Venamous Endangered Snakes of Ohio Most snakes are beneficial in helping to control destructive insects and rodents. Only three species of snakes in Ohio (the copperhead, and the massasauga and timber rattlesnakes) are venomous. None of these snakes are common. Problems with snakes range from occasional encounters with a single snake to infestations of large numbers of snakes in basements and out-building foundations. Snakes are a valuable part of the ecosystem, including Ohio's 3 venomous species. Individual snakes should be valued for their rodent- and insect-eating habits. A snake that takes up residence where it cannot be tolerated should be captured and released at least a mile away from the dwelling.
You can make an area less attractive to snakes by:
controlling insect and rodent populations
removing piles of junk, rocks, brush and boards
and keeping grass mowed and landscapes clean.
To remove a snake already in a building, you must first find it. If a snake is difficult to find in the open, place a damp cloth or burlap bag covered with a board or shingle on the basement floor. Use a 1/2 to 1 inch spacer to elevate the board so the snake can easily get under it. The combination of dampness and shelter is attractive to snakes, making them easier to capture.
Snakes can be picked up with a hook or hoe, or by making a noose with a loose slipknot in a strong piece of string and attaching it to a short, strong stick. Lower the snake into a strong paper or cloth bag with no holes. If you use the string, clip the noose with a pair of scissors before dropping the snake in the bag. Transport the snake as soon as possible to a woodlot or undeveloped area away from other houses.
Another effective way to capture snakes inside a home is to use a glueboard. These can be purchased in a variety of places such as agriculture supply and hardware stores. Most small snakes can be captured using a single glueboard placed against a wall but away from pipes or other objects that a snake could use for leverage to escape. For larger snakes (four to five feet long) attach several glueboards side-by-side to a piece of plywood. Release snakes by pouring vegetable oil or common cooking oil over the snake where it is adhered to the glueboard. Glueboards should only be used indoors or under structures where children, pets and other wildlife cannot reach them.
Black Rat Snake The black rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta) is the largest species of snake in Ohio. It can reach lengths of up to eight feet, averaging 42 - 72 inches. It is black with a faint gray or brown checkerboard pattern and white between its scales. They are native to most of Ohio. The black rat snakes habitat includes forests, farmlands, and old fields, where they find prey, including small rodents, birds and eggs. It is an excellent climber, often going up trees or rafters to raid birds' nests of eggs and young. It is a constrictor. When captured, they will release a very foul odor from scent glands and are non-venomous. Black rat snakes breed between April and June. During this time the female will lay 5-30 eggs (10-14 average). During the spring and fall, the black rat snake is diurnal, but becomes nocturnal during the hot summer months. Like all reptiles, it is cold blooded. Rat snakes will hibernate with other snake of different species including the timber rattlesnake and copperhead. There is a myth that in times of danger the black rat will steer, or "pilot", these venomous snakes to safety. Although this is completely false, it is also known as the Pilot Snake. It is one of the most beneficial predators in Ohio. It excels in controlling rodent populations. Unfortunately because it often lives close to humans, it is the most frequently killed species of snake. This is because of its large size and a general human fear toward all snakes. If left alone, it can live up to twenty years.
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Scientific Name - Sistrurus catenatus catenatus Appearance - Massasaugas are small snakes with thick bodies, heart-shaped heads and vertical pupils. The average length of an adult is about 2 feet. Adult massasaugas are gray or light brown with large, light-edged chocolate brown blotches on the back and smaller blotches on the sides. The snake's belly is marbled dark gray or black and there is a narrow, white stripe on its head. Its tail has several dark brown rings and is tipped by gray-yellow horny rattles. Young snakes have the same markings, but are more vividly colored. The head is a triangular shape and the pupils are vertical.
