Common Wormsnake Carphophis amoenus

Adult from Brown County

Identification

This is one of the smallest snakes in Indiana and one of the most subterranean. Most Common Wormsnakes are brown with a pink belly and glossy smooth scales. Adults of this species may only be half a foot long (15 cm) and rarely exceed a foot (30 cm) in length. Its head is small and rounded. The young measure 3 to 4 inches in length and are darker in color than the adults, which themselves only range from 7 to 11 inches long. This snake is strikingly different from other snakes because of its slender body shape; some have confused it with a very long earthworm.

Venter of adult from Brown County
Subadult from Brown County
Adult from Floyd County

Both recognized subspecies occur in the Midwest. The Eastern Wormsnake (C. a. amoenus) and the Midwest Wormsnake (C. a. helenae) can only be differentiated by observation of the scales on the head. The eastern subspecies has separate internasal and prefrontal scales. These scales are fused together in the Midwest Worm Snake. The Eastern Wormsnake’s dorsum is has a brownish shade, with a belly and adjacent dorsal scales pink in color. In comparison, Western Wormsnakes have a darker dorsum, with the pink coloration of the ventral scales extending into the 3rd row of dorsal scales.

Smooth Earthsnakes are also small, brown snakes commonly found under cover, but they have slightly keeled scales (lack a glossy appearance), a distinct head and neck, and typically have a lighter tan belly (as opposed to a pinkish belly).

Ecology and Conservation

These snakes are harmless and are very hard to locate since they burrow up to a foot below the soil surface. The Common Wormsnake is usually found under rocks and rotten logs where their prey, earthworms and soft-bodied insects, is abundant.

Rocky hillside in Franklin County
Shalestone glade in Floyd County

Distribution

Common Wormsnakes are found throughout much of southern Indiana and are most abundant in the unglaciated hills of south-central Indiana. They are found further north along the gorges around the Wabash River and Sugar Creek in western Indiana. This is a burrowing snake of mesic forests, but they are occasionally found under logs and rocks during the spring and summer.

The distribution of the Common Wormsnake extends from Massachusetts, Delaware, and eastern New York, south to South Carolina, west to extreme northeast Mississippi, and north to southeast Ohio. The Midwest Wormsnake is found from southern Ohio, west to Illinois, and south to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia. Ohio is the only state in the Midwest in which both subspecies occur.

Taxonomy

One subspecies of the Common Wormsnakethe Midwestern Wormsnake (C. a. helenae)occurs in Indiana.

Literature Cited

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Common Wormsnake (Carphophis amoenus)
Photographs