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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide

Image of Scarlet snake.Zoom+ Scarlet snake. Photo courtesy of George Cevera.

Scarlet snake

Cemophora coccinea

Species Group: Reptile

Conservation Status

State: Threatened



One of New Jersey’s most colorful snakes, the scarlet snake has red and yellowish rings separated by thin black bands. It has a red, pointed snout, a plain white or yellow belly, and smooth scales. It grows to a length of 14 to 32 ¼ inches.

Image of Range of the scarlet snake in New Jersey.Zoom+ Range of the scarlet snake in New Jersey.


The scarlet snake can be found in the southeastern U.S. from Texas in the southwest to Maryland and Delaware in the northeast, and as far south as southern Florida. There is an isolated population in central Missouri as well as southern New Jersey.

In New Jersey, this species can be found from central Monmouth County on the north to the Cape May peninsula in the south and as far west as approximately the location of the NJ Turnpike.

Preferred habitat includes damp hardwood and coniferous forests as well as adjacent open areas. This species burrows, so they are usually found in the ground or under rocks or logs.


Small lizards and reptile eggs are their primary food, but they’ll also eat insects, frogs, and small mice. They kill their live prey by constriction. Small eggs may be swallowed whole while larger eggs are pierced by teeth inside the back of the snake’s mouth.


Inactive during cold weather, they are most active between April and September. This snake is primarily nocturnal. They are seldom seen above ground except at night or after heavy rains.

They lay 3-8 eggs in June or July which then hatch later during the summer. The eggs are laid in moist decaying vegetation or other underground sites.


In 2016, the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Advisory Committee recommended a Threatened status for this species within the state, but no formal rule proposal has been filed to date. The Threatened status is largely due to population declines and habitat loss. Reasons for the decline in their population are loss of habitat, illegal capture for the pet trade, road mortality, and direct killing. This species, like many snakes, has an undeserved bad reputation and they are often killed, which is illegal in New Jersey.


The Endangered and Nongame Species Program would like for individuals to report their sightings of scarlet snakes. Record the date, time, location, and condition of the animal and submit the information by submitting a Sighting Report Form. The information will be entered into the state’s natural heritage program, commonly referred to as Biotics. Biologists map the sighting and the resulting maps “allow state, county, municipal, and private agencies to identify important wildlife habitats and protect them in a variety of ways. This information is used to regulate land-use within the state and assists in preserving endangered and threatened species habitat remaining in New Jersey.”

Text written by Mike Davenport in 2016.


  • NatureServe. 2015. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed: August 6, 2015).
  • Schwartz, Vicki and D.M. Golden. 2002. Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of New Jersey. New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
       Class: Reptilia
          Order: Squamata
             Family: Colubridae
                Genus: Cemophora
                   Species: C. coccinea

Find Related Info: Reptiles, Threatened

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