Snakes are incredibly misunderstood critters. Throughout history, they were revered for their strength, but today they’re feared. Many people will go running when they see a snake, but most are not out to harm you.
Most of Pennsylvania’s snakes are very docile and simply want to be left alone. Sure, there are three venomous snakes in the state, but they won’t attack unless provoked. They’re even less likely to be your cause of death. In fact, in the United States, only about 5 people die from snake bites each year.
What Are The Species of Snakes in PA?
In total, there are 2,700 species of snakes in the world. But, how do scientists break all these species down into categories? Where does Pennsylvania fit in?
Snakes can be broken down into two families: the Colubrid family and the Viperidae family.
Colubrid represents a family of snakes and makes up the largest family in the snake species. Of the 2,700 types of snakes in the world, the Colubrid family makes up three quarters of that.
The Colubrid family generally encompasses all the non-venomous snakes. It includes arboreal snakes, ground-dwelling snakes, and water-dwelling snakes.
Colubrid, or non-venomous snakes, can be distinguished easily from venomous snakes.
Colubrids have a tubular-shaped head that appears almost flattened. The head is also typically twice as wide as their neck. The pupils are round unlike the pit vipers whose pupils are slitted.
As for their scales, the large scales cover the head in a regular pattern. Sometimes they are smooth, while other times they are keeled. They also have two rows of scales that run the length of their underside.
Even their teeth are different. The Colubrids have teeth on both their upper and lower jaws. But, they lack the larger, hollow fangs that venomous snakes use to strike.
Viperidae Snakes (Pit Vipers)
If the Colubrid family is defined by non-venomous snakes, the Viperidae family is defined by venomous snakes.
We discussed that non-venomous snakes usually have heads that are twice the size of their neck. Pit vipers’ heads are even larger. They are typically the size of a triangle. Non-venomous snake head’s are more rounded or oval shaped. Their pupils are also slitted.
They have regular rows of teeth on their upper and lower jaw. Pit vipers also have a set of hollow fangs at the front upper jaw. These fangs are considered to be modified teeth.
When they’re not in use, the snake will hold them back along the surface of their jaw. They are held in place there by a bone that can move in and out of the way as the snake needs them. When the snake opens its mouth, this bone automatically moves out of the way. This gives the snake access to them.
The fangs are even wrapped in a thin layer of flesh to protect them. Only the tip, where the venom is dislodged, is exposed.
Another interesting fact about their fangs is that they’re always growing new ones. Pit vipers don’t need to worry about losing or damaging their fangs. New ones will simply grow in their place.
There are new teeth that are constantly developing under the old ones. Even when no damage has occurred, fangs are replaced regularly every few weeks.
What Makes Them “Pit” Vipers?
Pit vipers are characterized by the literal “pit” that is found on the side of their face. The pit is located between the eye and nostril. The pit can sense heat and is the organ that these snakes use to sense when other animals are around. The pit is what helps them determine what may be predator or prey.
Not only is the pit heat sensitive, but it can sense the amount of heat coming off the source, and it can locate the direction it’s coming from. The pit is extremely accurate at sensing how big something is and where it is located so that the snake will almost always strike precisely.
There is a duct going from the base of the fang to the side of the head and behind the inner ear where the venom is housed. This is true for all venomous snakes, and these snakes can attack and inject venom as soon as they’re born.
When a snake wants to strike, they’ll do it from an S-shaped posture. The body straightens very quickly as the snake strikes, and they can do this from lengths of one third to one half of their body length.
The venom that each snake contains may have different properties and can cause different reactions. The venom found in Pennsylvania species is a mixture of proteins. These proteins attack the circulatory system, destroying the tissue and preventing the blood from clotting properly.
Some of these snakes may also contain neurotoxins which attack the nervous system. The ability to fight infection will be lowered. Besides that, tissues may be destroyed, and the blood is not able to clot properly.
