Southeastern Crowned Snake
Tantilla coronata

** Harmless **

Common Name:

Southeastern Crowned Snake

Scientific Name:

Tantilla coronata

Etymology:

Genus:

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

Species:

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)

Systematics: Originally described as Tantilla coronata by Spencer Fullerton Baird and Charles Frederic Girard in 1853 from a specimen collected in Kemper County, Mississippi. The name has been stable since the original description. No subspecies are recognized.

Description: A small snake reaching a maximum total length of 330 mm (13.0 inches) (Conant and Collins, 1991). In Virginia, maximum known snout-vent length (SVL) is 215 mm (8.5 inches) and maximum total length is 251 mm (9.9 inches). Tail length/total length in Virginia specimens was 14.3-21.3% (ave. = 18.7 ± 2.8, n = 5).

Scutellation: Ventrals 130-136 (ave. = 132.2 ± 2.3, n = 5); subcaudals 33-50 (ave. = 44.4 ± 6.6, n = 5); ventrals + subcaudals 169-180 (ave. = 176.6 ± 4.4, n = 5); dorsal scales smooth, scale row 15 at midbody; anal plate divided; infralabials 6/6 (80.0%, n = 5) or 7/6 (20.0%); supralabials 7/7 (100%); loreal scale absent; preoculars 1/1; postoculars 2/2; temporal scales l+l/l+l (100%).

Coloration and Pattern: Dorsum of body and tail uniformly tan to dark brown; venter cream to pinkish; head with a black cap extending from posterior portion of parietal scales to snout; cap black to dark brown, may be less densely pigmented anteriorly; tan to light-brown crossband (1.5-2 scales wide) separates cap from a black collar on neck that is 3-4 scales wide; black collar begins on dorsal scale row 2 and does not extend onto venter; a white patch may be present on supralabial 5 and part of anterior temporal scale in some individuals; chin cream; infralabials lightly pigmented with brown.

Sexual Dimorphism: Adult females from Virginia were larger (190-215 mm SVL, ave. = 202.5, n = 2) than adult males (149-203 mm SVL, ave. = 184.7 ± 30.9, n = 3), and females reached a larger total length (251 mm). Sexual dimorphism index was 0.10. Tail length relative to total length was higher in males (19.5-21.3%, ave. = 20.4 ± 0.9, n = 3) than in females (14.3-18.1%, ave. = 16.2, n = 2). In a South Carolina study, Semlitsch et al. (1981) found no significant differences between males and females in body size or mass, but determined that males had significantly longer tails than females of similar sizes. Telford (1966) noted that males had fewer ventrals but more subcaudals than females. In Virginia, males had 130-132 ventrals and 45-50 subcaudals, whereas the single female available for scale counts had 136 ventrals and 33 subcaudals.

Juveniles: Juveniles are patterned and colored as adults. Size at hatching has not been reported from Virginia. The smallest known juvenile was 76 mm SVL (Telford, 1966).

Confusing Species: This species may be confused with Diadophis punctatus which has a light-colored collar around the neck and 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 Tantilla coronata. The two species of Virginia are darker brown and lack the black crossband on the neck.

Geographic Variation: The small sample available from Virginia precludes any analysis of geographic variation based on scutellation. The black crossband on the neck in two specimens from the Coastal Plain is four scales wide, whereas it is three scales wide in specimens from the southwestern Piedmont.

Biology: Southeastern Crowned Snakes are well known for inhabiting dry pine foreststhat contain deccaying logs and stumps. Known habitats in Virginia are oak-pine woods adjacent to an abandoned hog pen, a burned home site in a mixed oak-pine woodlot in an agricultural area, and Coastal Plain loblolly (Pinus taeda) and longleaf (Pinus palustris) pine forests. All specimens were found under decaying wood or rocks. The activity season in Virginia is unknown, but in South Carolina, Semlitsch et al. (1981) reported specimens from March to November, with a single, unimodal peak of activity during July and August (Gibbons and Semlitsch, 1987). All Virginia specimens were found May-August. These snakes probably overwinter deep in pine logs and stumps and underground.

The prey of T. coronata includes earthworms, beetle larvae, centipedes, spiders, and termites (Wright and Wright, 1957; Brown, 1979). Known predators of this snake found in Virginia are Glass Lizards (Ophisaurus spp.), Eastern Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula), Eastern Milknakes (Lampropeltis triangulum), and Northern Black Racers (Coluber constrictor) (Brown, 1979; Ernst and Barbour, 1989b).

Nothing is known of reproduction in this species in Virginia. Southeastern Crowned Snakes are oviparous and lay 1-3 eggs May through August in decaying pine logs and stumps (Wright and Wright, 1957; Fitch, 1970; Semlitschetal., 1981). In South Carolina, mating occurs in late summer, fall, and spring, with ovulation in June and ovi-position in June and early July (Aldridge and Semlitsch, 1992a, 1992b). Late summer and fall matings result in the storage of spermatozoa in receptacles associated with the oviducts in females (Aldridge, 1992); the sperm are used to fertilize eggs produced the following June. Telford (1966) reported that in Florida the smallest mature male T. coronata was 134 mm SVL and the smallest female was 153 mm SVL. Aldridge and Semlitsch (1992a) noted that the left ovary was fully functional despite the lack of a functional left oviduct; eggs passed from the left ovary through the right oviduct (Aldridge, 1992). Eggs from an Alabama female were 21.3-23.7 x 5.0-5.6mm in size (Neill and Boyles, 1957).

The secretive, nocturnal nature of this snake has made it very difficult to study. Using drift fences and pitfall traps, Semlitsch et al. (1981) 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 two males to one female, and 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.

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. Tantilla coronata is not harmful to humans.

Remarks: Other common names in Virginia are eastern backfanged snake (Dunn, 1936), and blackheaded snake and ground snake (Linzey and Clifford, 1981).

There is a serious dearth of information available on this species in Virginia. All specimens and associated information should be reported, and efforts should be made to collect in potential habitats.

Conservation and Management: This species has been listed as status undetermined by Mitchell (1991a) because of the lack of information available for Virginia populations. Tantilla coronata is more widespread in Virginia than previously thought, but its complete distribution pattern is not yet discernible. The demographic structure and dynamics of one or more populations need to be studied so that we can learn how to manage this species. The effect of timbering operations on populations of T. coronata is unknown. Maintenance of large tracts of natural pine forests in the southern portion of Virginia would probably ensure the persistence of this species in the Commonwealth.

References for Life History

Photos:

*Click on a thumbnail for a larger version.


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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