Ohio Snakes Pictures and Identification Help

picture of a Copperhead snake, one of four types of snakes that are poisonous

Welcome to the Ohio snakes section where the state’s three venomous snakes, copperheads and two rattlesnakes provide the introduction material.

First the scary news, or at least the news as most people translate it into scary. Copperheads have adapted to many areas of southern and central Ohio, although their populations are more pronounced in the southeast.

Copperheads grow to an average three feet in length and their light body is covered with darker crossbands. The head shows a characteristic copper color. The general features provides them with camouflage for blending into their wooded habitats.

The good news, copperheads are not know to be particularly aggressive in the presence of humans. And unless they are directly disturbed, they don’t attack. The best advice for any hiker is to stay focused. Don’t step or grab onto anything without first noticing the particulars of your surroundings.

Timber Rattlesnakes only inhabit some wooded areas of the south, so typically they are of no concern for most Ohio residents. Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) live in most of the low lying water areas of the state. They grow to an average of about two feet in length with a variable body color from gray to brown, even black. The presence of a rattle is the telltale field identification clue.

The remainder of the approximately two dozen Ohio snakes fit into a single family commonly called Colubrids. They host most of the species will well known names such as garter snakes, rat snakes and water snakes.

Given the space limitations of the page, a quick overview of some Ohio colubrids are presented below. Please press the green snakes button for more snake pictures and information.

Garter Snakes

picture of an Eastern Ribbon snake
Garter snakes often get called garden snakes for the simple fact that people in Ohio see these snakes, more than any other species in their yards and gardens on a consistent basis. They are the relatively benign and small snakes with a stripe along the body.

picture of an Eastern Ribbon snake
Actually, Ohio is a bit away from the norm because five different garter snake species have been recorded in the state.

  • Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis)
  • Plains Gartersnake (Thamnophis radix)
  • Butler’s Gartersnake (Thamnophis butleri)
  • Eastern Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis sauritus)
  • Short-headed Gartersnake (Thamnophis brachystoma)
Eastern Gartersnakes (first picture) are the most common species. They are also habitat adaptable and live in less populated areas including fields and forests. Often they can be seen swimming in slow moving waters.

For comparative purposes the second picture shows the Butler’s Gartersnake. It’s not so familiar in the neighborhoods because it prefers open habitat. In Ohio small populations can be found along the central areas of Lake Erie south to counties around Columbus.

Rat Snakes

picture of a Gray Ratsnake, Credit Melissa McMasters Flickr
As with many eastern states, the Eastern Ratsnake, aka the Black Ratsnake ranks as Ohio’s largest snake. They prefer woodland habitats and residential areas heavy in woodlands can also support Ratsnake populations.

Their propensity for climbing trees can put quite a scare into anyone discovering a six foot snake climbing a backyard tree. Fear not. They are not aggressive. In fact, they consume rodents, so they actually are a beneficial visitor to any neighborhood. A lack of rodents in the neighborhood also means the snake will just be passing through to a territory that better suits its dietary needs.

Ohio also hosts another species in the Ratsnake family, the Eastern Foxsnake (Pantherophis gloydi). They can grow almost as large as the Black Ratsnakes, and have a brown patterned body. The slight resemblance to rattlesnakes and copperheads makes them a difficult ID for the average person in their limited range along the border of Lake Erie.

Racers and Whipsnakes

picture of a Black Racer snake, credit Bobistraveling Flickr
Although some scientists have changed the formal categorization from the genus Masticophis to the genus Coluber, we know these snakes by their common names, coachwhips, whipsnakes and racers. An internet search using either genera brings up background information about these snakes.

The information on racers often states the obvious. These snakes get their name based on their behavior of seemingly racing away when they cross paths with humans. Black Racer (Coluber constrictor) is the general name for one of the most widespread of all the snakes native to the United States.

In fact eleven different subspecies inhabit almost every state in the lower 48 states. Color is a common name applied to many of the species as well as the Black Racer. Blue Racers, for example are common around the Great Lakes region, and Ohio does have a Blue racer population along its western borders. The Black racer population inhabits areas along its eastern border.

Kingsnakes and Milk Snakes

picture of a Milk Snake
Day in and day out, the Ohio population of Eastern Milk Snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum) do what milk snakes everywhere do. They stay in their reptile lane, all the while ridding the area of it’s mice and other rodents.

Their colorful bodies make them fairly easy to identify.

Ohio also has a very small Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis nigra). They can grow to four feet in length and with black bodies, they share a similar look with Ohio’s two other snakes with black in the name, black rat snakes and black racers. Because their populations are limited to a few areas along its southern border, almost nobody in the state should misidentify the Black Kingsnake with other species.


picture of a Northern Watersnake
Two watersnake species call Ohio home. The Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) inhabits most water areas in Ohio.

Plain-bellied Watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster) or Copper-bellied Watersnakes are listed as endangered. They are found in only two counties. A two tone dark top and orange-red belly makes it easily distinguishable from the Northern Watersnake pictured.

More Ohio Colubrid Snakes

picture of an Eastern Worm Snake
Eastern Wormsnake (Carphophis amoenus) is a very small and thin snake that inhabits forested areas in most parts of the Eastern United States. Look for them under logs in the southeast woods of Ohio. They can average about eight inches in length.

picture of a Smooth Earth Snake, Stephen Horvath, Flickr
Smooth Earthsnakes (Virginia valeriae) look similar to Worm Snakes. They are the only representative of the Virginia genera and they inhabit wooded areas in the southern quarter of the state, especially in the forested area of Shawnee and Pike state forests.

Here’s a quicker list of Ohio Snakes not mentioned in this article.

  • Eastern Hognose snakes (Heterodon platirhinos)
  • Red bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)
  • Dekay’s Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi)
  • Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)
  • Queen Snake (Regina septemvittata)
  • Rough Greensnake (Opheodrys aestivus)
  • Smooth Greensnake (Opheodrys vernalis)
  • Kirtland’s Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii)

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