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The 13 Different Types of Pennsylvania Snakes
Most Common Snakes in PA
1. Northern Black Racer
The Northern Black Racer, or Coluber constrictor constrictor, is one of the biggest and also most most common species of snake in Pennsylvania.
They only live about 10 years, but they can grow up to 36 to 60 inches (76.2 cm to 152.4 cm) in length. Although they can grow to incredible lengths, their bodies remain slim which allows them to travel at great speeds.
They’re pure black in coloration, both on their backs and stomachs. Although, they do generally have a small patch of white under their throat.
Their adult coloration is quite different from their juvenile coloration. When they’re young, the Northern Black Racer will be gray with dark spots running down their sides. Along with that are brown spots that go down the middle of the back.
Northern racers can be found all across Pennsylvania hiding under rocks and inside of logs. It is not picky about what kind of habitat it makes its home. You’ll find the snakes across a variety of locations like fields, grasslands, woodlands, and rocky hills. They can even be found along the banks of streams.
Not only that, but Northern Black Racers are incredibly good climbers, so you can find them in the branches of shrubs and trees.
Are They Dangerous?
The Northern Black Racer is no threat to humans. However, this doesn’t mean that you should try and pick up the snake. It will try to bite if it is picked up, and it will bite repeatedly.
So, the snakes can cause bodily harm, but this is only if you threaten it and harass it. Otherwise, it is not venomous and cannot kill you. It will even try to slither away before going into attack mode. It will only feel the need to attack if you push it.
These snakes also are not constrictors, although this is often misunderstood.
Another thing you’ll need to know is that it somewhat resembles a rattlesnake in the way it behaves when threatened. If you get too close, it will warn you by vibrating its tail against the ground, creating somewhat of a rattling sound. Although this doesn’t really sound like a true rattlesnake, inexperienced hikers may become confused.
2. Northern Ring-Necked Snake
The Northern Ring-Necked Snake, or Diadophis punctatus edwardsii, is one of the most common snakes in Pennsylvania.
These snakes are named after the light colored ring that forms at the base of their neck. This ring is usually golden or yellow in color.
The rest of their body is usually a dark gray color, but you will sometimes see snakes that are brown or black. Their underside is a yellow color similar to the ring on their neck. Some snakes will have black dots running down the center of the stomach.
Each snake will grow to only 10-24 inches (25.4 cm to 60.96 cm) in length, but their bodies remain slim. They can live for up to 20 years.
The Northern Ringneck Snake is a very shy snake, so it’s not often seen by humans. It is nocturnal, slithering about at night, so it makes them even more elusive. But, where exactly does it like to hide?
A very common snake, they can be found all across Pennsylvania, but prefer areas that are slightly wet. Because of this, you’re more likely to see them in woodland areas than in fields or grassland. They also love hiding in rocky areas and will hide there, or under logs.
Are They Dangerous?
Non-venomous, these snakes pose no threat to humans. However, they do emit a disgusting smelling musk designed to deter predators.
3. Eastern Milk Snake
The eastern milk snake, or Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum, is another one of the most common snakes in Pennsylvania.
These snakes get a bad rap because they’re often confused with copperheads. Unfortunately, they are frequently killed because of the way they look.
Even still, they don’t really bare that much resemblance. A copperhead’s head is copper in color and doesn’t have any markings. The Eastern Milk Snake is light in color and has quite a few marks on it.
Likewise, the stomach of a copperhead is a cream color without any markings. The Eastern Milk Snake’s stomach is white with dark spots. Their bellies are so pockmarked with spots, in fact, that it resembles a checkerboard.
The body is what often gets the Eastern Milk Snake confused with the copperhead. The body is gray or tan in coloration with brownish red spots marking the back. The spots on these snakes are enclosed in a rim of black.
The spots are widest on the snake’s back, but they go down the sides where they become narrower. This is different from the copperhead whose spots are narrowest on the back and gets wider down the sides.
Despite their non-dangerous nature, they can grow to be quite large which likely contributes to people’s fears. They can grow between 24t o 52 inches (60.96 cm to 132.08 cm) and may live up to 20 years.
