Identifying Snakes in Pennsylvania

Identifying Snakes in PennsylvaniaPennsylvania is home to two of America's larger cities in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, but between them is a large rural and back-country expanse that is famous for the Poconos and the Alleghenies. With such an extensive park system, the state is a natural place for hiking and camping, and that means encounters with snakes. Some of these snakes are poisonous, so snake identification is a useful skill to acquire. (Pictured: Smooth Green Snake)


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Start by looking or listening for the tell-tale rattle on the end of the snake's tail. If the snake has one, it can only be one of two poisonous rattlesnake species. Stay away.
Step 2
Try to get a look at the snake's eyes and check the pupil shape. If the pupils are slits, then the snake is one of Pennsylvania's three species of venomous snake: the timber rattlesnake, the northern copperhead or the eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Round pupils mean the snake is one of Pennsylvania's eighteen non-venomous snake species.
Step 3
Look at the color pattern of the snake scales. The northern red belly snake is a uniform reddish-brown, for example. This harmless snake is found in moist places from forests to gardens.
Step 4
Take note of how wide and long the snake is. Width should not be measured the same way length is. Simply deciding the snake is either thick or thin will do. The eastern rat snake, for example, is a long snake that is between 40 and 100 inches, with a relatively thin body. These snakes are found everywhere in Pennsylvania.
Step 5
Look at the head and decide if it is distinct from the snake's body, and what shape both the head and nose are. The northern racer has an almost indistinct, streamlined head with rounded nose. It is also almost universal in Pennsylvania.

Tips & Warnings

It is a good idea to carry a good guide to Pennsylvania snakes when setting out and trying to identify them. There are 21 species of snakes that are common to the state, and more that are rare.

Article Written By Edwin Thomas

Edwin Thomas has been writing since 1997. His work has appeared in various online publications, including The Black Table, Proboxing-Fans and others. A travel blogger, editor and writer, Thomas has traveled from Argentina to Vietnam in pursuit of stories. He holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from American University.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.