- There are 14 species of snakes living in Connecticut, some of which might live in your backyard! However, only 2 of these snake species are venomous.
- Timber rattlesnakes are typically easy to recognize due to their heavy bodies and the large rattles at the tip of their tails.
- When it gets cold, usually in October, timber rattlesnakes return to their communal dens to brumate alongside other snakes until April.
Connecticut is the southernmost state in the New England region of the United States, filled with historical sites and natural wonders. However, visitors and residents alike often worry about the likelihood of running into some of Connecticut’s wildlife— like snakes.
There are 14 species of snakes living in Connecticut, some of which might live in your backyard! However, only 2 of these snake species are venomous. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at one of these venomous snakes, the timber rattlesnake. This snake may appear intimidating at first, but as you learn how to identify it and better understand its behavior, you’ll begin to see why there is no need to be afraid of Connecticut’s only rattlesnake species.
Rattlesnake In Connecticut: Timber Rattlesnake
|Range||Central & Western Connecticut|
Despite their daunting size and toxic venom, timber rattlesnakes are not aggressive and try to avoid humans as much as possible. These large rattlesnakes are extremely rare in Connecticut. They only live in scattered and isolated populations in the central and western regions of the state. They prefer rugged and rocky areas near water and deciduous trees, so you won’t find one of these snakes in your backyard.
During the spring months, males are active as they search for mates. Females, on the other hand, often bask in sunny areas on rocky outcroppings and steep ledges. When it gets cold, usually in October, timber rattlesnakes return to their communal dens to brumate alongside other snakes until April.
What Do Timber Rattlesnakes Look Like?
Timber rattlesnakes are typically easy to recognize due to their heavy bodies and the large rattles at the tip of their tails. These rattles are made of several rings or segments that build up each time the snake sheds. When a snake feels threatened, it will vibrate its tail rapidly, causing the hardened segments to clatter against one another and produce its iconic “rattling” sound. However, these keratin rattles are also fragile and can break off. That means there is a slight chance that if you see a snake without a rattle, it might still be a rattlesnake.
But don’t worry, there are lots of other things to look for! For example, timber rattlesnakes have keeled or ridged scales along their backs that give their bodies a roughened texture. They are usually gray, yellow, or brown, with dark crossbands shaped like V’s or chevrons. Some timber rattlesnakes in Connecticut also have black speckles that make their bodies look extra dark.
Another prominent characteristic of timber rattlesnakes is their large, triangle-shaped heads. These snakes are pit vipers with venom glands at the back of their heads. This makes their heads almost twice as wide as their necks. Their eyes have vertical pupils, and there are prominent “pits” between the eyes and nostrils. These pits are specialized organs that help the snakes to sense heat signatures in their environment, which makes them skillful hunters.
How Dangerous Are Timber Rattlesnakes?
Timber rattlesnakes have very potent hemotoxic venom that breaks down red blood cells. They can be dangerous because they have a high venom yield, which means that they can inject a large amount of venom when they bite. However, their venom is mainly used for overpowering and digesting prey. In fact, if timber rattlesnakes do end up striking out of defense—which is not common since they prefer to hiss, rattle their tails, or slither away if they can—the bite will likely not have as much venom in it.
Historically, timber rattlesnakes lived all over Connecticut. Today, however, they are only found in a handful of towns in the central and western parts of the state. Their populations have decreased due to urban development, habitat degradation, habitat fragmentation, persecution, and illegal capture for the pet trade. Timber rattlesnakes are protected as an endangered species in Connecticut, and it is illegal to kill one, no matter the circumstance.
Snakes Similar to Rattlesnakes in Connecticut
While the timber rattlesnake is the only rattlesnake species in all of Connecticut, the state is also home to several other snakes that can be mistaken for rattlesnakes. Here are just a few examples.
Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake
|Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake|
|Range||All of Connecticut (but rare)|
One of the most unusual and unique snakes in Connecticut is the eastern hog-nosed snake. However, it is not likely that you will see one, as there are not many eastern hog-nosed snakes in the state. Eastern hog-nosed snakes can live all over Connecticut, but they are a Special Concern species here because of their small populations.
Eastern hog-nosed snakes are smaller than most timber rattlesnakes, growing only 21-32 inches in length with stocky bodies. Their bodies can have all kinds of colors and patterns, ranging anywhere from black and gray to orange, yellow, red, and brown. This can make them hard to identify, but one unusual feature is their unique noses. Like their name, hog-nosed snakes have upturned noses like a pig or hog that they use to dig through sandy or gravelly soil as they hunt for toads.
Northern Water Snake
|Northern Water Snake|
|Range||All of Connecticut|
In almost any waterway or wetland area of Connecticut, you might come across northern water snakes. These snakes are commonly mistaken for timber rattlesnakes, copperhead snakes, and cottonmouth snakes. However, there are no cottonmouth snakes in Connecticut, and copperhead snakes have more coppery coloring and are not usually seen in the water. Water snakes, on the other hand, spend nearly all their time in the water. When not in the water, these snakes often bask on rocks and logs near the water or hang from tree branches just above the water.
Northern water snakes have thick, heavy bodies that are gray or tan, with reddish or brown crossbands on their backs and dark blotches along their sides. Older snakes have duller, darker patterns, while younger snakes have more distinct patterns and brighter colors. They grow between 24-42 inches in length and have keeled scales.
Common Garter Snake
|Common Garter Snake|
|Range||All of Connecticut|
Like its name, the common garter snake is easily the most common snake found throughout Connecticut. Unlike the timber rattlesnake, common garter snakes have long slender bodies and small, oval-shaped heads. Mostly, they have three distinct stripes—one that runs down the middle of their back and one along each side of their body. They have keeled scales and grow between 18-26 inches on average.
Other Snakes Found In Connecticut
Of the 14 snakes found in Connecticut, the only two that are venomous are the timber rattlesnake and the Northern copperhead. Like the rattler, the copperhead is also a member of the pit viper family and has a venom that is hemolytic, which is a type of venom that causes the breakdown of red blood cells. Although these snakes are not aggressive, they are territorial and many attacks occur when they are stepped on or accidentally touched, which is why they account for the most snake bites than any other North American species. Their venom is not as deadly as others in the pit viper family and rarely results in fatalities. These reptiles are known to inhabit leaf piles, which camouflages them, as well as rotting wood, sawdust piles, and forested hillsides.
Widely distributed throughout the upper regions of Connecticut, the non-venomous Northern Redbelly snake is not observed much because it is such a secretive snake. This small serpent, with a length of only between 8 to 11 inches in length, spends most of its life hidden under a variety of locations, from rocks, leaves, and brush piles to rotting logs and under boards, and is generally a nocturnal creature, preferring to emerge at night. One of the more mild-tempered snakes, they do not bite but when threatened may emit a foul-smelling musk from their tail glands.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/JasonOndreicka
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