Habitat - Massasaugas live in wet areas including wet prairies, marshes and low areas along rivers and lakes. In many areas massasaugas also use adjacent uplands during part of the year. They often hibernate in crayfish burrows but they may also be found under logs and tree roots or in small mammal burrows. Unlike other rattlesnakes, massasaugas hibernate alone. Reproduction - Like all rattlesnakes, massasaugas bear live young. The young actually hatch from eggs while still in the female's body. Depending on the health of the individual, adult females may bear young every year or every other year. When food is especially scarce they may only have young every three years. Massasaugas that have young every year, mate in the spring and bear their young in late summer or early fall. In contrast, snakes that have young every other year, mate in autumn and bear young the next summer. Litter size varies from 5 to 19 young. Feeding Habits - Massasaugas eat small rodents like mice and voles but they will sometimes eat frogs and other snakes. They hunt by sitting and waiting. Heat sensitive pits near the snakes' eyes alert the snake to the presence of prey. They can find their prey by sight, by feeling vibrations, by sensing heat given off by their prey, and/or by detecting chemicals given off by the animal (like odors). Range - Eastern massasaugas live in an area that extends from western New York and southern Ontario to southern Iowa. Historically, the snake's range covered this same area, but within this large area the number of populations and the number of snakes within populations have steadily shrunk. The eastern massasauga is generally found in small, isolated populations throughout its range. Today, the massasauga is listed as endangered, threatened, or a species of concern in every state and province in which it lives.
Northern Copperhead Copperheads have the dubious distinction of having bitten more people in the United States than any other venomous snake, yet fewer snakebite deaths are attributed to the copperhead. Since the amount of venom injected during a bite is not enough to seriously hurt a healthy adult, the bite is rarely fatal. However, it is extremely painful, and, like a honeybee sting, has the potential to produce a life threatening allergic reaction.
Copperheads are widely scattered throughout most of unglaciated Ohio. Although they occupy a variety of habitats from floodplains to ridge tops, they show a marked preference for the rocky, wooded hillsides of southeastern Ohio. They are not as averse to civilization as the timber rattlesnake, but copperheads tend to stay away from well-settled areas. Their coloration not only serves as excellent camouflage, but also makes them one of Ohio’s most beautiful reptiles. When encountered, copperheads are usually content to lie motionless or retreat if given the chance. But if aroused, they will vibrate their tail rapidly and strike wildly. Except in early spring and late fall, most of their day is spent in hiding. They hunt small mammals, birds, and amphibians by night. One of the best ways to see copperheads is to go for a drive at night, especially after a warm rain has broken a long hot, dry spell. Copperheads can often be found crossing the wet, steaming roads.
Eastern Timber Rattlesnake
Eastern Timber Rattlesnake By virtue of their large size, timber rattlesnakes are the most dangerous snakes in northeastern America. They may attain a length in excess of six feet, but average 40 inches in length. Fortunately, when encountered most timber rattlesnakes are mild in disposition unless aroused and make little attempt to rattle or strike. Most remain coiled or quickly crawl away if given the opportunity. However, if thoroughly provoked, they can be aggressive.
Their numbers have been drastically reduced by development and direct persecution. Remnant colonies persist in widely scattered areas in southern Ohio. Timber rattlesnakes are most numerous in the more remote areas of Zaleski, Pike, Shawnee, and Tar Hollow state forests. They prefer dry, wooded hill country where they prey on a variety of small warm-blooded animals. Timber rattlesnakes have two basic color phases. The yellow phase has a series of dark brown or black chevron-shaped cross-bands on a ground color of brownish yellow and a yellow or brown head. The black phase has the cross-bands on a ground color of blackish brown and a black head. Contrary to popular belief, it is difficult to estimate the age of a rattlesnake by counting the number of rattles at the end of its tail. A new segment develops every time the skin is shed. Timber rattlesnakes usually shed eight times during their first four years and then usually shed once a year thereafter. In addition, old segments are occasionally lost.
