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.
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.
Speckles are small flecks of color. There may be one or more speckles on each scale.
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.
Spots are small rounded marks, usually without a border. They may cover
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.
Blotches are large squarish or irregular shaped markings,
frequently with dark borders. Large rectangular blotches that cross the back resemble crossbands.
Rings are bands of color that extend across the back, down the sides and across
the belly to completely encircle the body.
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.
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.
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.