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Snake Descriptions





NORTHERN WATER SNAKE The water snake, one of the most common snakes in New Jersey, inhabits freshwater streams, ponds, lakes, swamps, marshes, and bogs throughout the state. It is usually seen basking on logs and stream banks. The young are born live in late summer and are more brilliantly colored than the rather plain dark brown or black adults which may exhibit dark cross bands on the necks and the forepart of the body. The water snake is the only snake you will find consistently in the waters of New Jersey and it may measure from 9 to 50 inches long with an average of about 30 inches. It feeds primarily on fishes, various amphibians, crayfish, and small rodents. This snake is frequently misidentified as the cottonmouth, which does not occur in New Jersey. The water snake can exhibit a mean disposition and can inflict a painful, nonvenomous bite if carelessly handled.


QUEEN SNAKE At the edge of its range In New Jersey, this species inhabits a narrow area adjacent to the Delaware River from just south of Trenton to the Camden county line; it is considered uncommon. This is a slender brown snake about 8 to 36 (record) inches long with a yellowish belly exhibiting four longitu­dinal brown stripes. The two outer stripes are larger. It is always found near water and may be observed swimming as it searches for crayfish, its favorite food. The young are born in September.


NORTHERN BROWN SNAKE Frequently called the ‘city snake”, as it may show up in city parks, playgrounds, cemeteries, vacant lots, and around trash, the brown snake occurs statewide and is common in New Jersey. It measures from 4 to 15 inches in length and is best identified by the two rows of dark spots down the back. The general color ranges from dark to light brown to a deep reddish brown. The belly is a pale yellow, brown, or pinkish. In non-urban habitat it’s found in bogs, swamps, marshes, moist woodlands, and also on hillsides—usually under logs, rocks, and debris. The northern brown snake feeds on slugs, soft-bodied insects, and earthworms. From 11 to 18 young are born in August and September.


RED-BELLIED SNAKE This Is a small snake measuring from 3 to 14 inches in length and colored gray or brown with a red belly and light spots on the back of the head. There is considerable variation in the color pattern, as it ranges from gray to black, and in some cases the belly may be blue-black. The red-bellied snake occurs statewide except along the immediate coastline and in built-up areas; within this range its distribution is spotty, as it is common in some areas and rare in others. It inhabits hedgerows, stone walls, fields, and wood lots, where it feeds upon insects, slugs, earthworms, myriapods, and sowbugs. The red-bellied snake is secretive, and its habits are not well known.


EASTERN GARTER SNAKE Probably our most common snake, the garter snake is found throughout the state in fields, meadows, and woodlands; along streams; and in city lots and dumps. It feeds primarily on frogs, salamanders, slugs, earthworms, and insects. This snake is identified by the three longitudinal stripes of yellow or cream on a dark background of brown or olive; there may be a row of square spots between the stripes. Garter snakes average about 25 inches long, but may reach 48 inches. Young are born in late summer and one individual snake can give birth to about 30 young, though large adults have been known to bear as many as 90.


EASTERN RIBBON SNAKE Gener­ally found statewide except in the major metropolitan areas, the ribbon snake is the trimmest member of the garter snake family. It is semiaquatic, seldom wandering far from bogs, swamps, and streams, where it feeds primarily on frogs, salamanders, and small fishes. Compared to the similar garter snake, the ribbon snake has a tail which is extra long, averaging 1/4 to 1/3 of its body length, which in turn ranges from 7 to 36 inches. The 3 to 20 young are born in August. The distinguishing characteristics of the ribbon snake are the three bright yellow stripes set off against the dark body.


EASTERN EARTH SNAKE This 3-1/2 to 10-inch snake is seldom seen, for it spends most of its life under debris in or near deciduous forests. It is an uncommon snake which occurs primarily in the Piedmont and coastal Plain regions of the state. The earth snake is smooth-scaled and gray or reddish brown with a white belly. It feeds primarily on earthworms. Two to four young are born in September. The smooth earth snake may be reasonably abundant in certain limited areas, but very few New Jersey citizens will ever encounter it.


EASTERN HOGNOSE SNAKE The hognose snake occurs statewide except in the metropolitan areas. Over the years their numbers have been reduced and they are presently uncommon in most parts of the state. The most dist­inguishing feature of this snake is its upturned snout, which is used for burrowing. The coloration is variable, ranging from a background of yellow, gray, or brown with black, brown, or red spots; the belly is usually mottled gray. Lengths range from 5-1/2 to 30 inches. Hognose snakes usually inhabit sandy soils and spend most of their time above ground rather than under objects. The female lays 4 to 46 eggs in June and July. Food consists primarily of toads and frogs. This snake attempts to bluff attackers by puffing up its body and assuming a striking position—if unsuccessful, it may roll over and play dead.