Venomous Water Moccasin Water moccasin or cottonmouth, highly venomous snake, Ancistrodon piscivorus, of the swamps and bayous of the S United States. Like the closely related copperhead, it is a pit viper and has a heat-sensitive organ for detecting warm-blooded prey. The young are born live. The young snake is a pale reddish brown with transverse dark brown bands edged with white; as it ages the colors dull to a blotched olive or brown and then to an unmarked olive or blackish in old specimens. The maximum length is 6 ft (2 m), the average from 3 to 4 ft (90–120 cm). A good climber, the water moccasin often relaxes on branches overhanging the water. If startled it erects its head and shows the white interior of its mouth—hence the name cottonmouth. It eats both warm-blooded and cold-blooded animals. It is aggressive in the wild state but may become quite tame in captivity. It is classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Reptilia, order Squamata, family Crotalidae. Appearance The Water Moccasin looks a lot like the Northern Water Snake and the Lake Erie Water Snake. Its large body is darkly colored, and it lives around water and wet places.The Water Moccasin is a larger snake, however. The adult is as much as 20 inches longer than the harmless Water Snakes, and its body is much heavier than those of either of Ohio's Water Snakes. Also, its broad-based head is much wider than its neck.The eyes of the Water Moccasin have vertical pupils, while those of the common Water Snakes have round pupils. The inside of a Water Moccasin's mouth is snowy white, and an individual may repeatedly open and show its mouth when threatened, thus exposing the light, cotton-colored lining of its mouth.
Range Overall Range Eastern coastal plain from Virginia to Texas; inland from Georgia to Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.
Range in Ohio The Water Moccasin does NOT live naturally in Ohio. The closest that it comes to this state is southernmost Illinois. In the very unlikely event that you should see a Water Moccasin in Ohio, the snake would have escaped from captivity. In any case, this is one of the most deadly snakes in North America, so don't take chances. Be sure of your identification!
Non Venomous Snakes
Eastern Garter Snake
Eastern Garter Snake This most common of Ohio’s garter snakes is found across the state. Normally, it is marked with a pattern of three light stripes on a darker background. One stripe runs down the center of the back with a lateral stripe on the second and third rows of scales on each side. These stripes are usually yellow, but may be shades of green, brown, or blue. In some snakes, the lateral stripes are dominated or replaced by dark spots. The Eastern garter snake is one of the most variably colored and patterned species in the world. Along the Western Basin of Lake Erie, up to 50 percent of individuals may be melanistic (completely black), with the exception of some white on the chin. The dark color helps the snake warm more quickly when basking in the sunlight.
Eastern Hog-Nose Snake
Eastern Hog-Nose SnakeA master of deceit, the completely harmless hog-nosed snake can put on an act that will frighten the bravest of people. When first alarmed, this bluffer coils, flattens its head and neck to form a cobra-like hood, inflates its body, hisses fiercely, and strikes violently. The strike – usually made with the mouth closed– almost always falls short of the target. This act is so convincing that it often leads to the snake being killed by people. These antics have earned the hog-nosed snake such names as puff adder, blow snake, and hissing viper. If this first phase of the act fails to frighten off the intruder, the hog-nosed snake resorts to “playing possum.” When struck or handled, the hog-nosed snake jerks convulsively, twists over on its back, and remains motionless. The open mouth, the tongue hanging out, and the apparent lack of breathing make a convincing picture – convincing, that is, until the snake is placed on its belly -- whereupon it promptly rolls over on its back again. It just can’t be convinced that a dead snake shouldn’t be on its back! After danger passes, it will raise its head, look around, turn upright, and go on its way. The coloration of this essentially spotted snake is extremely variable, with color phases ranging from yellow and brown to black and gray. The most reliable field mark is the turned-up, hog-like snout which is used for digging out the toads that are its primary food. Dry, sandy areas are preferred, especially the Oak Openings Region of northwestern Ohio where this generally uncommon snake is most abundant. In southern Ohio, it occurs in most of the hill counties.
Eastern Worm Snake
Eastern and Midwestern Worm Snake Probably no snake more closely resembles an earthworm than the worm-snake. They have a small, pinkish brown body, shiny iridescent scales, and a small, narrow head which is not distinct from the translucent body. Worm-snakes range throughout the southern third of the state, particularly southeastern Ohio. These reptile versions of the night crawler are rarely encountered in the open, but can be discovered under large, flat slabs of rock, logs, and other debris. They show a marked preference for moist earth, such as hillside seeps. During dry weather, worm-snakes work deep into the ground, seeking moisture. Although worm-snakes do not bite, when handled they continually try to push between one’s fingers with both their head and tail – which has a spine-like tip. This tail spine has deceived some people into believing that snakes have stingers; however, no snake has a stinger. Worms and soft-bodied insects make up the bulk of the worm-snake’s diet. This snake is an egg layer.
