Colubrid Snakes


Colubrid or Colubridae snakes are the largest family of snakes in the world. They are slender and more active than other snakes, and most of them are non venomous. Those that are venomous, however, are just mildly venomous and are rear fanged, so it just helps the snake swallow its food.

Scarlet kingsnake

Colubrid snakes have one small lung and one very big lung, and they have a complete absence of hind limbs, which you can learn more about here.

Most colubrid snakes are harmless. The ones that aren’t have venom specialized in subduing their prey, which is usually mice, birds, and frogs. To a human, if you were to let the snake gnaw on your hand for a while it might be like a mild bee sting. But with colubrids especially, they will do ANYTHING before biting you.

Ringneck snake

Ringneck (Diadophis punctatus) snakes are grey, black, and sometimes brownish on their backside with one ring around their neck which is more yellow or white depending on the individual snake. But their underside is what makes them stand out the most. They have a red tail and the colors get lighter into yellow as they go up. When a ringneck snake feels threatened, they will show the bright warning colors under its tail, and will also musk, which is extra smelly!

Probably the best actor in the snake world, though, would be the hognose snake, or Heterodon nasicus. Hognose snakes will put on a whole show of defenses when they feel threatened!

Western Hognose snake playing dead

They will flatten their heads out mimicking a venomous rattlesnake or cotton mouth. They may hiss loudly and strike, although it is rare for them to ever bite; they will just bump you with their shovel-like mouth. They will also rattle their tails and fan out their necks like a cobra.

My favorite is that they will play dead! This is crazy to watch as they pretend to writhe around in pain, sticking their tongue out and musking on themselves. Eventually they’ll stop and lay upside down with their tongue out watching to see if the predator leaves. But they are committed to the act, so even if you pick them up, they will try to act dead. When the perceived predator does leave, the snake will very slowly, in increments, turn back the right way and slither along its path.

Rough Green snake eating a dragonfly

Colubrid snakes will eat a variety of prey. Some, like the rough green snakes, specialize in eating insects. Others, like garter snakes and rat snakes, will eat just about anything that fits in their mouths…including, occasionally, other snakes.