8 New England Snakes

Written by Megan Martin
Updated: September 13, 2023
© Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com
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New England comprises six different states in the northeastern region of the United States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Although this colder climate may not seem the most suitable for reptiles, you can find a variety of critters here — including these eight New England snakes. Only two are venomous!

Ready to learn more about the cold-blooded wildlife of this region? Keep reading!

There are over a dozen different common names for the northern copperhead.

1. Timber Rattlesnake

The timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is one of only two venomous New England snakes. It is also known as the canebrake rattlesnake or banded rattlesnake. This is the only species of rattlesnake in the northern region of the country. 

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The timber rattlesnake can be found in almost all New England states — except for one: Maine. This is because Maine is one of only three states in the United States that have no venomous snake species. The other two are Hawaii and Alaska.

This species was also one of the first described by Carl Linnaeus, also known as the Father of Taxonomy. During the 18th century, Linnaeus gave many species their scientific names, including the timber rattlesnake. Despite centuries having passed, the timber rattlesnake still has the same scientific name. 

Timber rattlesnakes can grow to be up to five feet long. The largest timber rattlesnake recorded was over six feet long! However, most are found to be under four feet. They can also weigh as much as three pounds. 

Timber rattlesnaake coiled in a loop
Timber rattlesnakes can grow up to 5 feet!

©Frode Jacobsen/Shutterstock.com

2. Northern Copperhead

The northern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) is the second and final venomous snake species found in New England. Even just-hatched copperheads have fully functional fangs and venom as strong — and dangerous — as their adult counterparts. 

Previously, the northern copperhead was considered to be its own unique species. However, between 2008 and 2015, several studies were conducted to validate this. The result? The northern copperhead, the southern copperhead, and the Osage copperhead were all determined to be the same species. As a result, they were reclassified into different subspecies. 

On average, the northern copperhead grows to be between two to three feet. However, the largest they can grow is over four feet long.

There are over a dozen different common names for the northern copperhead. Some of these include:

  • Resident copperhead
  • Highland moccasin
  • Beech-leaf snake
  • Chunk head
  • Copper-bell
  • Copper belly
  • Copperhead moccasin
  • Copperhead viper
  • Copper snake. 

Although the northern copperhead is a species of New England snake, this isn’t the only place they can be found. It can be found all the way to northern Georgia. 

The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cat’s eyes.
The copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils.

©Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com

3. Eastern Garter Snake

The eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) is the first non-venomous snake on this list. Its scientific name is a combination of two languages, Ancient Greek and Latin, that come together to mean “bush snake that looks like a garter strap.” Garter snakes tend to grow between 18 inches to 26 inches. However, the largest ever recorded is over four feet long. Although the eastern garter snake is found all over the eastern region of the United States, it is considered the most widespread New England snake.

A 2020 study on eastern garter snakes has shown that they may just be one of the most friendly snakes. Typically, snakes are solo creatures. While they may come together to mate, that’s about it. However, this study has shown that the eastern garter snake thrives in a group setting. Not only that, but they may also form connections with specific individuals in the group. 

The eastern garter snake is also known for releasing a foul-smelling musk when threatened!

The eastern garter snake is named for its appearance.

©Colby Hess/Shutterstock.com

4. Black Rat Snake

The black rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) is a popular North American black snake with no subspecies. Out of all of the New England snakes, the black rat snake is actually the largest snake in Massachusetts. It can grow to be up to eight feet long – one of the largest snakes on this list!

Despite their rank as the largest New England snake, the black rat snake is actually virtually harmless to humans. It tends to avoid humans whenever possible. On the chance that an encounter leads to a bite, the black rat snake is non-venomous. It is endangered in Massachusetts. As a result, it is illegal to kill, harass, or otherwise bother these gentle serpents in the wilderness. 

Their diet is made up of a variety of different types of prey. From birds to eggs to small mammals, it takes a lot to grow to be around 8 feet long!

An adult rat black snake peaks over a rock
Reaching a length of up to 8 feet, black rat snakes are one of the longest snakes in North America.

©Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

5. Eastern Black Racer

Due to their similar appearances, the eastern black racer (Coluber constrictor) can easily be mistaken for the black rat snake. However, the easter black racer snake is smaller — although not by much! An adult black racer can grow to be around six feet long, two feet shorter than a rat snake. It may also be confused with dark variations of the hognose snake. However, it lacks the hognose’s upturned nose, helping you to better identify the eastern black racer. 

The eastern black racer is named for its ability to reach high speeds. At its fastest, it can slither at a speed ranging anywhere from 8 miles per hour to 10 miles per hour. It can’t maintain this speed for long periods of time. However, it is a good way to hunt quick prey or escape whenever necessary.

There are several different subspecies of eastern black racer. Some subspecies are protected in certain states. Although the eastern black race is a type of New England snake, it is actually the state reptile of Ohio!

Black racer snake, Coluber constrictor priapus, a subspecies of the Eastern racer, is a fairly slender, solid black snake.
The black racer snake, a subspecies of the eastern racer, is a fairly slender, solid black snake.


6. Northern Red-Bellied Snake

The northern red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata) is one of the smallest New England snakes. However, it can easily grow to be as large as 12 inches long! Although it is one of the many snake species found in New England, this isn’t their only habitat. Instead, you can find it anywhere in North America, south of Ontario. 

This New England snake is a common sight along many of the wilderness areas in these states. It tends to spend its time in the moist soil of the forests or under fallen logs and stones. This also helps them to catch their favorite prey, which includes earthworms and slugs. 

However, because they like these common critters and the wet soil, you can also find them around your home, especially in garden beds. They’re non-venomous, like most of the New England snakes you’ll stumble upon. However, unless you accidentally harm them, they’ll usually flee at the first sight of a human. 

A coiled Red-Bellied Black Snake flicks its tongue
Red-bellied snakes are glossy black on the top and various shades of red on their underside.

©Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

7. Ringneck Snake

The northern ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii) is a small type of snake found in New England. It is closely related to the southern ringneck snake. However, you can tell them apart by the ring of their neck. The northern ringneck snake has a complete ring around its neck, while the southern ringneck’s band is not complete.

One of the most interesting things about northern ringneck snakes is the fact that, technically, they are venomous. However, they are not considered venomous like the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead. This is because their venom is not designed to be fatal. Instead, it’s designed to help immobilize prey for an easy hunt. However, it’s weak enough that it has virtually no effect on larger mammals like humans. 

They also don’t have a true venom gland like venomous snakes. Instead, they have a Duvernoy’s gland, which produces their moderately venomous saliva. 

northern ringneck snake
The northern ringneck snake has a complete band around its neck compared to the southern variation.


8. Northern Water Snake

The northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) is an average-sized snake. It can reach lengths ranging anywhere from two to four feet, including its tail. At its longest, it is usually no more than four and a half feet long. 

If you don’t know about the northern water snake, it may be because you aren’t familiar with this common name. This New England snake has around a dozen other common names, including:

  • Banded water snake
  • Black water adder
  • Black water snake
  • Brown water snake
  • Common water snake.

The northern water snake is one of four subspecies of common water snake (Nerodia sipedon). The others include the Lake Erie water snake, the Carolina water snake, and the Midland water snake. Like the timber rattlesnake, the northern water snake was one of the original species named by Linnaeus. 

Similar to other smaller species of non-venomous snakes, the northern water snake can release a foul-smelling musk when it’s threatened. However, before this, it’s more likely to try and flee. 

northern water snake in water
The northern water snake reaches up to 4.5 feet in length.


Summary of 8 New England Snakes

NumberSnakeType of Snake
1Timber RattlesnakeVenomous
2Northern CopperheadVenomous
3Eastern Garter SnakeNon-venomous
4Black Rat SnakeNon-venomous
5Eastern Black RacerNon-venomous
6Northern Red-Bellied SnakeNon-venomous
7Ringneck SnakeVenomous but harmless to humans
8Northern Water SnakeNon-venomous

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Rattlesnakes While HIking - Timber Rattlesnake
Beware Timber Rattlesnakes that are camouflaged and hiding in Pennsylvania.
© Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a writer with almost five years of experience. I graduated from Wingate University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a double minor in biology and professional and technical writing. I love everything animals and nature related! The American kestrel is my favorite animal, but I also like sharks and alligators. In my free time, I like to watch documentaries and explore nature.

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