The Eastern Milk Snake is shy and doesn’t like to be the center of attention, but it is commonly seen all the same. It can be found across all of Pennsylvania, but is most often seen in the northeastern part of the state.
These snakes are not picky about where they reside, either. You can find it anywhere from a suburban neighborhood to the rural areas. Its favorite places are damp areas like meadows and farmland, but they can also be found in woodland and on rocky hillsides.
Milk snakes love anything moist, so you’re likely to see them making their home in rotting logs and damp trash piles.
Are They Dangerous?
Although these snakes are often confused with the copperhead, they’re completely harmless.
4. Eastern Smooth Green Snake
The Smooth Green Snake, or Opheodrys vernalis, is a terrestrial snake that only reaches 14 to 20 inches (35.56 cm to 50.8 cm) in length. It is very docile in nature and is thought to be the most gentle snake in all of North America.
It also has a very short lifespan compared to other snakes, only living up to 6 years of age.
These snakes are very small and have a narrow body. Their body is streamlined for better movement, and their tails are tapered at the ends.
The coloration of the Smooth Green Snake is a bright, light green with a stomach that is plain white. You may notice a bit of yellow coloration in the stomach area as well.
These snakes are some of the most common snakes in Pennsylvania. The only places you won’t find it are in the middle part of the state or the very southeastern tip of the state.
The Smooth Green Snake is a terrestrial snake that spends the majority of its life on the ground. You’ll commonly find it living in meadows, grassy fields and marshlands, and at the edges of forests. These snakes are most active during the day, so it’s likely that you could encounter one while out hiking or exploring.
Are They Dangerous?
The Eastern Smooth Green Snake is not dangerous at all to humans.
5. Queen Snake
The Queen Snake, or Regina septemvittata, is another common snake. These snakes look quite similar to the rat snake because their bodies are mostly a dark brown coloration. They stay much smaller, though, only reaching lengths of up to 15 to36 inches (38.1 cm to 91.44 cm). They can also live for up to 19 years of age.
The coloration is not always the same as the rat snake, though. Queen Snakes can range in color from tans, browns, and blacks. They have a yellow stripe that runs down the lower side of their body, and the stomach is yellow as well. Besides the yellow, the stomach has four distinct brown stripes that run down its length.
The Queen Snake is quite common in Pennsylvania, but it is only found in the western third of the state and the southeastern part of the state.
Because this snake loves to swim in water, it is commonly confused for the water moccasin. Unlike the water moccasin though, the Queen Snake is quite harmless. So, if you happen to see this snake swimming near you during your swim in a river or stream, don’t be alarmed.
These snakes are aquatic and are great swimmers. The water is the first place this animal will seek if it’s feeling threatened.
Still, the Queen Snake doesn’t like all water. It prefers streams and small bodied rivers. It stays away from larger rivers and other large bodies of water like lakes and ponds.
Inside these smaller water bodies, the Queen Snake likes waterways with lots of rocks. These rocks make them feel safe.
Unlike other snakes, the Queen Snake doesn’t like to bask much. Instead, it’ll be found swimming at the very surface of the water where it gets lots of sun.
Are They Dangerous?
These snakes are quite harmless and will quickly flee into the water if they see you approaching.
6. Eastern Garter Snake
The Eastern Garter Snake, or Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, is another one of the most common Pennsylvania snakes.
Their bodies are a dark green to black color. They have three stripes that run down their back and sides. The stripes can be different colors of yellow, brown, and green. They always stand out really well against the snake’s darker body coloration. There is also a double row of spots that can be found in between each stripe.
Their stomachs are similar in color, shades of green and yellow. There will also be two rows of black spots down the length of the belly.
The Eastern Garter Snake is average in size, growing to 20 to 28 inches (50.8 cm to 71.12 cm) in length. It doesn’t have a great lifespan, only reaching up to 10 years in age.
