5 Snakes in the Chesapeake Bay Basin

An adult rat black snake peaks over a rock
© Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

Written by Megan Martin

Updated: September 13, 2023

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Much of the waters of the northeastern part of the United States can be linked back to the Chesapeake Bay and its basin. For instance, the Susquehanna River of New York provides half of the freshwater found in the Chesapeake Bay, which is the country’s largest estuary. As a result, the area is rich in native flora and fauna, including these five snakes found in the Chesapeake Bay Basin.

Are you interested in learning more about these reptiles of the Bay? Keep reading!

Where Is the Chesapeake Bay Basin?

The Chesapeake Bay borders several states: Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

However, its basin can stretch much further. A river basin is the area of land that is drained by a river and that river’s tributaries. As a result, the Chesapeake Bay’s basin includes the area surrounding its headwaters, which can be found in New York, to the area around the bay itself. 

Chesapeake Bay

Different states border the Chesapeake Bay.

©Keri Delaney/Shutterstock.com

Types of Snakes Found in the Chesapeake Bay Basin

Because this is such a large area, spanning up to five hundred miles in some directions, there are countless snakes to be encountered here. Here are some of the five most common snakes in the Chesapeake Bay basin. 

Chesapeake Bay marsh

Snakes like the eastern garter snake can be found in the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay basin.


1. Black Rat Snake

Scientific NamePantherophis obsoletus
LifespanUp to 20 years
Size3 to 8 feet
AppearanceBlack, may appear with splotches of darker colors

The black rat snake goes by many different names. These include black snake, black chicken snake, black coluber, western rat snake, or pilot black snake. Some of these names can make it difficult to know whether or not you’re dealing with a black rat snake. In fact, both the eastern indigo snake and the eastern racer can be called the black snake. There are one subspecies of black rat snake.

Because the black rat snake is a nonvenomous snake species, it has found other ways to protect itself from predators. Typically, it will try to flee from potential predators – including humans. However, it may also shake its tail. This, paired with its appearance, can mimic rattlesnakes. It may also release a foul-smelling musk, similar to other species of snakes. 

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

2. Copperhead

Scientific NameAgkistrodon contortrix
LifespanUp to 29 years
Size2 to 3 feet
AppearanceDiamond head with copper coloration in an hourglass pattern

The copperhead snake bites more people in America each year than any other species of snake, including those in the Chesapeake Bay basin. However, this doesn’t mean they’re outwardly aggressive to people. Instead, thanks to their copper hue, they easily blend into the fallen leaves. As a result, it can be easy to accidentally step on one of these snakes, leading to a bite out of defense. 

Copperheads are one of the few reptiles out there capable of undergoing a process known as parthenogenesis. This means that females are able to fertilize eggs and thus produce offspring without the help of a male copperhead. 

Although they’re considered top predators in the snake world, copperheads can actually be fairly docile unless hunting or threatened. During hibernation, they share dens with other types of snakes, such as rattlesnakes and black rat snakes. 

Venomous Copperhead Snake ( Agkistrodon contortrix)

Copperheads are one of the only venomous snakes in Chesapeake Bay.


3. Eastern Garter Snake

Scientific NameThamnophis sirtalis
LifespanUp to 10 years
Size18 to 26 inches
AppearanceVarious colors with three stripes running along the body

The eastern garter snake is one of many different species of garter snake. They’re also one of the more common snakes in the Chesapeake Bay basin. They can be seen most in the southern regions of the basin.

Although they won’t live in water directly, the easter garter snakes are never too far from it. They prefer to live in moist areas, whether it’s the forests and grasslands surrounding lakes and rivers or even in suburban areas such as in ditches and flower beds. They are nonvenomous and will prefer to flee whenever they encounter a threat, including humans. 

You can find eastern garter snakes year round, including in the winter on sunny days. They have a widely diverse diet of small prey, including mammals, insects, and amphibians. Some have even been known to eat fish.

Because they are common with a thriving population, the eastern garter snake isn’t protected in most areas. However, they are protected throughout the entirety of the state of Georgia

garter snake hissing

Eastern garter snakes are known for their stripes.


4. Eastern Kingsnake

Scientific NameLampropeltis getula
LifespanUp to 25 years
Size3 to 4 feet
AppearanceBlack with white or yellow bands

While many other species of kingsnakes sport a red, black, and yellow pattern to mimic coral snakes, the same cannot be said for the eastern kingsnake. Instead, they have shiny black scales and thin white or yellow bands along their body. They can reach up to four feet long. 

The eastern kingsnake can be found as far north as New Jersey. As a result, they’re a common snake in the Chesapeake Bay basin. They’re nonvenomous and, like all snakes, are more afraid of you than you are of them. As a result, if you happen to encounter one of these beautiful snakes while you’re out and about, don’t panic and keep your distance. The eastern kingsnake would much rather flee than try to confront you. 

Like the eastern garter snake, the eastern kingsnake only lives on land. However, they prefer to live in damp areas and areas close to water. 

Eastern Black Kingsnake

Eastern kingsnakes are nonvenomous.

©Mike Wilhelm/Shutterstock.com

5. Northern Water Snake

Scientific NameNerodia sipedon sipedon
LifespanUp to 9 years
Size2 to 5 feet
AppearanceDark brown with light brown markings

At a glance, the northern water snake resembles many species of venomous snakes, including the copperhead that is also found here. However, this is another one of the nonvenomous snakes found in the Chesapeake Bay basin. It can grow to be up to five feet long and live up to nine years in captivity.

The northern water snake is actually one of several subspecies of the common water snake. This subspecies is found in the northern regions of the United States, making it more common in the more northern areas of the basin. As a result, they may not be a common sight in the Chesapeake Bay itself. 

Snakes That Look Like Copperheads-Northern Water Snake

Northern water snakes are one of the most common snakes to encounter around water.


Other Snakes in the Chesapeake Bay Basin

There is one more snake of the Chesapeake Bay basin that deserves a spot on our list — the adorable rough green snake! These little snakes can grow up to 32 inches long and have long, slim, bright green bodies covered in rough-looking scales with a creamy white belly. Rough green snakes are non-venomous and can be found in leafy trees and shrubs throughout the Chesapeake Bay basin. They prey on crickets and other insects, caterpillars, snails, spiders, and small frogs. They are the only tree-dwelling snake in the Chesapeake Bay region — and are known to jump from trees into the water to take a swim!

rough green snake on rocks

Rough green snakes live in leafy trees and shrubs throughout the Chesapeake Bay basin.


Summary of 5 Snakes in the Chesapeake Bay Basin

1Black Rat SnakeBlack, may appear with splotches of darker colors
2CopperheadDiamond head with copper coloration in an hourglass pattern
3Eastern Garter SnakeVarious colors with three stripes running along the body
4Eastern KingsnakeBlack with white or yellow bands
5Northern Water SnakeDark brown with light brown markings

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About the Author

Megan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is birds, felines, and sharks. She has been researching and writing about animals for four years, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in biology and professional and technical writing from Wingate University, which she earned in 2022. A resident of North Carolina, Megan is an avid birdwatcher that enjoys spending time with her cats and exploring local zoological parks with her husband.

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