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Color Patterns & Scales Structure

Different species of snake can often be distinguished by their characteristic color patterns. Some are single uniform colors. Others have dark or light markings organized into stripes, spots, blotches or some other pattern. Examples of the major types of color patterns are illustrated here.


pattern Uniform colors are solid colors, black, brown, tan, orange, yellow, gray, blue or green, without any markings. On some species the color may be darker on the head and neck and become lighter on the back part of the body.
pattern Speckles are small flecks of color. There may be one or more speckles on each scale.
pattern Stripes are narrow lines of color that run lengthwise down the snake's body. They may be only one scale wide or may be several scales wide.
pattern Spots are small rounded marks, usually without a border. They may cover several scales.
pattern Crossbands are bands of color extending across the back and down the sides, but do not cross the belly. The belly frequently is a lighter contrasting color.
pattern Blotches are large squarish or irregular shaped markings, frequently with dark borders. Large rectangular blotches that cross the back resemble crossbands.
pattern Rings are bands of color that extend across the back, down the sides and across the belly to completely encircle the body.
pattern Diamonds are slightly overlapping diamond-shaped blotches running down the middle of the back. They usually have dark borders or dark and light borders.

Smooth or Keeled Scales

The scales on the backs of snakes are either smooth or they are keeled. Smooth scales, just as the name indicates, have a smooth surface that reflects the light, making the color pattern of many smooth-scaled snakes shiny, glossy or irridescent. In contrast, keeled scales have a raised ridge running lengthwise down the center of the scale. That keel scatters the light differently than do the flat portions of the scale. As a consequence, most snakes with keeled scales are not shiny; they have a dull, non-reflective appearance.

pattern Smooth Scales have a smooth surface that reflects the light. If you are not sure it has smooth scales, but your snake has a shiny, glossy or irridescent color pattern, chances are it has smooth scales.
pattern Keeled Scales usually have a dull, no-gloss surface. If you are not sure it has keeled scales, but your snake is not shiny and its color pattern is dusty, drab or dull, chances are it has keeled scales.