Connecticut is famous for many things — the fall leaves, Yale University, and it was one of the original 13 colonies that signed the U.S. Constitution.
However, it is not known for its snake population. The third smallest state only has 14 snake species and several of them are so small that you’ll almost never see them! To help figure out which snakes people see most often, we went to iNaturalist.org. It’s not perfect, but gives a decent idea of what snakes people see in different areas.
Most Common Snake in Connecticut Gardens: Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)
This harmless snake is one of the most widespread of any North American snake. Garter snakes of varying types inhabit most areas in the U.S. and southern Canada. The only state that we don’t have a confirmed garter snake population is Alaska.
In Connecticut, garter snakes are the most commonly spotted snake. They’re often found in gardens, brush, debris piles, and near water bodies because they love frogs and toads. They also eat slugs, worms, and anything else they can overpower with their underwhelming strength. Although they’re common near water supplies, they also seek refuge under logs, construction debris, and at the edges of fields and forests.
Garter snakes are smallish and average two to three feet long. They are slender with slightly large eyes, and their body coloring almost always has at least three longitudinal stripes that extend the length of their body. The stripes are often white to yellow or orangish; the snakes’ body color can be gray, brown, green, or olive and many of them have spots.
They are absolutely harmless to people and pets, but scientists recently discovered that they have mildly venomous saliva and slightly enlarged teeth in the back of their jaw. They believe that the venom is prey-specific and designed to incapacitate frogs and toads — its favorite prey.
These snakes are extremely cold-tolerant and are active both earlier and later in the year than other snakes. Garter snakes give live birth, which is an advantage because the babies don’t fall prey to egg-eating snakes before they’re even hatched. When you see a garter snake, it’s probably best to leave it alone, not because it’s dangerous. No, these snakes are quick to musk any they perceive as a threat. It stinks and you will stink for hours later too.
Common Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon)
The second most common snake in Connecticut gardens is likely to be in your yard if you happen to have a pond. Common watersnakes are semiaquatic and fiercely defensive. They have very sharp teeth that they use to capture fish and amphibians, their favorite foods.
Common watersnakes are thick-bodied and people often confuse them for cottonmouths or other venomous snakes. These snakes have a thick neck and wide, flat head that they can flatten and widen even further to look bigger.
This species has gray, brown, reddish-brown, or black with crossbands. Their eyes have round pupils and there are vertical bars extending from their lower jaw up through their lips. Although they try to look it, and they bite a lot if you corner them, they’re not dangerous.
Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)
Ratsnakes of all kinds thrive where there are people and patchwork habitats of open grass, trees, and neighborhoods. This type of situation benefits them greatly because it tends to attract rats, mice, and other small animals. Eastern ratsnakes are Connecticut’s largest snake and the third most commonly spotted in gardens — they regularly grow to five feet long.
Juveniles usually have a lighter base color of gray, or brown with darker blotches on their back. As they age, they lose all those markings and become almost completely black with white chins, necks, and a checkerboard pattern on their belly.
Eastern ratsnakes often wind up in odd places like garage rafters, climbing up brick walls along the grout lines, and even inside houses. However, they’re not really out to get you, they’re just following the food.
Northern Ring-Necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii)
The small nonvenomous northern ring-necked snake is the fourth most common snake in Connecticut gardens. However, due to its small size and secretive behavior, isn’t seen as often as the larger ratsnakes. You’ll find the northern ring-necked snake hiding under rocks, leaf litter, logs, and other debris. They’re commonly found along old rock walls that have a lot of leaf litter accumulated.
These snakes have a bright yellow belly and matching ring around its neck, right behind its head. Ring-necked snakes are small and thin, only measuring about 18 inches long. They enjoy feeding on salamanders, red-bellied snakes, and earthworms.
Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum)
A type of kingsnake, eastern milksnakes are common throughout most of Connecticut. In years past, people found them in barns near their dairy cows. It led to the incorrect belief that they drank the cows’ milk. Of course we know better now, but the name stuck anyway.
Milk snakes are famous rodent eaters and terrific to have around. While they mostly eat mice, eastern milksnakes also eat lizards, other snakes, insects, birds and their eggs. Fairly small and slender, this species only measure one and half to two feet long. They have round pupils and small heads that are barely wider than their necks. These snakes have a gray or tan background and their bellies are checkerboard patterned. On their backs, there are three to four rows of red to reddish-brown blotches, and an obvious V or Y-shaped marking on the back of their heads.