NORTHERN RINGNECK SNAKE A generally common snake of the Piedmont and Appalachian regions of the state, the northern ringneck snake does not occur south of Monmouth County. This snake is from 10 to 15 inches in length with a plain yellow belly occasionally dotted with black; the back is dark with a golden neck collar. This secretive snake is found mostly in woodlands and rocky hills and in areas where there is an abundance of hiding places. The northern ringneck snake feeds on salamanders, frogs, and earthworms. One to eight eggs are laid in June and July. This subspecies intergrades with the southern ringneck snake which occurs in the Coastal Plain of southern New Jersey. The southern ringneck snake is distinguished from the northern primarily by the large half-moon-shaped dots on its belly, and by a “break” in the collar.


EASTERN WORM SNAKE A small snake only 7-1/2 to 12 inches long, the eastern worm snake closely resembles an earthworm but has scales; it is colored plain brown with a pink belly and a pink tongue. The head is generally pointed. The worm snake is almost always found in moist soil under stones, boards, and rotten logs. Its food is mostly earthworms and soft-bodied insects. One to five eggs are laid in June. The worm snake is distributed statewide except in the developed metropolitan areas, but is seldom seen except by those nature students who seek it out and recognize it.


NORTHERN BLACK RACER  This snake, simply called “black snake” by the casual observer, occurs throughout the state in unpopulated areas, avoiding the metropolitan regions. It is shiny black above and gunmetal gray below, with an occasional white area on the chin and throat. A large snake of up to 72 inches, the black racer may travel with its head slightly raised and is able to climb trees. It feeds on frogs, lizards, birds, rodents, and insects, and is found primarily in fields and open woodlands. Eggs are laid in June or July and hatch in late August. Hibernation is in large groups of 30 to 40 snakes. The black racer is a rather aggressive snake which frequently bites when handled.


ROUGH GREEN SNAKE  A beautiful snake which frequently climbs bushes and small trees, the rough green snake is frequently called “vine snake” because of its slender body which is light green above and plain white, yellow, or pale greenish below. Its scales are “Keeled”—that is, each one has a central longitudinal ridge. Feeding primarily on insects, it is usually found in dense growth especially along streams and lakes. Three to 13 eggs are laid in July and August. This snake is difficult to locate, but once observed, it is long remembered for its beauty. The rough green snake occurs primarily in southern New Jersey from Monmouth and Mercer counties southward and is considered common.


EASTERN SMOOTH GREEN SNAKE The eastern smooth green snake is similar to the rough green snake except that its scales are smooth rather than keeled. It is known to occur only in the extreme northwestern counties of Sussex and Warren, where its preferred habitat includes low bushes, open woods, and meadows. Largely terrestrial and not displaying the climbing ability of the rough green snake, the eastern smooth green snake consumes mostly spiders and insects. The eggs are laid in July. This snake is considered to be common within its limited range.


CORN SNAKE The corn snake is a red-and-orange snake locally called the “red rat snake.” The color pattern is widely variable, ranging from browns, to oranges, to grays, marked with 39 to 45 dark patches on a background of light to dark gray; the belly is usually white with a checkerboard pattern of black. Its length ranges from 9 to 60 inches. This snake climbs well, but is most often found on the ground in the Pine Barrens. In New Jersey the corn snake is restricted to the pinelands of Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, and Cumberland counties. Rodents comprise most of its food. Five to 18 eggs are laid In July or August. This snake is considered uncommon in New Jersey and is on the State Threatened Species List.


BLACK RAT SNAKE This is New Jer­sey’s largest snake, ranging from 14 to 101 Inches in length. The black rat snake has a shiny black body that may show traces of a spotted pattern; the belly is frequently cloudy gray on a brown, white, or yellowish background. The black rat snake prefers dense woods and thickets and is found statewide except in densely populated areas and along the coast. These snakes frequent hillsides, fields, stone walls, barns, and trees. From 5 to 24 eggs are laid in June and July. Black rat snakes are occasionally called “Pilot Snakes,” as they may be found around rattlesnakes and copperheads which they are erroneously reported to pilot to safety. Although their numbers are declining they are still considered common in New Jersey.


NORTHERN PINE SNAKE A large black-and-white snake, ranging from 15 to 83 inches in Length, the northern pine snake has dark blotches that are black toward the front of the body but that may become brown closer to the tail. The belly is usually a dull white, yellow, or gray. A threatened species in New Jersey, the pine snake occurs primarily in the pinelands of southern New Jersey; habitat destruction and illegal collecting have reduced the numbers of this snake in certain areas. The pine snake climbs trees readily but spends a considerable amount of time burrowing. It feeds primarily on rodents and lays its eggs in June. The young measure from 15 to 18 inches at hatching.


