15): 251-260. (Haldea valeriae pulchra, new subspecies).

External links[edit]