How to Identify Snakes in the Northeast


In the northeastern United States, snakes are fewer in numbers than they are further south, where warmer climates exist. However, outdoor enthusiasts and animal lovers can look for a few key characteristics to identify a species of snake. Throughout the Northeast, three species of venomous snakes exist: the copperhead, the timber rattlesnake and the eastern Massasauga rattlesnake. There are also more than one dozen nonvenomous species.

Copperhead snakes are identifiable by their narrow necks and wide heads.
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Step 1

Look for a pale tan to orange color with alternating lightly colored cross bands to identify a copperhead. These venomous snakes have a stout body that can reach up to 3 feet long, a wide head and narrow neck.

Copperheads can be up to three feet long.
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Step 2

Learn the difference between the timber rattlesnake, which has a light brown body with black bands, and the eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, which has a light brown or gray body with large dark spots. Both species, as with the copperhead, have thick bodies, wide heads and narrow necks, and average approximately 3 feet in length, although the timber rattlesnake can grow to more than 5 feet.

A timber rattlesnake.
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Step 3

Examine the snake for a shiny, solid black body with smooth scales and a grayish blue belly to identify a northern black racer. These snakes can range from 3 to 5 feet long.

A pair of black racers.
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Step 4

Look for a bright, lime-green back and a white or yellow belly to identify an eastern smooth or rough green snake, which can typically grow to 1 to 2 feet.

A rough green snake.
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Step 5

Identify the eastern milksnake by its bold pattern of large red-brown spots on a white or gray background. Milksnakes are usually 2 to 3 feet long.

The eastern milksnake.
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Step 6

Look at the snake’s back for a narrow tan or yellow stripe with wider stripes on the sides, which signify the eastern garter snake. A spotted brown or black pattern can be seen between the stripes on this snake, which is the most common of all northeastern snakes. They can vary greatly in color and are usually less than 2 feet; however, some have been recorded at up to 4 feet long.

Garter snake.
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Step 7

Examine the snake’s nose for the pig-like upturned snout of the eastern hog-nose snake. These snakes come in a variety of colors from a yellow and black checkerboard pattern to solid black and are distinguishable by their thick bodies. Hog-nose snakes generally grow to be between 2 and 3 feet long.

The eastern hog-nose snake.
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Step 8

Look at the snake’s neck and belly to determine which of the smaller species of snakes it is. Look for a bright yellow ring around its neck, a yellow belly and shiny bluish gray body to identify the northern ringneck snake. Identify the northern redbelly snake by a light brown or gray body with a vibrant red belly.

A prarie ringneck, similar to the northern ringneck.
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