Tag Archives: snakes

Eastern Milk Snake (juvenile) © Ashley Gibbs

Take 5: Snake My Day

We’ve given snakes some love on this blog before, but they’re just so cool it seemed like time for a redux. This time of year, as young people everywhere are heading back to school or leaving home for college, the young of many species of snakes are also setting out on their own in the world.

Some species, like Ringneck, Milk, and Eastern Hognose snakes, lay eggs during the summer that hatch in August or September while others, such as Copperheads and Northern Red-bellied Snakes, give birth to live young anywhere from mid-July through September, even into October in the case of Eastern Garter Snakes and Northern Watersnakes.

Massachusetts’s 14 species of native snakes can be found everywhere from wetlands to woodlands, from rocky hillsides to stone walls, and from forests to fields. You might even find an Eastern Garter Snake or Eastern Milk Snake hanging out in your basement, generously helping to remedy any rodent problems you might be having!

Enjoy these five photos of native snakes, all submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Submit your own wildlife photography to this year’s contest and learn more about snakes on our website.

Eastern Ribbon Snake © Kathy Diamontopoulos
Eastern Ribbon Snake © Kathy Diamontopoulos
Northern Copperheads © Mark Lotterhand
Northern Copperheads © Mark Lotterhand
Eastern Hognose Snake © Patrick Randall
Eastern Hognose Snake © Patrick Randall
Eastern Milk Snake (juvenile) © Ashley Gibbs
Eastern Milk Snake (juvenile) © Ashley Gibbs
Northern Water Snake © Holland Hoagland
Northern Water Snake © Holland Hoagland
Common Garter Snake © Catherine Luce

Take 5: Garter Snakes

The Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), one of the most commonly seen snakes in Massachusetts, is also the official state reptile. They sport long, yellow stripes down the length of their bodies, which are typically green, brown, or even black, and average about 20-22″ in length, but can grow up to 54″ long.

You may be startled to encounter one while out for a walk in the woods, basking in a patch of warm sunlight, but there’s no need to worry; garters are non-venomous and generally shy. More than likely, it will quickly dart away into the brush to escape. This quick retreat can make it difficult to differentiate a Common Garter Snake from the much rarer Eastern Ribbon Snake, which has additional burgundy stripes and a white eyespot, but if you’re unsure, garter snakes are much more common, and likely your best bet.

Garter snakes eat amphibians, fish, small mammals, earthworms, and sometimes insects. People often mistakenly call this snake a “garden snake,” because it can sometimes be seen in gardens. However, the name “garter snake” comes from the old fashion of wearing garters—strips of fabric that hold up stockings.

Here are five photos of our state reptile from past entrants to our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2018 photo contest is now open, so submit your beautiful nature photography today!

Common Garter Snake © Carole Rosen

Common Garter Snake © Carole Rosen

Common Garter Snake © Evan Morley

Common Garter Snake © Evan Morley

Common Garter Snake © Dominic Poliseno

Common Garter Snake © Dominic Poliseno

Common Garter Snakes © Michael Onyon

Common Garter Snakes © Michael Onyon

Common Garter Snake © Catherine Luce

Common Garter Snake © Catherine Luce

Common Garter Snakes © Michael Onyon

Take 5: Sublime Snakes

Snakes tend to get a bad rap, but they’re actually fascinating creatures that can help control pests like rodents and slugs thanks to their carnivorous diet. Plus, the vast majority of snakes that you’ll find in the Northeast are not dangerous.

In fact, of the 14 snake species found in Massachusetts, only two are venomous—the northern copperhead and timber rattlesnake—both of which are extremely rare (endangered, in fact) and they tend to avoid suburban and urban areas. Snakes prefer to avoid people, and will generally only bite when they are picked up, stepped on, or otherwise provoked. Fortunately, snakes do not carry diseases that are transmissible to humans.

Interestingly, snakes never stop growing, and every now and then, they must shed the skin that they’ve outgrown. Sometimes you can find these papery, scaly skins left behind on the trail—keep an eye out on your next hike!

Below are five photos of snakes that you might see in Massachusetts, submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Learn about all the native snake species on our website.

Eastern hognose snake © Dominic Casserly

Eastern hognose snake © Dominic Casserly

Northern water snake © Brenda Bradley

Northern water snake © Brenda Bradley

Common garter snakes © Michael Onyon

Common garter snakes © Michael Onyon

Smooth green snake © Patrick Randall

Smooth green snake © Patrick Randall

Eastern hognose snake © Patrick Randall

Eastern hognose snake © Patrick Randall

Four Reasons to Appreciate Snakes

Eastern hognose snake

The 14 species of snakes in Massachusetts don’t get enough love and appreciation. So, in honor of World Snake Day on July 16, we thought we’d share just a few reasons that we should celebrate their presence.

1. Snakes eat garden pests

Consider yourself lucky if you have DeKay’s brownsnakes in your yard. These small, shy creatures eat slugs and snails. Other species help keep populations of mice and other small mammals in check. Northern water snakes will even eat leeches in ponds.

2. They come in an incredible variety of colors

In Massachusetts, you’ll find snakes with scales in a rainbow of hues, from grass green to bright red to jet black. Ringneck snakes are some of our most stunning, with bright orange-yellow “collars” and underbellies.

3. They have some fascinating behaviors

Eastern worm snakes are tiny and smooth, and look much like earthworms. In fact, earthworms are their main prey, and they spend most of their time burrowing underground. Eastern hognose snakes are harmless, but they put on an incredible display when startled: their necks flare out so that they look like cobras, and if that fails, they’ll roll over and play dead.

4. Some of them are in trouble

Three of our snakes are on the state’s endangered species list, and one is listed as threatened. Poaching and habitat loss are two serious threats. If we appreciate and respect snakes, we can keep these helpful creatures around.

To read about all of these species of snakes and more, visit the Snake section on our website.