Eastern Garter Snakes are so common that you have more than likely seen at least one in your life. It is so common, in fact, that it is the most widely distributed snake in all of Pennsylvania.
They’re not picky about where they reside and will as easily live in the forest as they will your garden. It’s only preference is that it will pick somewhere with lots of places to hide.
However, these snakes do have their preferences. It likes to stay close to water because that’s where it likes to hunt. Overall, it just likes being where the environment is moist. Look for these snakes in meadows, marshes, and woodlands.
The Eastern Garter Snake is active during the day and can stay active throughout the year longer than most other snakes. They are great at tolerating colder temperatures and will emerge from their dens in the spring before any other snakes. They will also be the last snakes to enter their dens before the onset of winter.
Are They Dangerous?
Many people become alarmed when seeing them in their yards and gardens, but you shouldn’t worry. These snakes are harmless.
However, they do have musk glands that can secrete foul-smelling odors when they’re feeling threatened.
Also, when threatened, it will take on a posture similar to that of water snakes. When it’s threatened, it will flatten its body against the ground.
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Venomous Snakes of Pennsylvania
When it comes to venomous snakes in Pennsylvania, the state has just three. The Northern Copperhead, Eastern Massasauga, and the Timber Rattlesnake are all venomous.
However, the only venomous snake you really need to be concerned with crossing is the Timber Rattlesnake. Timber Rattlesnakes can be found almost anywhere across the state and their venom is quite dangerous.
The Northern Copperhead doesn’t need to be feared much because their venom is low in toxins. It’s very rare for someone to die of a Northern Copperhead bite.
The Eastern Massasauga’s venom is higher in toxicity, similar to the timber rattlesnake’s. However, you don’t have to worry much about these snakes because they’re endangered and are rarely seen in Pennsylvania.
7. Northern Copperhead
The northern copperhead, or Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen, is one of the most dangerous snakes you’ll find in Pennsylvania. Still, it’s not very dangerous as long as you seek help after being bitten.
Northern copperheads have thick bodies with a reddish brown colored body. They are named after the color of their head which is copper colored.
You’ll also notice chestnut colored bands running across the back and down their sides. These bands are narrowest at the ridge of their back and become wider as they go down the sides. Some say that these bands resemble an oddly-shaped hourglass.
The stomach of the copperhead is a mottle white or gray coloration.
As is common with snakes, the females are typically larger than the males. The adult size can range anywhere from 24 to 36 inches (60.96 cm to 91.44 cm) in length, but most of these snakes will grow to be over 2 feet (0.60 m) long. They can live between 16-22 years.
Northern Copperheads can be found throughout the lower two-thirds of Pennsylvania. They prefer to reside in wooded hillsides with lots of rocks. They like to choose hills that are above streams or marshland areas.
They also like to hide in stone walls, piles of rocks, and other areas of debris. They are commonly found in wood piles and sawdust piles on farms as well. So, if you’re out and about hiking, be careful when you come across things like this.
Are They Dangerous?
The Northern Copperhead is one of the most venomous snakes you’ll find in Pennsylvania. This is good news for you if you’re visiting Pennsylvania. While they’re one of the state’s most venomous snakes, their venom is not very potent.
Their venom is made up mostly of a hemotoxin, but has a bit of a neurotoxin mixed in as well. Because of this, the venom mainly attacks the blood, and it’s very painful to the person being bitten.
If you’re bitten by a copperhead, of course, you’ll want to be treated. However, their bites rarely result in the death of the victim. In fact, there have been reports of bites being left untreated and the person still survived.
Besides that, copperheads are very quiet creatures that try to avoid trouble as much as possible. If they see humans, they’re most likely to flee, seeking out a good hiding spot where they feel safe.
8. Eastern Massasauga
The Eastern Massasauga, or Sistrurus c. catenatus, is an endangered type of rattlesnake found in Pennsylvania.
Eastern Massasaugas are the smallest rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania. They are only about half the size of their timber rattlesnake cousins. Overall, they’ll grow to about 20 to 30 inches (50.8 cm to 76.2 cm) in length. They may live up to 20 years old.
