Most people report seeing snakes in and around their Connecticut homes during the summer. This is for no other reason than the fact that these reptiles come close to human surroundings while scrambling for shade during the hot temperatures, or else they’ll overheat and die. Snakes also tend to breed early in the summer, so you’ll likely encounter them more because they’re out looking for mates. So, whether you’re a resident of Connecticut or you’re just visiting, you may be worried about whether these scary animals you see crawling around are dangerous or not.
Interestingly, there are 14 different species of snakes in Connecticut. But this is nothing to be scared about because only two of these species are venomous. By “venomous”, we mean they are dangerous animals capable of delivering toxins through their venom into the bloodstream when they bite. It may interest you to know that these venomous snakes in Connecticut typically retreat from humans and try to avoid any contact. As long as you leave them alone to go their way, you’re likely to stay out of trouble!
Here’s everything you should know about the two largest and most dangerous snakes that you’re likely to encounter this summer in Connecticut.
Connecticut’s Largest and Most Dangerous Snakes this Summer
Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
How to Identify a Northern Copperhead
The northern copperhead is a large, heavy-bodied pit viper snake with distinctive dark brown, hourglass-shaped markings, displayed on a light reddish-brown or brown/gray background. It has a series of 10-18 crossbands that are light tan to pale brown in the center, but darker towards the edges. Characteristically, both the ground color and crossband pattern are pale in these snakes.
However, newborn copperheads are born with green or yellow tail tips, which progress to a darker brown or black within one year. Copperheads grow to a typical adult length of approximately 3 feet long. Some exceptional species may exceed 3 feet. The maximum length reported for this species is 4 feet 5 inches!
Range and Habitat of the Northern Copperhead
Within its range, the copperhead occupies a variety of different habitats in Connecticut. The largest populations are found in ridges of Central Connecticut Lowland, located on the western part of the Connecticut River in some counties such as Middlesex, Hartford, and New Haven. Copperheads are rarely found in the east of the Connecticut River, as well as in the northwestern and northeastern parts of Connecticut.
In most of the United States, they inhabit deciduous forests, rock outcroppings, mixed woodlands, ledges, and edges of meadows. They may also occupy hilly, low-lying, swampy regions. During the cold winter months, this species often hibernate in crevices or dens, often shared with other snakes like the black rat snakes and timber rattlesnakes. They are active from April through October when they come out in search of food and mates.
How Dangerous are Northern Copperheads?
Copperheads are one of only two venomous snake species in Connecticut, the other being timber rattlesnakes. They are pit vipers, with hollow fangs and pit organs for sensing and accurately striking prey. It has been estimated that the venom of the copperhead snake has a lethal dose of around 100 mg. Its potency is among the lowest of all pit vipers, and slightly weaker than that of its cousin, the cottonmouth. Despite this, a bite from a copperhead snake should be taken very seriously and immediate medical treatment should be sought. Individuals bitten by a copperhead may show symptoms such as extreme pain, swelling, throbbing, severe nausea, and tingling. If the bite occurs in the hands or feet, damage can occur to muscle and bone tissue which could possibly result in an allergic reaction and secondary infection.
Although venomous, copperheads are generally non-aggressive and docile. They like to remain still and hidden, and will only assume a defensive posture and strike when directly threatened or handled. Bites commonly occur due to people unknowingly stepping on or near them. Luckily, copperhead bites are rarely fatal and they rarely result in the death of a human.
What Do Northern Copperheads Eat?
The copperhead is known to eat a wide variety of prey. Their diet consists majorly of invertebrates (especially arthropods) and vertebrates. Like most pit vipers, the eastern copperhead is generally an ambush predator; it takes up a favorable position and waits for desirable prey to arrive. The copperhead seizes smaller prey and birds, holding the animal in its mouth until it dies. On the other hand, for larger prey, the snake typically bites the animal, releases it, and tracks down the prey until it dies. Juveniles exhibit caudal luring – an act of using their brightly colored tail to attract frogs and lizards.
Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus)
How to Identify a Timber Rattlesnake
Timber rattlesnakes are also called canebrake rattlesnakes in most parts of the United States. In Connecticut, most adult timber rattlesnakes found measure between 36 and 54 inches in total length and weigh between 1.1 and 3.3 lb. The maximum reported total length is 189.2 cm (6 feet 2.5 inches). In fact, large specimens can reportedly weigh as much as 9.9 lb!
Timber rattlesnakes, like other rattlesnakes, have a characteristic rattle at the tip of their tail. The head is flattened and triangular and is about twice the size of the neck. The dorsal scales are keeled, making the skin appear rough because of raised ridges in the center of each scale, and there’s the presence of undivided scales on their underside. They also have characteristic elliptical pupils and large pits between the eyes and nostrils. Dorsally, they have a pattern of dark brown or black irregular or V-shaped crossbands on a yellow, brown, or grayish background. Often a rust-colored vertebral stripe is present. On the ventral side, they are yellowish or marked with black. Some individual specimens are very dark, or almost solid black.
Range and Habitat of the Timber Rattlesnake
The timber rattlesnake is listed as endangered in Connecticut. They’re extremely rare in the state due to factors like habitat loss, poaching, encroachment, and intentional killing by humans. However, this species is found inhabiting deciduous forests and rugged terrain with steep ledges in Connecticut.
Timber rattlesnakes are rarely found in elevations less than 500 feet above sea level. They are mostly active from mid-April to October when they come out in search of food, shelter, and basking sites. Because of the decline in their population in Connecticut, timber rattlesnakes are protected by Connecticut’s Endangered Species Act and anybody who kills or collects them for any reason will be fined or faced with legal actions. To conserve this species, specialized habitats such as their summer breeding grounds and winter dens are highly protected.
How Dangerous are Timber Rattlesnakes?
Rattlesnakes are one of the most dangerous snakes in the United States. The second of the two venomous snakes in Connecticut, timber rattlesnakes are bulky pit viper snakes with large, hollow, long fangs in front of their mouth which they use to deliver high venom yield. But due to their relatively gentle disposition and long hibernation period, their impact is not frequently seen. They prefer to stay hidden and camouflaged and will not attack or bite humans if left undisturbed.
The venom of the timber rattlesnake is highly hemolytic, causing a breakdown of red blood cells in the victim and severe bleeding. Victims may also experience pain, swelling of the affected area, and serious neurological symptoms. If bitten, medical attention should be sought immediately. Most importantly, if you encounter this species, it is best to leave them alone and allow the snake to go its own way. Agitating the snake by handling it or getting too close may provoke a dangerous defensive strike.
What Do Timber Rattlesnakes Eat?
Timber rattlesnakes eat small mammals, small birds, and frogs. Their primary diet consists of mice, voles, chipmunks, cottontail rabbits, and squirrels. Although capable of eating other rattlesnakes, the most common snake they prey upon is the garter snake. Surprisingly, despite how venomous timber rattlesnakes are, they are also preyed on by other snake species such as the black racer. Baby timber rattlesnakes were found to prefer smaller animals such as shrews.
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