During the spring and summer months, many species of snakes move from overwintering sites in search of open areas where they can do essential activities, like eating and digesting food, shedding, basking, and reproducing. Many sites happen to be on land that people inhabit. Often, snakes are found in un-mowed lawns, gardens, rock walls, landscape features, woodpiles, construction debris or scrap piles, old buildings, and docks, as well as in more natural areas like rock ledges, fallen trees, and various wetland types.
To many people, this can be a frightening and potentially traumatic event, given many people’s fear and misunderstanding of snakes. To reduce stress and negative interactions, landowners can maintain lawns or other landscaping features, as well as eliminate messy debris or accumulated objects.
Often people wonder if the snake in their yard is venomous, such as a timber rattlesnake or a copperhead. In most instances, snakes encountered on people’s property are not venomous and can be identified using characteristics unique to different species. Here are some tips to help identify the snake or view a snake ID chart:
- If the snake feels threatened, it may use a common, audible self-defense technique loosely referred to as “tail-whirring” where they vibrate their tails against ground debris. This is commonly mistaken for that of a rattle on a rattlesnake.
- Features of native snakes vary and can overlap between venomous and non-venomous species. For instance, all non-venomous snakes will have round pupils in NY, but not all have keeled scales.
- However, the shape of the pupils is necessary for correct identification of a venomous species. Rattlesnakes and copperheads will have elliptical or “cat eye” pupils that orient perpendicular to the ground.
Do you think the snake you encountered is venomous? Visit DEC’s Amphibians and Reptiles webpage for more information or contact your Regional Bureau of Wildlife office. Information that will be useful for staff is the county you saw the snake in (many counties do not have venomous snakes) and a clear photo of the snake for proper identification.
Photo: two non-venomous snakes – garter snake (by Kelly Colgan-Azar) on right and Northern water snake (by Robert McCloud) on left.