Meet The Snakes of New England

New England is home to only two venomous snake species out of 14 different species of snakes living in New England, most of which live in back yards and basements. The two species of venomous snakes that live here in New England are the timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead, which prefer to live in rocky and deep forested areas. So don’t worry, unless you live in, or frequent the deep woods, the chances of you encountering a venomous snake are slim to none.  In fact, being an avid herpaculturist and hiking weekly to seek out these beautiful snakes, I still have not come across a venomous one.

Identifying snakes can be a difficult task for those who are not around them frequently, and knowing which ones are venomous and which are harmless is important should you find yourself face to face with one.

Lets have a look at the 14 species of snakes that are found right here in New England.

The Eastern Garter Snake – Non Venomous

If you live in New England, chances are you have seen one, unless you are also living under a rock, which these guys do! They also like to live in gardens, under logs and in wooded areas, but make no mistake they are not called the garden snake, they are called the garter snake. These snakes typically have long stripes down their body and have keeled scales which are rough to the touch. They eat small pray like fish, earthworms and small mammals.

This snake is harmless but beware they will often strike and bite if picked up and they also have a cool defense, similar to what skunks do, they musk and trust me it’s not pleasant.

Eastern Ribbon Snake – Non Venomous

Looking just like the garter snake, with a much longer tail, the slender eastern ribbon snake also has keeled scales and has yellow and black stripes down it’s body and a belly that is pale yellow or pale green. It also has thick burgundy stripes and a white mark by the eye, which helps distinguish it from the garter snake. Ribbon snakes are semi-aquatic and are frequently found at the edges of lakes, bogs, and salt marshes. They eats amphibians, fish, and sometimes will even eat insects as well. These adorable snakes only reach lengths of 18-26 inches long and like the garter snake will strike and bite if disturbed.

Black Rat Snake – Non Venomous
Endangered in Massachusetts, and, under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to kill, harass, or possess this snake.

The largest snake found here in Massachusetts, the black rat snake can reach lengths of over 8 feet long. It’s commonly found in the Connecticut River Valley, praying on small mammals, birds, rats, and amphibians. Young juvenile rat snakes are grayish in color while the adults are mostly black, with a white throat. Their scales are lightly keeled and they tend to be quite docile.

Dekay’s Brownsnake – Non Venomous

Dekay’s brownsnake is often seen in urban and suburban areas, where it eats pests like slugs. Great for the garden and is fairly small, only reaching lengths between 9-13” long, and is skittish and quite shy. It coloration is a light beige-brown, with keeled scales, and dark brown spots down it’s back.

Ringneck Snake – Non Venomous

Easily identified by the yellow ring around it’s neck, the smooth scaled ring neck snake is either black or slate gray, with a satin like appearance. They have a bright yellow or red belly and sometimes but rarely even orange and may also occasionally have a few small black spots.

They are typically found in moist wetlands, where it eats red-backed salamanders. This snake is slender and small, usually measuring from 10-15” long. It has smooth scales and a grey back. Just like the garter snake, they will also omit a foul odor called musk if they are picked up. Best to leave these little beauties alone.

Northern Red-bellied Snake – Non Venomous

Similar to the DeKay’s brownsnake, the northern red-bellied snake is small, with keeled scales and a brown back, and often eats slugs and worms. However, it’s generally less tolerant of urban and suburban areas than the brownsnake, and it has a bright red belly. Often confused for the ringneck snake, the three spots behind the head may be fused into a ring. The redbelly has keeled scales, distinguishing it from the smooth-scaled ringneck snake.

Both the common and scientific names for this small snake refer to characteristics that help identify it. ‘Occipitomaculata’ refers to three light spots located just behind the head. Redbelly generally describes the color of the underside, although the color can vary from yellow (rarely), to orange to red. The overall color of this snake is also variable, and it can be brown, bronze, slate gray or, rarely, black.

Thick woodlands are the preferred habitat, but redbelly snakes are also found in fields, bogs and wet meadows. They are small and secretive snakes and spend most of their time hiding under rocks, logs, boards or debris, or within rotted stumps. Slugs make up the bulk of their diet, with earthworms, sow bugs, soft-bodied insects and small frogs also taken. When handled, redbelly snakes may curl their upper lips and show their teeth; however, they rarely bite. If they are picked up or disturbed they will release a foul smelling musk.

Eastern Black Racer – Non Venomous

The only black snake in New England with smooth scales, the eastern black racer grows fairly large, up to 73” long. Young black racer snakes are mottled grey-blue and brown. Its chin, throat and jaw are white or gray and the belly is generally dark (gray, bluish, or black) from the throat back. A juvenile black racer is gray in color with large brown, black or reddish blotches down it’s back, small spots along the sides and large dark eyes. The pattern fades as it ages, and disappears when the snake reaches 25-30 inches in length.

This snake can be easy agitated and strike when it feels threatened but it’s bite, while it may hurt, is non venomous.

Eastern Hognose Snake – Non Venomous
Endangered in Massachusetts, and, under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to kill, harass, or possess this snake.

