Identifying Snakes in New York

Identifying Snakes in New York
New York is more than just New York City. The Hudson River Valley and the upstate region remain rural and forested, and attract a large number of campers and other visitors every year. These regions of the state are home to many wild animals, including 17 species of snakes. With that many different snakes around, a little guidance is necessary to make positive identifications of them.


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Begin the process by looking for obvious, highly distinctive characteristics that will enable you to make an immediate identification, or at least narrow down the field considerably. New York examples include the rattle of the timber rattlesnake or the distinctive snout of the non-venomous hognose snake.
Step 2
Try to peer into the snake's face and eyes. All three of New York's venomous serpents are pit vipers: the northern copperhead, the timber rattlesnake, and the pygmy rattlesnake. Pit vipers share a pair of features on their faces: slit-shaped pupils, and pits located between the eyes and the nose. If you see either of those on a snake in New York, you know it is either a copperhead or a form of rattler.
Step 3
Take note of the rest of the head, which can tell you more about a snake's species. The milk snake, often found in open fields and near farm and rural outbuildings where they hunt mice, has a slender, pointy head that is indistinct from the body.
Step 4
Take note of the snake's girth. For example, if you can see the head of a New York pit viper, don't know anything about coloration, and cannot see the tail, a way to distinguish between a timber rattlesnake and a copperhead is to judge its girth. The timber rattler will be much thicker.
Step 5
Measure the length of the snake. The best way to tell if a rattlesnake in New York is either a pygmy or a timber rattler is using this method. The pygmy rattler never grows longer than 3 feet, but the timber rattler is between 3 and 5 feet long, and sometimes as big as 6 feet long.
Step 6
Note the habitat. New York's milk snakes and water snakes have similar sizes and colors, but can be told apart based upon where they are found. Milk snakes live in pastures and fields where field mice can be found, while water snakes are amphibious and reside in marshes and near watercourses.
Step 7
Look at the colors. Another way to tell the water snakes and milk snakes of New York apart is by the color pattern of their skin. Water snakes have many color patterns, but tend toward browns, grays, and either a reddish or brownish-black. Milk snakes have a red and white pattern.

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.

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