Article for September - October 2010
Rainbow Snake Natural History
The rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma) is one of the most strikingly beautiful snakes found in South Carolina.
Growing to an average adult length of between three and four feet, the harmless, non-venomous rainbow snake is easily identified and aptly named. The body of the rainbow snake is glossy black with three vivid red lines running the down the length of its back. Adult specimens often have a yellow patch on the jaw and the side of the head, while the belly is a patchwork of showy red and black. They also have a spine on the tips of their tails, which they sometimes use as a probe. Contrary to myth, this spine is not a "stinger" and is, in fact, utterly harmless. Rainbow snakes are very docile by nature and rarely bite.
Rainbow snakes are found in the coastal plain of the eastern United States from southern Virginia to eastern Louisiana. They are primarily aquatic, living in a variety of wetland habitats including creeks, rivers and cypress swamps. Unlike most of the other aquatic snakes found in South Carolina, rainbow snakes are sometimes found in brackish waters near the ocean. Sometimes called "eel moccasins," rainbows specialize in eating freshwater eels, which they eat alive and swallow headfirst. Though eels are their primary diet, they will also sometimes feed on frogs, salamanders and other small aquatic animals.
Rainbow snakes are elusive by nature and rarely seen. They are listed as a species of concern in some Gulf states, but the population in South Carolina is thought to be relatively healthy.
© 2010 South Carolina Wildlife Magazine, September - October 2010 - www.scwildlife.com