This snake is named for its funny looking, hog like, turned-up nose, it has a thick body with keeled scales and it’s color varies from yellow to brown to black. They use that turned up nose for burrowing, they love to dig and hide in soft earth. Its diet is varied, but it prefers to eat toads in the wild. We have a couple of Western Hognose snakes and they love to eat hard boiled eggs, fish and small rodents as well.

They are also known as the possum snake because when they feel threatened, this harmless snake may flatten its head like a cobra, false strike and if those two warnings do not work, he will then roll over, stick out his tongue and play dead. They may even omit a foul odor to help their death act.



Eastern Milk Snake – Non Venomous

A boldly patterned snake with a grey, brown, and reddish body. The head is patterned, usually with a light colored “Y” or “V” within a reddish-brown patch. They are smooth scaled and can grow up to 52 inches long.

This beautiful snake is often confused for a rattlesnake, but it lacks the rattle, it does not have keeled scales, and cat-like pupils. It can also sometimes be confused for a copperhead but the copperhead does not have a pattern on its head like the milk snake does. The milk snake is found in fields, woodlands, rocky hillsides, and wetland edges, and primarily eats small mammals.

Smooth Green Snake – Non Venomous

True to its name, the smooth green snake is smooth and green with a pale light colored belly. Young snakes are dark olive or blue-gray in color and could be confused with young black racers except that black racers have a mottled pattern when young and smooth green snakes have no pattern at all.

They prefer areas of thick green foliage, where they can blend in. This gentle snake helpfully eats a number of insects, beetles, and other small creatures.

Northern Water Snake – Non Venomous

Appearing in many different color and pattern variations, this think bodied snake is typically patterned with reddish brown cross-bands near it’s head and alternating back and side blotches down it’s body. The patterns become less apparent as they grow larger and they have keeled scales with a a black or orange crescent patterned belly. 

True to their name, water snakes are found in a variety of wetlands including lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. They are excellent swimmers, both on the surface or submerged, and commonly forage along the water’s edge for food.  They love fish, frogs, tadpoles and salamanders but they will also feed on small mammals, birds, insects, crayfish and other invertebrates.

Water snakes are very common and can often be found basking on beaver dams and lodges, bridge abutments, banks and shrubs. In the spring, water snakes are commonly reported by homeowners who find them in their backyards. When threatened, they rapidly retreat to water. If cornered, they do not hesitate to strike. Water snakes can almost always be counted on to bite, defecate and spray a particularly foul-smelling musk when handled.

Eastern Worm Snake – Non Venomous
Endangered in Massachusetts, and, under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to kill, harass, or possess this snake.

The eastern worm snake is smooth scaled and a pinkish-gray color  staying true to it’s name and looking just like a worm and, in fact, earthworms are its main prey. It’s fairly small, usually measuring only 7-11” long. This species of snake is commonly found in the Connecticut River Valley.

This snake is very elusive, and loves to burrow, so chances of seeing him in the wild are pretty slim.

Northern Copperhead Snake – Venomous
Endangered in Massachusetts, and, under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to kill, harass, or possess this snake.

This venemous snake has un-patterned head which is broad and triangular shaped with an unmistakable copper color on his head and body. He has small crossbands on his back that are wider on the sides. A juvenile copperhead snake has a yellow-tipped tail. His scales are keeled and rough to the touch but don’t touch this guy, in fact if you see one of these …just slowly walk the other way and give him plenty of space.

Copperheads prefer rocky, forested hillsides and wetlands for habitat. Wet areas are particularly sought out in the hot summer months. Small mammals and frogs account for most of the prey items taken, but birds, insects and other snakes are also important parts of their diets. When approached, they will either move away quietly or lay motionless, relying on camouflage to protect them. Occasionally, they will vibrate their tails. Bites usually occur when people unknowingly step on or touch unseen snakes. Despite the venomous nature of copperhead bites, they are rarely fatal. In Massachusetts, copperheads are so rare and reclusive that people almost never encounter them.

Timber Rattlesnake – Venomous

The timber rattlesnake is extremely rare and localized. It has a heavy body, a triangular head, slitted, cat-like pupils, and a rattle that it uses to warn potential predators to back off. With it’s heat sensitive pits it tracks down its pray of warm-blooded animals, including: mice, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, shrews, moles, weasels and birds. They will sometimes even pray on other snakes.

When threatened, they vibrate their tails to produce a loud rattling sound that is hard to miss. They are not particularly aggressive and bites are very rare. The rattlesnake prefers rocky, forested areas and is very elusive therefore it’s quite rare to see one in the wild. In fact they are so rare that they are almost never encountered by people. If you ever do encounter one, don’t panic, don’t try to catch one or hurt it, just give them space and back away. 

It’s important to understand how to distinguish a venomous from a non-venomous snake should you encounter one in the wild, and furthermore having an understanding of their temperament can be vital should you find yourself face to face with one. It’s great fun to seek out and catch non-venomous snakes but it’s very important to release them back to where you found them, wild snakes rarely do well in captivity and it’s important for the Eco-system that they stay in their natural habitat.  Have you found a snake that you cannot identify? Send us a photo, we would love to see it.

Would you like to have an up close encounter with some of these snakes?  Book a show!