New York Natural Heritage Program
Eastern Wormsnake
Carphophis amoenus (Say, 1825)

Identifying Characteristics [-]
The eastern wormsnake (Carphophis amoenus) is a small (7.5-15 inches; 19-38 cm total length) (Conant and Collins 1998, Gibbs et al. 2007), fossorial (living underground) snake that resembles an earthworm (Klemens 1993). The young are 3 to 5 inches (7.5 to 12.4 cm) in length (Gibbs et al. 2007). The scales are smooth and shiny and the dorsal surface of the snake is brown, while the ventral surface and adjacent rows of dorsal scales are pink (Conant and Collins 1998, Gibbs et al. 2007). The tail terminates at a blunt spine (Gibbs et al. 2007), the head is small and flattened, tapering away from the body, and the eyes are very small (Klemens 1993). These are all adaptations for a fossorial existence (Gibbs et al. 2007).

Characters Most Useful for Identification [-]
The small size, tapered head with small eyes, uniform shiny brown dorsal surface, and pink underside is distinctive.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification [-]
The adult and young differ in length, but are similar in appearance and are easily identified.

Behavior [-]
The fossorial behavior of the wormsnake makes the chances of finding this species on the surface very rare (Gibbs et al. 2007) and locating wormsnakes usually involves looking underneath various cover items, such as rocks and logs. When handled, wormsnakes may attempt to burrow between your fingers (Gibbs et al. 2007). The species is reported from moist forests, as well as from drier habitats (McLeod and Gates 1998), and Orr (2006) determined that microhabitat soil moisture in wormsnake habitat ranged from 10% to 83% in Virginia, depending upon the season and year. Wormsnakes are susceptible to water loss through their skin and may burrow deep into the soil and become inactive during the hot summer months (Gibbs et al. 2007). Orr (2006) suggested that the distribution of wormsnakes is probably influenced by soil pH, at least at his study site in Virginia, and he found that the pH range in wormsnake habitats (5.0 to 6.9) was similar to the preferred range of the wormsnake's primary prey, the earthworm. The limits of pH tolerance of the wormsnake have not been identified, however (Orr 2006). Reports on clutch size vary, but appear to range between two and eight eggs. The eggs are probably laid in depressions under boulders or in hollow logs, likely from mid to late June (Klemens 1993) or early July. Hatching dates of eastern wormsnakes in the literature were summarized by Clark (1970), and these dates ranged between the beginning of August to mid-September and it is likely that hatching in New England and eastern New York occurs during this time (Klemens 1993). Wormsnakes have relatively small home ranges (NatureServe 2007) and the average home range size in Kentucky is reported to be 253 square meters (0.06 acres). They hibernate in rotting wood or underground, often in burrows of other animals, and they may be active both night and day (Clark 1970 in Klemens 1993).

Diet [-]
Wormsnakes feed primarily on earthworms and soft-bodied insects (Barbour 1960). The diet is restricted to elongated prey, due to the small size of the mouth (Gibbs et al. 2007).
Eastern Wormsnake Images
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The Best Time to See
Wormsnakes may be active from the early spring (March) through fall (October) (Gibbs et al. 2007), depending upon the weather. Mating has been reported to take place in the spring and summer (Gibbs et al. 2007), as well as the spring and fall (Clark 1970 in Klemens 1993).
Present Reproducing
The time of year you would expect to find Eastern Wormsnake present (blue shading) and reproducing (orange shading) in New York.