Midland Brown Snake
Northern and Midland Brown Snakes Ohio is inhabited by a mixed population of Northern and midland brown snakes. They are almost identical in coloration. Both have two rows of dark spots running down the back. On the Midland brown snake, these spots are connected by dark cross-bands forming a ladder-like pattern. The midland brown snake has 176 or more ventral and sub-caudal scales; the Northern brown snake has 175 or fewer. Interbreeding between these subspecies occurs rather frequently, resulting in the intergrade brown snake, which may possess the combined characteristics of both parents. Brown-snakes never bite when captured. Their only real defense is the musk glands which they freely exercise when first captured. These common but secretive little snakes are often encountered hiding under stones, logs, old boards, and other such debris, where they feed extensively on snails, slugs, worms, and soft-bodied insects.
Smooth Green Snake
Smooth and Rough Green Snakes This dainty little Green snake is found in southwest, central, and northeast Ohio. It has smooth scales. It is also more terrestrial than its cousin the rough green snake. However, it does not hesitate to climb small shrubs, where it handles itself remarkably well. The smooth green snake is very rare in southwest Ohio, and is only commonly encountered in the largest prairie remnants of the state. The Rough green snake lives in the extreme southern quarter of the state. Much longer than the smooth green snake, it is more arboreal and has rough instead of smooth scales. They are more likely to be encountered along willow-lined streams. Females lay the eggs in communal nests often in hollow trees on upland sites.
Queen Snake, Common Water Snake, Lake Erie Water Snake, Copper-Bellied Water Snake The decidedly aquatic queen snake prefers slow moving or shallow rocky creeks and rivers where it feeds primarily upon soft-shelled crayfish. These snakes are frequently seen and captured by overturning large flat stones, boards, or other debris along streams. When first captured, some attempt to bite. However, their teeth are so small they can barely pierce the skin. Others make no attempt to bite. All use their musk glands freely and struggle violently to escape. Although they become gentle with handling, they seldom eat in captivity. For this reason, they do not make hardy captives.
The common water snake is one of the most widely distributed and certainly one of the most abundant snakes in Ohio. It may inhabit just about any permanent body of water. This stout-bodied snake shows extreme variations in color and pattern and is unfortunately confused by many with the venomous water moccasin, or cottonmouth. The cottonmouth, however, does not occur in Ohio; it ranges no farther north than southeastern Virginia in the eastern portion of its range, and extreme southern Indiana and Illinois, in the western part of its range. Common water snakes are particularly fond of basking and can often be seen sunning upon logs, stumps, and rocks, or on low branches overhanging the water. They are very wary and when disturbed drop into the water and disappear quickly. Water-snakes usually flee from people, but when grabbed, they are quick to defend themselves. They bite viciously and large ones are capable of producing painful, deep lacerations. When picked up, they invariably secrete an obnoxious smelling substance from their musk glands. This stout-bodied water snake is currently known to occur only in Williams County, although small, widely scattered remnant populations may occur elsewhere. The adult is a uniform black or brownish-black above, with a beautiful orange-red or scarlet belly. This snake is designated as federally threatened and state endangered.
A subspecies of the common water snake, the Lake Erie water-snake is similar to its relative, except that the dark pattern of cross bands is very pale or completely missing. The general coloration is gray, greenish, or brownish. The belly is white or pale yellow, occasionally tinged with pink or orange down the center. These snakes are limited to the islands of Lake Erie. The snake has benefited from the construction of docks and shoreline protection done in a snake-friendly manner demonstrating its ability to coexist with people. The favorite food of the Lake Erie water snake is the round goby, an invasive aquatic nuisance species.
Copper-bellied water snakes spend a great deal of time on land, moving among temporary and permanent wetlands, including swampy woodlands and river bottoms. Agricultural development of its limited habitat has all but eliminated this snake from the state. Like their cousin the common water snake, copper-bellied water snakes are active and aggressive snakes.
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