Primarily nocturnal, this species often rests in barns and sheds during the day, probably because there’s an easy supply of food! Although they’re common, eastern milksnakes are secretive and rarely seen, because they make use of logs and debris piles for cover, which is a major requirement of any habitat for milk snakes.
Venomous Connecticut Snakes
Although most of the snakes in Connecticut are harmless — nonvenomous and not at all dangerous to people — there are two venomous snakes. These pit vipers are uncommon, and not even in the top five most commonly spotted snakes in Connecticut, according to iNaturalist.org.
Yet, these pit vipers are dangerous, so proper identification can save your life — or digits. So here’s what you need to know.
What’s a Pit Viper?
Pit vipers include rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths. In general, they have stocky bodies and big heads with skinny necks. These snakes are in the Viperidae subfamily of Crotalinae. They’re primarily found in the Americas, but a few pit viper species have made their way into parts of Asia.
Yet, the true distinguishing characteristic really is as plain as the nose on their cranky little faces!
They’re called pit vipers because they have special heat-sensitive organs between each nostril and eye. Scientists call them loreal pits because they’re located in a depression in the loreal scale. These organs give the snake very detailed information about temperature of whatever is right in front of the snake, because the pits face forward. In fact, the information is so accurate, that many of them can detect the difference between even five-thousandths (.005) of a degree Fahrenheit.
Pit vipers don’t move very quickly because they’re thick-bodies don’t allow it. Instead, they rely on camouflage. In fact, this is why some people get bitten — the snakes are hard to see! Most species, including those in Connecticut, have camouflage that visually breaks up their outline.
The big, angular head that pit vipers sport is due to rather large venom glands that sit right behind their eyes. It’s what gives pit vipers their distinctive appearance. These snakes also have vertical pupils, like you see in a cat.
Which Connecticut Snakes are Pit Vipers?
You’ll find northern copperheads and timber rattlesnakes in Connecticut. These snakes aren’t very common in the state. However, I include them because if you spend a lot of time outdoors hiking, or if your home is in a very rural area, you’re likely to see one at some point.
Copperheads are common across the eastern half of the U.S., from Texas all the way east to the Atlantic coast, and then north to Massachusetts.
They’re as common as they are stealthy. In fact, you’ve probably walked right on past many of them in your time outside, because they rely on their excellent camouflage that makes copperheads look like the leaves where they hide.
While they’re common in most of their range, they’re not as common here because Connecticut sits near the northern edge. Copperheads get their name from the bronze-copper color of their head. These snakes are on the small side for pit vipers and average about two to three feet long. They have a gray to pinkish base color with darker hourglass-shaped markings. Their markings often have lighter centers with clean edges.
Copperheads are masters of camouflage. Most bites happen when people step on and startle the snakes. Fortunately, their venom is one of the milder pit viper venoms and most people survive with little to no permanent damage. However, copperhead venom does contain hemotoxins, so immediate medical attention is vital.
Timber rattlesnakes aren’t quite so common in Connecticut. They used to be much more widespread, but they’re very sensitive to habitat changes. Over time, residential and commercial development has drastically reduced their range. In addition to persecution because rattlesnakes terrify people, timber rattlesnakes’ population is much lower than it was in the past.
This highly venomous snake is big enough to impart a massive dose of venom. It’s easily enough to kill a person. However, they’re not as likely to bite as other venomous snakes. Timber rattlesnakes usually give ample warning before striking, but not always.
These snakes are fairly large, and most often measure about five feet long, but there are reports of seven-foot-long individuals. This rattlesnake species has dark chevron or m-shaped crossbands over a lighter gray to yellowish-brown until its tail, which becomes almost solid black. In the northern parts of of its range, it often becomes almost black. Some scientists believe that’s a natural mechanism to help them soak up more of the sun’s heat.
Other Connecticut Garden Snakes
There are a few more snakes you might encounter in your Connecticut garden — you’d be surprised at the variety, even though there aren’t that many. Plus, they’re all harmless!
- Dekay’s Brownsnake (Storeria dekayii)
- North American Racer (Coluber constrictor)
- Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platyrhinos)
- Common ribbon snake (Thamnophis saurita)
- Eastern worm snake (Carphophis amoenus)
- Red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)
- Smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis)
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com
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