Identifying snakes in the yard can be a challenge, particularly if you only get a brief look at the snake. Many snakes are a drab brown or black color with stripes, but fortunately only one of these brownish snakes is venomous -- the copperhead. Though a snake bite can be painful and a few snakes can harm people, snakes will not chase or attempt to bite people. When left alone, snakes can actually be a beneficial yard companion and eat pests like rodents.
Copperheads can be recognized by their bright colors. They have brown or reddish bodies and horizontal bands of stripes. Their heads are triangular, large relative to their bodies, and copper-colored. These snakes are poisonous to people but will only bite if disturbed or threatened. Copperheads are distributed throughout most of the United States and are heavily concentrated in the southeast. Copperheads prefer areas with lots of debris and are most likely to be encountered in the woods hiding under leaves and grass.
Kingsnakes come in a huge variety of colors and sizes. They can be brown, black, or red with bands of stripes. Unlike venomous snakes, their heads are not much larger in circumference than their bodies. These snakes live in all areas of the United States and may eat venomous snakes as well as rodents. Because of their friendly, calm disposition, they are occasionally kept as pets.
Rat snakes live in all areas of the United states and are typically brown or black with faint yellow, tan or white stripes. They have thicker bodies than kingsnakes. As their name suggests, they feed primarily on rodents. Their large size can be frightening to people, but they rarely bite. They are aggressive toward some other snakes and move very quickly, which can deter other snakes from taking up residence in your yard if a rat snake is present.
Pine snakes are considered by some snake enthusiasts to be strikingly beautiful, and their interesting color patterns make them hard to miss. They are typically tan or brown, with dark horizontal stripes. They are quite large and can reach 6 to 8 feet in length. They may be mistaken for rattlesnakes because of their color patterns, but their lack of a rattle and oval heads can easily differentiate them from venomous snakes. They live in most areas of the United States and are heavily concentrated in the eastern United States. These snakes are friendly and can be social, and are popular pets in the reptile pet trade.
Corn snakes are a subspecies of rat snake and they live in all areas of the United States. Because of the huge variety of corn snakes that live in the United States, they are frequently treated as a different species from rat snakes, but their behavior is similar to other rat snakes. They are copper or brown with bands of stripes that range from very bright red to drab brown or tan. They may be confused with copperheads because of their coloration, but they are smaller in circumference around the body and have oval-shaped heads as opposed to the thick, triangular heads of copperheads. These snakes avoid people and tend to live in desolate areas without much foot traffic. They are popular pets.
- University of Pittsburgh: Snakes of North America
- Snakes and Frogs: Copperhead Snake
- Ohio Public Library Information Network: Snake Identification by Name
- Herps of North Carolina: Snakes of North Carolina
- "Snakes of North America: Eastern and Central Regions"; Alan Tennant; 2003
- "The New Encyclopedia of Snakes"; Christopher Mattison; 2007