They are brown to gray in coloration, and some may appear almost black. There will be a row of round dark brown spots going down the middle of the snake’s back. There usually will also be three rows of lighter and smaller spots running down the snake’s sides.
These snakes will also have a dark bar rimmed with a lighter color running from the eye to the end of the jaw. It will also have multiple dark bars that travel from the top of the head down to the neck.
The stomach of the snake will be black with spatterings of white and yellow.
As I said, these snakes are endangered, and their homes are being destroyed. If you do happen to come across one of these snakes, you’re most likely to find them in swamps and marshes. They can be found in a very small region of the western side of the state.
They love areas with overly-wet, poorly-drained soil. They also love areas with lots of vegetation for them to hide in.
Are They Dangerous?
Like its cousin, the timber rattlesnake, it is an incredibly venomous type of snake. Still, because of its rarity, you’re not likely to find it outside of western Pennsylvania.
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Deadliest Pennsylvania Snakes
9. Timber Rattlesnake
The timber rattlesnake, or Crotalus horridus, is the most dangerous snake you’ll come across in Pennsylvania. There are actually two different kinds of timber rattlesnakes, but both snakes are identical except for their coloration.
One rattlesnake is yellow in coloration while the other is black. On a yellow snake, there will be black or brown v-shaped crossbands across the body. The black rattlers have a lot of flecking of dark browns and blacks against their black background.
They have a rattle at the end of their tail that they use to warn off any would-be predators. The rattle is an organ that is only loosely attached to the tail. The tail is broken into segments, and a new segment will be added to the end with each shedding. When the snake shakes its tail, each segment will hit against another, causing the rattling sound.
The timber rattlesnake will grow to be quite large as well, and is the largest of the venomous snakes in Pennsylvania. Its length reaches 36 to 60 inches (76.2 cm to 152.4 cm) total and they can live to between 16-22 years of age.
The Timber Rattlesnake can be found in the central two-thirds of Pennsylvania along the mountain ranges.
They prefer to make their home on land that is covered in wood. The best places for this are second-growth woodland. Wooded hillsides with lots of rocks are also a favorite.
Are They Dangerous?
Unlike the northern copperhead, the timber rattlesnake is incredibly venomous, so you should take care to never go near it.
However, like the copperhead, the Timber Rattlesnake is not aggressive and will only attack when it feels it has to. It prefers to lie quietly instead when it notices a human, waiting for them to pass by. They may also try to quietly slither away.
Still, if the snake feels threatened, it may attack, and the venom is quite dangerous. If it cannot escape, it will stand its ground and strike. You may come off lucky as the snake will not always release venom with the bite, but it’s better not to take the chance.
Biggest and Longest Snakes in PA
10. Black Rat Snake
The Eastern Rat Snake, or Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta, is one of the most common and also one of the biggest kinds of snakes found in Pennsylvania.
Rat snakes are typically solid black in coloration, although you can sometimes see some blue, yellow, red, or orange between the scales. The underside of the snake is going to be white or yellow in coloration. You’ll notice some gray mottling on the underside which will be gray or brown.
The juveniles, on the other hand, have lots of patterning down their back and tail. They have gray and brown splotches running down their backs. By the time the snake reaches maturity, about 2 years old, these markings will have been replaced by solid coloring.
Reaching lengths of 40 to 101 inches (101.6 cm to 256.54 cm), these are the biggest snakes on this list.
Unlike most snakes that have a rounded belly, the Black Rat Snake’s belly is flat, so the sides come together at an angle.
These snakes can also live for well over 20 years, so it’s no wonder that they can grow to such incredible sizes. They have plenty of time to do it!
Some people confuse the Black Rat Snake with the Black Racer, but there are some characteristics that set them apart. The Black Racer has a narrow head while the Black Rat Snake’s head is square and broad with a flat mouth.
