With the exception of two types of venomous snakes, Pennsylvania snakes consist of nineteen species of colubrid snakes, a family of snakes with familiar names such as ratsnakes, kingsnakes, garter snakes and watersnakes.
Pennsylvania’s colubrid snakes all share the virtue of being relatively benign reptiles that perform more good services such as rodent and insect control than they often get credit for. With most people, the yuck factor associated with snakes takes hold.
Venomous snakes receive the most headlines in Pennsylvania snakes discussions for the same reason they do in other states. Adding an element of medical importance to a snake discussion grabs attention. Pennsylvania hosts two of the three venomous snakes in the Pit Viper category, copperheads and rattlesnakes.
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.
Timber Rattlesnakes are the most common of the Crotalus rattlesnake species in the United States and they are the dominant of the two Pennsylvania rattlesnakes. Considering that Pennsylvania literally means Penn’s Woods, and wooded or forested areas are the snake’s habitat, it’s reasonable to suggest they inhabit most of the state’s forest areas.
The other rattlesnake, the Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) has a small population in the western end of the state..
Please press the snakes button for more pictures and information covering venomous snakes. The remainder of this article highlights the state’s less harmful colubrid snakes.
Racers and Whipsnakes
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.
The snakes best known as Black racers inhabit most areas in the East from southern Maine to the Florida Keys. They are long, thin snakes with a black body, and as the picture highlights, white chins.
Pennsylvania is home to the Eastern Hognose snakes (Heterodon platirhinos), one of five native Hognose snakes. They are best known as the snakes that play dead when confronted by trouble.
Kingsnakes and Milk Snakes
As the picture demonstrates, Eastern Milk Snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum) are very adaptable and colorful snakes. It’s one reason they are popular in the pet trade.
Pennsylvania’s Milk Snakes inhabit fields, forests, farms and some residential areas.
While many snakes display a propensity to swim in water, think garter snake, Water Snakes refers to a specific genus of snakes (Nerodia).
With the exception of the Pacific Northwest, nine different species inhabit most areas of North America. The Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) is Pennsylvania’s only species. It’s body color changes depending on age and location. The picture shows an adult with dark skin that hides any distinct body pattern.
Their above average size and bulk makes them fairly easy to identify in water areas that host other snakes.
Rat snakes are the general name given to a group of constrictors that inhabit various regions of the East and Midwest. Their rodent diet and their propensity to inhabit areas with human populations often translated into the humans calling them rat snakes based primarily on the snake’s diet.
In many states, including Pennsylvania they win the award for being the state’s largest snakes. Adults can grow over seven feet in length. Seeing them climbing a tree can cause quite a fright. The all black body makes it a fairly easy species to recognize.
Ribbon snakes refers to a group of snakes in the genus Thamnophis, differentiated by the presence of longer tails and a light patch in front of the eye. Eastern Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis sauritus) share those same physical features.
The Eastern Ribbon Snake has a distinct pattern on the body as well as the common stripes.
Garter snake identification can be a fun activity because they are not aggressive snakes and taking the time to look at one means little personal harm to the observer. Their body color can range from blue, prominent in Florida blue garter snakes, to the many shades of red visible in West Coast species.
The Common Garter Snake in the picture is a rather bland looking species and easy to identify basically because it’s the primary species in most East Coast states. It’s also the most wide ranging of all the garter snakes and found in almost all of the lower 48 states.
Still More Colibrid Snakes
Here’s a quick list of additional Pennsylvania Colubrid Snakes. Most are small, inconspicuous snakes. The snakes button at the top of the page provides additional pictures and information covering these species.
- Short-headed Gartersnake (Thamnophis brachystoma)
- Eastern Wormsnakes (Carphophis amoenus)
- Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)
- Northern Red-bellied Snake
- Dekay’s Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi)
- Kirtland’s Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii)
- Queen Snake (Regina septemvittata)
- Smooth Earthsnakes (Virginia valeriae)
- Smooth Greensnake (Opheodrys vernalis)