Pantherophis Vulpinus – Eastern Fox Snake

Pantherophis Vulpinus - Eastern Fox Snake information

Pantherophis vulpinus, the eastern fox snake is a nonvenomous snake species found in the Central United States, east of the Mississippi River. Until 2011, two species of fox snakes were distinguished: Pantherophis vulpinus, then called the Western foxsnake and Pantherophis gloydi, then called the Eastern foxsnake. Now, two different species of fox snakes are distinguished: Pantherophis vulpinus (now called the eastern fox snake) which comprises all specimen found east of the Mississippi River, including the population that was previously considered a separate species, Pantherophis gloydi, and a new species Pantherophis ramspotti (now called the western fox snake) which comprises all specimen found west of the Mississippi River.

Eastern Fox Snake Description

The appearance of adult snakes differs greatly from juveniles. The back of adults has numerous light brown and black blotches, on average 41. The color of the head can vary from brown to reddish. Specimen with a reddish head are often mistaken for the venomous copperhead snake and therefore killed. The belly of the snake is yellow or cream-colored with black squares. The scales are slightly keeled.

Pantherophis vulpinus eastern fox snake found in Illinois, previously considered pantherophis gloydi
An adult eastern fox snake found in Illinois. Photo: Douglas Mills

At a young age, the black spots on the skin are usually dark brown with black or really dark brown edges. Juveniles also have a dark line from the jaws to the eyes and between the eyes. This line disappears as the snake ages.

Other similar-looking snakes that the eastern fox snake can be confused with: The nonvemomous Pacific gopher snake (especially the subspecies bullsnake), the nonvenomous western hognose snake, venomous rattlesnakes and the venomous cottonmouth snake or copperhead snake.


Like all species from the rat snake family, fox snakes are a relatively long snake species in the United States. An adult eastern fox snake grows between 35-55 inches (90-140 cm). The longest eastern fox snake found measured almost 71 inches (179 cm).

Pantherophis Vulpinus - Eastern Fox Snake held in hand found in Illinois
The belly of the eastern foxsnake is checkered in black and yellow (or cream-colored). Photo: Douglas Mills

Diet an Habitat

The eastern foxsnake lives in habitats such as prairielands, grasslands, cultivated land and forest groves. Their habitat is usually not far from water sources such as lakes or streams. The snake feeds mostly on small mammals and sometimes birds or birds’ eggs. The snake is an excellent climber. The fox snake kills its prey by constriction. It wraps its body around the prey and contracts its muscles. Through this, the prey is either crushed to death or suffocated before it is eaten whole.


When it feels scared, threatened or irritated, the eastern fox snake often shakes its tail like a rattle. Because of this behavior and its appearance, foxsnakes are often confused with similar-looking rattlesnakes. However, foxsnakes are not venomous and harmless for humans or larger pets. They only bite if provoked.

If the snake feels cornered or is handled, it can release a foul smelling musk that smells similar to foxes. This defensive behavior and its smell has given the snake its common name, the foxsnake.

Geographic Range

The eastern foxsnake is found in the Northern Central United States, exclusively east of the Mississippi River. Considerable populations can be found in these States: Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as a geographically separated population in Eastern Michigan, Northern Ohio and in Canada that was previously considered a separate species that was also called the eastern fox snake, Pantherophis gloydi.

Scientific Classification of Pantherophis vulpinus

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Suborder: Serpentes
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Genus: Pantherophis
  • Species: Pantherophis vulpinus
Pantherophis Vulpinus – Eastern Fox Snake

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