Also, you’ll sometimes notice other colors between the scales of the Black Rat Snake, and its scales will be keeled. The Black Racer won’t have these colors between the scales, and the scales are completely smooth.
Black Rat Snakes are extremely common and can be found all throughout Pennsylvania. They are not very picky about where they reside, either. They prefer wooded areas, but you’ll also find them roaming about fields, around barns, and in farmland.
In fact, Black Rat Snakes love farms because of their abundance of rodents. They’re a great supplier of an easy meal for the snakes.
The Black Rat Snake prefers cooler temperatures, being most active in the spring and autumn. In the cooler months, it’ll be most active during the day. However, when the seasons change and the temperatures grow hotter, the Black Rat Snake becomes more active at night. During the hot summer days, it will find somewhere cool to hide.
They’re also great climbers, and will often climb into the hollows of trees to escape the heat. In the winter when it becomes too cold, the Black Rat Snake will seek out underground dens, often living with rattlesnakes and copperheads.
Are They Dangerous?
Fortunately, despite their large size, these snakes are completely harmless. They are not venomous and pose no threat to humans.
However, they do have musk glands that can emit horribly smelling liquid when it feels threatened.
11. Northern Water Snake
The Northern Water Snake, or Nerodia sipedon sipedon, is the largest of Pennsylvania’s 3 water snakes. Their bodies can grow between 24-55 inches in length. Unfortunately, they do have relatively short life spans, usually only living until the age of 9.
These snakes can come in a variety of different colors like reddish brown, gray, and brownish black. They may have some patterning. However, as the snake ages, the patterns will often begin to blend into the snake’s main color.
The patterning that I speak of starts as crossbands at the neck. The bands will eventually morph into blotches that alternate between each side of the snake.
Their bellies are white, yellow, or gray that is broken up by spots. The spots will either be reddish-brown, or they will be black and crescent shaped.
The Northern Water Snake is very common and can be found across all of Pennsylvania. You’ll most likely find these critters swimming in lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. They can also be found in bogs and swamps.
These snakes like to swim underwater because they’re protected by the aquatic plants that float at the surface. Even when basking they will stay close to the water. Usually, they’ll just wrap themselves over the branch of a tree or a shrub near the water.
Are They Dangerous?
The Northern Water Snake is another harmless snake that gets a bad rap. This snake is feared because it likes to swim and is commonly mistaken as the Water Moccasin.
Let’s face it, if you’re swimming in a lake and see one of these guys pass close by to you, you’ll probably be afraid as well.
These snakes are not venomous and probably can’t kill you, but they can be aggressive when provoked. They will swim or sliter away when able, but will attack if it comes down to it.
When they attack, they’ll flatten their head to strike. If you corner the snake, it will strike multiple times. Although it likely can’t kill you, the jaws are powerful enough to leave a serious bite. There is an anticoagulant property in the snake’s saliva that can stop the blood from clotting and cause a person to lose a lot of blood.
Just keep in mind that the snake will only do this if you provoke it. If you leave the snake alone, it is quite harmless and will leave you alone as well.
12. Eastern Hognose Snake
The Eastern Hognose snake, or Heterodon platirhino, is one of the biggest snakes in PA, reaching lengths of 18 to 45 inches (45.72 cm to 114.3 cm).
You can recognize these snakes by their signature upturned snouts. It has a very wide body that goes down toward a stout body.
Coloration varies from yellows, tans, browns, grays, and reds. Dark, square blotches run down their backs, alternating with similarly colored round spots. The stomach is a yellow, gray, or pink color. The stomach will also be mottled with colors of gray or green. The underside of the tail will be similar in color to the stomach, but will be lighter in color.
These snakes can be found across over half of the state, but they’re not very common. In fact, they’re quite limited in number. They are found mostly on the eastern side of the state, although they also dwell in some southwestern portions as well. Oddly enough, you can even find them by Lake Erie.
Unlike many of these snakes that like moist habitat, the Eastern Hognose Snake prefers dry or sandy land, and likes to remain out in the open. However, they can be found in lightly wooded or rocky areas.