EASTERN KINGSNAKE. Frequently referred to as the “chain snake” because of its shiny black color patterned with large white or cream-colored links, the eastern king snake measures from 32 to 82 inches and spends most of its time on the ground around the borders of swamps and streambeds. King snakes are often found under logs and debris, but frequently bask in the open. They feed on other snakes, including venomous ones, and also on turtle eggs, rodents, birds, and frogs. From 3 to 24 eggs are laid in June and hatch in August. This snake, locally called the “swamp wamper,” is found only in southern New Jersey from southern Monmouth County southward and is considered common in New Jersey.


EASTERN MILK SNAKE  A slender snake which is gray strongly marked with red or brown blotches, and with a Y- or V-shaped light patch on the neck region, the eastern milk snake has predominantly black borders around the reddish blotches. Because of their presence around barns, people erroneously believed that these snakes sucked milk from cows, hence their name. Unfortunately, this snake bears a superficial resemblance to the copperhead, and many are killed merely for this reason. It is easy to tell the two apart, however—the milk snake is much slimmer and has a less constricted neck than the copperhead. Found throughout New Jersey, the milk snake frequently finds its way into urban areas. Usually found under boards and rocks, in barns and on rocky hillsides, it feeds primarily on rodents, but will also take smaller snakes, frogs, birds, and their eggs. Six to 24 eggs are laid in June and hatch in late August. This snake is considered common throughout most of its range. In the southern region of the state, the milk snake intergrades with the scarlet king snake and is sometimes referred to as the “coastal plains milk snake.”


NORTHERN SCARLET SNAKE An uncommon little snake measuring from 6 to 24 inches, the northern scarlet snake resembles the dangerous coral snake of the south. The scarlet snake has a sharp red snout and red bands that do not go all the way around the body and that are bordered by black with white or cream interspaces. In the pinelands of Ocean, Burlington, and Atlantic counties, the scarlet snake is found on the sandy soils usually hiding under logs, boards, or trash. It seldom comes above ground except at night. Foods include mice, lizards, turtle eggs, and small snakes.


NORTHERN COPPERHEAD The copperhead is one of the two venomous snakes found in New Jersey. It occurs from the lower Piedmont to the Appalachian Highlands. Old rocky fields, berry thickets, woodlands, farmlands, haystacks, old sawdust piles, and even backyards are typical habitats. Copperheads measure from 8 to 48 inches in length. A distinguishing characteristic is its hourglass pattern of a dark or reddish brown on a background of light brown or reddish gray; the head is usually a copper color. A typical pit viper, the copperhead has a heat-sensing hole or pit between the eye and the nostril, and an elliptical pupil. Copperheads are considered less venomous than rattlesnakes, and few deaths have occurred from their bite; still, they should be avoided. Even the young snakes can inflict a painful bite and enough venom to make one ill. The copperhead frequently hibernates with the timber rat­tlesnake in rocky dens which extend below the frost lines. They give birth to from 6 to 17 young in mid-August to early October. They feed primarily on fishes, frogs, rodents, and some insects, but birds are also taken. The copperhead is considered uncommon in most portions of New Jersey but occasionally one or two are found In the vicinity of developed areas of northern New Jersey; copperheads do not occur in southern New Jersey.


TIMBER RATTLESNAKE This is poten­tially the most dangerous snake in New Jersey because of its large size and the amount of venom it can inject; however, there has not been a verified case of a timber rattlesnake bite occurring in the wilds of New Jersey for many years. The timber rattlesnake is found in the Appalachian Region of extreme northwestern New Jersey and also in the mountains of north central New Jersey; also inhabits the pinelands of Ocean, Atlantic, Burlington, and Cumberland counties. The timber rattlesnake has two color phases: black and yellow. The black phase consists of the head and the posterior third of the body being black with dark saddles and incomplete chevrons almost obscured by the dark pigment in the ground color. The yellow phase is more dramatic, with the head having only a little brown pigment, the saddles and chevrons always black or brown, and the tall always black. The rattle, which is used as a warning device, is located at the end of the tail. Rattlesnakes range in length from 10 to 60 inches. They feed primarily on rodents, birds, and occasionally frogs. From 5 to 20 young are born live in August and September. During the summer they scatter throughout their range, but during the fall they return to dens in large numbers; research indicates that rattlers tend to return to the same den sites year after year. The northern New Jersey limestone outcroppings provide ideal denning sites. In south­ern New Jersey rattlesnakes seek out stump holes, old brush piles, and spill heaps in isolated areas of the Pine Barrens. Over collecting and indiscriminate killing have reduced the timber rattlesnake to endangered species status in New Jersey.

 A final warning. Never lose respect for or become careless around venomous snakes. While they may appear docile they may strike without provocation. NEVER FOOL AROUND WITH OR FREE-HANDLE A VENOMOUS SNAKE AND NEVER KEEP ONE IN THE HOUSE.


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