EASTERN WORM SNAKE

Carphophis a. amoenus

Classification:

Kingdom--Anamalia
Phylum--Chordata
Class--Reptilia
Order--Squamata
Suborder--Serpentes
Superfamily--Xenophidia
Family--Colubridae
Genus--Carphophis
Species--amoenus

Subspecies:

Carphosis amoenus amoenus (SAY, 1825) Eastern Worm Snake

Carphosis amoenus helenae (KENNICOTT, 1859) Midwest Worm Snake

Carphosis amoenus vermis (KENNICOTT, 1859) Western Worm Snake

This information on the taxonomy and the references can be found in the Ernst and Barbour (1989) reference.

Description:

The Eastern Worm Snake most closely resembles an earthworm. It is a small, fossorial snake ranging from 7 to 12 inches in length. The dorsal surface is brown or black, while the ventral surface is translucent pink. The worm snake is covered with smooth scales, which give it a shiny, iridescent appearance. The small, rounded head is barely distinguishable from the rest of the body and the eyes are greatly reduced, which is characteristic of a burrowing snake. Juveniles and adults are similar in form and coloration. Worm snakes in Connecticut do not exhibit color variation.

Other Specializations:

No snake has an actual stinger, but the Eastern Worm Snake has evolved a sharp, pointy tail that aids in burrowing. If caught, this strong snake will use its spiny tail as if burrowing, and pierce the hand instead of biting. They are aslo able to emit an unpleasant odor from their anal glands.

Biogeography:

The Eastern Worm Snake ( C. a. amoenus) ranges from southwestern Massachusetts through Rhode Island, Connecticut, southeastern New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, the Virginias, and the Carolinas to northern Georgia and central Alabama.

The worm snake is distributed throughout Connecticut, and is commonly found at low elevations (below 200 feet). Collection sites in Connecticut include Essex, Westville, Woodbridge, Bethlehem, Morris, and Watertown.

C. a. helenae--S-Ohio, S-Illinois, Mississippi, SE-Louisiana
C. a. vermis--S-Iowa, SE-Nebraska, NW-Louisiana, Texas, Oklahaoma

Habitat:

Like an earthworm, the Eastern Worm Snake prefers a dark, moist environment. This secretive snake is rarely found out in the open; instead, it lurks under rocks or in decayed logs, usually near deciduous woodlands. Under hot conditions, such as summer, worm snakes burrow and spend most of their time underground. Porous, sandy soil is preferable for burrowing. During the winter, worm snakes hibernate underground.

Diet:

Worm snakes feed mainly on earthworms and other soft bodied invertebrates.

Reproductive Behavior:

Worm snakes mate in the spring and autumn. The female stores sperm over the winter, and eggs are laid in June or July, usually under rocks or in decaying logs. Optimal clutch size is 2 to 5 small eggs; these eggs are thin-shelled and elongate in shape. Eggs hatch between August 1 and September 15. Hatchlings are 3 to 4 inches in length and reach maturity after about 3 years. Growth stops during the winter and resumes in April after hibernation. No courtship is observed. Females are larger than males, however, suggesting that females compete for mates when necessary.

Conservation Information:

Habitat destruction is a continuing problem for the Eastern Worm Snake. Individuals are found mostly in second growth deciduous woodland, and the development of these areas has caused a decrease in Connecticut populations. However, small population patches have been able to survive in urbanized areas in the Central Connecticut Lowland. Populations are also maintained in state forests in central and eastern Connecticut. It is hard to determine worm snake abundance since many populations may simply be contained underground.

Interesting Papers:

Russell Kevin R [a]. Hanlin Hugh G. Aspects of the ecology of worm snakes (Carphophis amoenus) associated with small isolated wetlands in South Carolina. Journal of Herpetology. 33(2). June, 1999. 399- 344.

McLeod Roderick [a]. Gates J Edward. Response of herpetofaunal communities to forest cutting and burning at Chesapeake Farms, Maryland. American Midland Naturalist. 139(1). Jan., 1998. 164-177.

Barbour R W. Harvey M J. Hardin J W. HOME RANGE MOVEMENTS AND ACTIVITY OF THE EASTERN WORM SNAKE CARPHOPHIS-AMOENUS-AMOENUS. Ecology 50(3). 1969. 470-476.

Specimens Available At:

Yale Peabody Museum. Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Museum of Natural History. University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

Museum of Natural History. University of Georgia, Athens, GA.

Natural Museum of Natural History. Smithsonian Instituition, Washington D.C.

Useful Links:

Yale Peabody Museum
http://www.peabody.yale.edu/collections/her/

An Interactive Guide to Massachusetts Snakes
http://www.umass.edu/umext/snake/snakepit.html

AmphibiaWeb
http://elib.cs.berkeley.edu/aw

The EMBL Reptile Database
http://www.embl-heidelberg.de/~uetz/LivingReptiles.html

Zoological Record
http://york.biosis.org/zrdocs/zoolinfo/grp_rept.htm

References:

Ernst, Carl H. and Barbour, Roger W. Snakes of Eastern North America. George Mason University Press. 1989.

Klemens, Michael W. Amphibians and Reptiles of Connecticut and Adjacent Regions. State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut. 1993.

Photographs copyright John White and Dennis Desmond.