Are They Dangerous?
The Eastern Hognose Snake really isn’t dangerous, although it does a great job of fooling predators into thinking it is.
When it feels threatened, the snake will flatten the head and neck, forcing the ribs to open outward. This gives the appearance of a widened, hood-like neck that can appear threatening, but is harmless.
If these displays don’t work, the snake may roll over and attempt to play “dead”. It will even pretend to convulse. To really seal the deal, the snake will then leave its mouth hanging open with its tongue lolling out.
It’s so good at playing dead that if it’s picked up, it’ll force its body to go limp to really fool the attacker into thinking it’s dead. However, if you place the snake upright, it’ll roll onto its back again, giving away the fact that it’s not really dead.
Smallest Pennsylvania Snakes
13. Eastern Worm Snake
The eastern worm snake, or Sistrurus c. catenatus, is so tiny that some may say it’s cute. Reaching only 7 to 11 inches (17.78 cm to 27.94 cm), this snake is incredibly slender like a worm, where it gets its name.
It’s body is dark brown in coloration with no markings. Its key distinguishing feature is its belly which is a bright red and pink color. If you get close enough to this snake, you’ll see that the head is short and blunt, and that its short tail ends with a sharp tip.
It is very short in length with a narrow body. It is so small in fact that it can fit in the palm of your hand and will slither around your fingers. These characteristics often cause the worm snake to become mistaken with actual earthworms.
These snakes are hard to find because they’re shy and prefer to hide where they can’t be seen. Although these snakes are hard to find, they can be found in about one quarter of the southeastern part of Pennsylvania. Its habitat range seems to stop just below the lower Pocono Mountains and to the east of the Allegheny Mountains.
The Worm Snake prefers wooded land that is damp and hilly. When woodland is not available, they’ll settle for grassy hills near streams or other places where the soil remains moist.
The thing that makes these snakes so hard to find is where they like to hide. They burrow under rocks or decaying logs to shelter away from predators. When the environment becomes too dry or cold, the snake must stay dry and warm. So, it’ll burrow itself into the soil.
Are They Dangerous?
Fortunately, their small size also means they’re no threat to humans. They are not venomous, so they are of no danger to hikers or anyone else.
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Threats From Habitat Loss
The Massasauga Rattlesnake has been listed as threatened by the USDA since 1998. This is because of habitat loss and fear from humans.
These rattlesnakes are almost never seen in Pennsylvania because they’re threatened. However, with habitat loss caused by humans, they’re coming into contact with humans more often.
Massasauga Rattlesnakes are commonly found in swampy and marshy areas. Much of this habitat has been drained for development, or has dried up. Often, highways and other motorways reside uncomfortably close to their remaining habitat, making life dangerous for the snakes.
Unfortunately, humans fear these snakes simply because they’re venomous. But, a Massasauga Rattlesnake has never caused a human fatality.
Fortunately, the Natural Resources Conservation Service of Pennsylvania is working to protect these snakes from possible extinction. With enough habitat and privacy, the Massasauga Rattlesnake is likely to ever come in contact with humans because of its gentle nature.
The goal of the NRCS is to protect existing wetlands — the rattlesnake’s natural habitat — and to restore them. The plan is to restore drained or manipulated wetlands as well as restore the habitats of wild areas nearby.
Here are some things the NRCS is doing:
- Providing financial assistance to private landowners to improve their wetlands and wild areas
- Purchasing conservation easements on wetlands that are important to the Massasauga Rattlesnake
- Installing riparian forested buffers, riparian herbaceous cover, and conservation plantings to provide cover for the rattlesnakes
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With the earth’s temperatures warming, it’s possible that we could see an increase in the amount of snake’s moving northward across North America.
Snakes are cold blooded and rely on external sources to maintain their body heat. We’re seeing an increase in the temperatures of areas that are usually too cold for certain species of snakes. With these warming temperatures, we may see a rise in the amount of snakes in the northern areas of the continent.
