Snakes in Delaware

Written by John Alois
Published: October 5, 2022
© Matthew L Niemiller/
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When you think of Delaware, do you think of snakes? Probably not. The First State is largely urbanized, and it’s comparatively small to some other states, so how many snakes can there be?

You may be surprised to learn that there have been reports of at least 20 snakes in Delaware over the years! Luckily, only one is venomous (maybe two), so as long as you can tell them apart, you can enjoy the many snakes of Delaware to your heart’s content. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most notable snakes that inhabit the state, and we hope that you encounter some of them in your travels.

6 Snakes in Delaware

Black Rat Snake

Though a few different species of rat snake inhabit Delaware, the black rat snake is the most common. They are also some of the most populous snakes in the state. They are named after their diet; small rodents are their favorite snack, along with small reptiles, amphibians, and eggs. 

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Because of this, they are well-loved by some as a form of natural pest control. Some farmers even keep them around intentionally. As with most snakes in Delaware, rat snakes are nonvenomous, so they pose no threat to people. A well-cared-for black rat snake will grow to be up to 6 feet long and live for about 7 or 8 years.

Outside of urban environments, black rat snakes make their homes at various elevations. They are known to inhabit flat farmlands and rocky cliffs alike. Thanks to their climbing ability, they may be found in tree cavities, including former nests of other animals. You can spot one by its jet-black coloring and white underside.

Black Racer

At first glance, this snake shares a lot in common with the previous one, as they share a common color and general size. They also prefer similar grassy and/or rocky habitats. However, the black racer stands out with its speed and behavior. These snakes are quite fast, and when you approach one, you may be surprised by how quickly it makes its escape. It puts this speed to use in the wild, traveling long distances and running down prey like rodents, birds, and frogs.

That being said, they are also unruly and are known to stand their ground and bite more quickly than other snakes. This bite is nonvenomous and therefore nonlethal, but it still hurts and can be prone to infection. In addition, it may become even more restless in a tank or terrarium since it’s used to traveling long distances at high speeds. For these reasons, black racers might not be the best choice as pets. 

If you happen to approach one in the wild, watch its tail. If it starts vibrating, then it may be preparing to strike. Despite being more aggressive than other snakes, it’s still a rare occurrence and shouldn’t happen unless you’re trying to make it happen, so please don’t do that.

Northern Water Snake

Of the three water snakes that have been known to inhabit Delaware, the northern water snake is the most common, even more so than the common water snake. It’s also a common sight throughout the United States, from Maine to the Carolinas to Colorado. True to its name, it lives near freshwater sources such as streams, rivers, and lakes.

This 55-inch snake may be hard to spot out on the water, since adults are usually dark in color and could be gray, brown, or even black. But, surely, this camouflage comes in handy when it’s chasing down its prey of fish and amphibians, downing them in one bite. After its meal, it likes to bask near the water, usually on a log or rock. 

If spooked, however, it will try to retreat to the water. If something (or someone) catches hold of it, it will usually release a foul-smelling musk and bite the perpetrator. Though an unpleasant experience, this is the worst it can do to people, and only to those foolish enough to grab it. As long as you don’t do that, this snake is harmless.

Eastern Garter Snake

The eastern garter snake is the dominant subspecies of the common garter snake in the eastern half of the U.S. This snake has a length of 18 to 26 inches and a life expectancy of 10 years. Furthermore, it is diurnal, meaning it’s active during the day instead of at night. These qualities, along with their docile nature, make it a terrific pet for a first-time snake owner.

The eastern garter snake is extremely common in the wilds of Delaware. Their bodies can be green, brown, and even black. To identify one, look for the signature stripes that all common garters have on their backs and sides. On an eastern garter, these stripes will be yellow or off-white. They thrive in grasslands with water sources, where there are plenty of fish, worms, or amphibians to hunt.

Venomous Snakes in Delaware

Eastern Copperhead

The most common, and probably only, venomous snake in the state of Delaware, the eastern copperhead is a common sight throughout the eastern half of the United States. A few features make them quite easy to identify. 

The first of these features are their signature heads, which are triangular and bear a copper coloring that gives the species its name. Their eyes are also elliptical, which means that their pupils are shaped like slits, similar to a cat’s eye. 

Most eastern copperheads grow to be an average of 3 feet long, and their tan bodies are covered in brown crossbands. They also have an organ between their eyes that picks up heat from their prey, including mice, frogs, insects, and birds. Once a copperhead finds its prey, it will stealthily ambush them, inject its venom, and swallow its meal whole.

Even though copperheads are venomous, that does not make them aggressive. Truth be told, copperheads are not aggressive towards people, and they only bite in self-defense after repeated harassment. In fact, even if a copperhead does bite someone, there’s a good chance of it being a “dry bite,” or a bite without venom. 

That’s because copperheads would rather use venom on their prey. On top of that, copperhead venom is weaker than that of other snakes. Even still, it’s still highly recommended to seek treatment immediately after a physical encounter with a copperhead, as deaths by their venom, though rare, do happen.

Timber Rattlesnake

If you’re a resident of Delaware and didn’t know that your state had timber rattlesnakes, that’s because it probably doesn’t. Though they inhabited Delaware at one point in time, most people believe that the snake has been extirpated, or wiped out, from the state. 

Seeing a timber rattlesnake in Delaware is almost unheard of nowadays, and they are in decline across many other regions. It’s not all bad, however, as they are still fairly common nationwide, and are still the most abundant venomous snake in places such as Iowa.

If, by some small chance, you encounter a timber rattler in Delaware, it will have a yellow-brown or gray body, dark blotches, a triangular head, slit-shaped pupils, and a light-colored rattle on its black tail. It will also have a colored stripe running down its back, similar to a garter snake. Expect it to be quite large, as some can reach a length of 6 feet. 

These rattlesnakes tend to stick to forested areas, though they may also be found on rocky bluffs as well. Like the copperhead, it isn’t dangerous unless it’s actively being provoked. If you see one in the wilds of Delaware, first give it lots of space so as to not stress it, then see if you can safely get a picture of it! If these snakes are still present in the state, that information may help the scientific community.

The Snakes of Delaware

Delaware is a unique state in many ways, and one of those ways is that almost all species of snake that reside there are nonvenomous. That means that the state doesn’t have the stigma that comes with a large variety of dangerous snakes. Few question how safe it is to traverse the rural environments of the First State, and for good reason.

If you are concerned about dangerous animals, the best thing you can do is educate yourself about them, learn how to identify them, and remember what to do when confronted by them. 
Hopefully, this article was informative regarding the venomous copperhead (and timber rattlesnake, should you ever encounter one), along with some of Delaware’s other beautiful snakes. Still, just because they’re nonvenomous doesn’t mean that they appreciate being harassed and grabbed. Remember, this is their home! Keep that in mind, and rural Delaware, along with its snakes, are yours to observe and appreciate.

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Black racer snake in Wilson County
Racers eat small animals like rodents, frogs, toads, lizards, birds, and bird eggs.
© Matthew L Niemiller/

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