Identifying Snakes in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is home to 21 species of serpent, two of which are venomous: the timber rattler and the eastern massasauga rattler. Learning a few general characteristics and implementing some of the many available field-guide resources can assist you in making an accurate guess about the the snakes you may spot on the trail. Identifying a snake as dangerous is as simple as spotting a few distinctive physical characteristics. (Pictured below: Timber Rattlesnake).
Identifying Snakes in Wisconsin


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Categorize the snake as venomous or non-venomous. Both of Wisconsin's venomous snakes are pit vipers and have several distinctive features. They have pit organs---that appear as indentations---between the eyes and nose, and their eyes have slit-like pupils instead of rounded ones. Both of the state's pit vipers are rattlesnake species, with rattles at the end of the tail. If these characteristics are not present, the snake is either non-venomous or not native to the state. Massasauga Rattlesnake (pictured below).
Massasauga Rattlesnake
Step 2
Look for other distinctive features. Wisconsin is home to several varieties of ringneck snake (pictured below), but all of them have a telltale yellow loop just behind their heads. No other snake in Wisconsin has this marking, making it easy to rule out all other species based on this one feature. The identifying feature of the northern red-belly snake is just as distinctive, even if the reddish belly is hard to see when the snake is crawling on the ground.
ringneck snake
Step 3
Use the snake's size to identify it. Wisconsin's two species of rattler are easily identified based on size. The eastern massasauga rattlesnake, or pygmy rattler, is about two or two and a half feet long. The timber rattlesnake stretches from three to four and a half feet in length. The bull snake (pictured below) lives in the same region as these rattlers and often mimics rattlesnake behavior to ward off predators. But it is even bigger---between four and a half and six and a half feet---and therefore easy to identify on size alone.
bull snake
Step 4
Observe the snake's markings and colors. The Eastern Racer is found everywhere in Wisconsin and has a solid olive top with a whitish-yellow belly. These features alone do not identify the snake, but they can rule out many other species.
Step 5
Consider what part of Wisconsin you are in. The two rattlers species are found only on the southwestern fringe of Wisconsin. Sometimes simple geography can be used to exclude snake species from consideration.
Step 6
Observe what kind of habitat the snake is in. The bull snake lives in the same part of Wisconsin as the rattlers, but it prefers different terrain. The two rattlers like forests, while the bull snake likes both the forests and the prairie. The queen snake, which hunts crayfish, can only be found in the sort of clear-watered, stone-bottomed creeks and streams where its prey is found.


Types of Snakes in North America

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: Snakes of Wisconsin

What Snake is That?

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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