This could be concerning because we could potentially see an increase in the number of venomous snakes moving northward. Right now, there are only three venomous snakes that call Pennsylvania home. With the warming temperatures, that number could increase.
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Snakes In Culture
Snakes have been feared and revered throughout much of history. In some cultures, the serpent is regarded as the bearer of lies and temptation. They are the embodiment of evil. In other cultures, snakes represent fertility and rebirth. Some even associate snakes with immortality.
Here are some of the most prolific snakes throughout history, culture, and mythology:
1. The Serpent In The Garden of Eden
This is a story that is well known across most of the world. According to Christinas, Adam and Eve were the first humans that inhabited the planet. They lived in a perfect world: the Garden of Eden.
One day, an evil, lying snake tempted Eve into eating the fruit from the “tree of knowledge”. This is the act that brought sin and death into the world.
God not only punished Adam and Eve, but he also punished the snake. God told the snake that, “You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”
Who the serpent represents varies between Christians and their specific beliefs. Many Christians believe that the snake was Satan himself in the form of an actual snake. Others believe the snake is simply used as an allegory for temptation or sexual desire.
2. The Viking Sea Serpent: Jormungand
This story comes from Norse mythology about the sea serpent, Jormungand. Jormungand was a child of the god Loki and a giantess named Angrboda. He was thrown into the sea by the god Odin.
While in the sea, Jormungand grew until his body was large enough to circle all of earth, or Midgard, as they called it.
Then, Ragnarok began, the final battle that ended in the destruction of the earth. At the start of the battle, Jormungand emerged from the sea to roll across the land to cause destruction.
During this battle, Jormungand and Thor, the god of thunder, clashed. Thor killed Jormungand with his giant hammer. However, Jormungand was also successful in thwarting Thor. Thor only made it a few steps before he collapsed and died from the serpent’s venom.
This is another well-known story from Greek Mythology. It is about a beautiful woman who was cursed to have snakes for hair.
The legend goes that Medusa was originally a very beautiful woman, but she attracted the jealousy of Athena after she had an affair with the god Poseidon in Athena’s temple.
Athena turned Medusa into a Gorgon, a snake woman whose gaze could turn men to stone, as punishment. When most people picture Medusa, they recognize the signature hair made of snakes. What many people don’t know is that Gorgons were also covered in scales, and had long claws, and sharp teeth.
Eventually, Athena helped a hero named Perseus slay Medusa by giving him a shiny shield. With this shield, he could see Medusa without looking directly at her. This shield enabled him to slay her. Perseus then kept Medusa’s head and secured it on his shield. He then used her head to paralyze his enemies while he was in battle.
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No snake has just one kind of toxin in its venom. Instead, snakes will have multiple types of toxins in their venom that can affect different parts of your body. Mycotoxins, cardiotoxins, haemotoxins, and neurotoxins are just a few of the toxins that can be found in snake venom.
- Mycotoxins: produced by a fungus
- Causes muscle breakdown
- Cardiotoxins: affects the heart
- Irreversibly damages cell membranes
- Haemotoxins: affects the blood and tissues
- Destroys red blood cells
- Prevents blood clotting
- Causes organ degeneration
- Causes tissue damage
- Damages nerve cells and tissues
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What Do You Do If You See A Snake?
If you like to go hiking, you’re bound to encounter a snake at some point. Even if you don’t venture into the outdoors that much, you’re still likely to see one at some point in your life. So, what should you do if you see a snake?
- Remain calm. Most snakes want nothing to do with humans, and they’ll only attack if necessary. More than likely, the snake will have seen you before you saw it. Most times, it will flee from you. If it doesn’t, it’s likely to remain still until you’ve passed.
- Walk away from the snake. I can’t stress this enough. No matter what kind of snake it is, just leave it alone.
It’s really that simple! If you see a snake, just leave it alone and you shouldn’t have a problem. If you do get bitten though, I’ve included a guide below on how to deal with that.