Probably no animals on earth have suffered more through human ignorance and superstition than snakes. This is disappointing, since most snakes are both gentle and fascinating. Without arms or legs, snakes can move swiftly across the ground, through water, and along tree branches. They are near-sighted and therefore depend heavily on their unusual sense of smell.
|REPTILE PHOTO INDEX
Fence lizard, northern
Wall lizard, European
Brown snake, midland
Brown snake, northern
Fox snake, eastern
Garter snake, Butler's
Garter snake, eastern
Garter snake, eastern plains
Green snake, eastern smooth
Green snake, rough
Green snake, western smooth
Hog-nosed snake, eastern
Milk snake, eastern
Rat snake, black
Red-bellied snake, northern
Ribbon snake, eastern
Ring necked snake, northern
Smooth earth snake, eastern
Water snake, copperbelly
Water snake, Lake Erie
Water snake, northern
Worm snake, eastern
Worm snake, midwest
Box turtle, eastern
Map turtle, common
Map turtle, Ouachita
Musk turtle, common
Painted turtle, midland
Smooth softshell turtle, midland
Spiny softshell turtle, eastern
Contrary to popular belief, the snake's forked tongue does not carry a stinger, but instead is a smelling device. Each time it is flicked out, it gathers minute particles from the air. In the roof of the mouth are two small cavities called Jacobson's organs. The tongue deposits the particles here and the sensory cells of these cavities help the brain interpret them as odors. Pit vipers, in addition to their organs of smell, have heat-sensitive pits resembling an extra pair of nostrils near the front and sides of their head. These pits can detect the body heat of small, warm-blooded animals.
Snakes have a specialized mouth construction which enables them to swallow their prey whole. The lower jaw bone is in two parts, joined together at the chin by highly elastic tissue. In addition, the upper and lower jaws can be disengaged to further enlarge the mouth opening so prey larger than the snake's head can be swallowed. Unlike most animals, which cannot digest bones, fur, and feathers, the snake has exceptionally powerful digestive juices that are even capable of digesting teeth.
Length 15-24 in.
The decidedly aquatic queen snake prefers slow moving or shallow rocky creeks and rivers, where it feeds primarily upon soft-shelled crayfish.
These snakes are frequently seen and captured by overturning large flat stones, boards, or other debris along streams. When first captured, some attempt to bite. However, their teeth are so small they can barely pierce the skin. Others make no attempt to bite. All use their music glands freely and struggle violently to escape. Although they become gentle with handling, they seldom eat in captivity. For this reason, they do not make hardy captives.
Length 14-18 in.
Although encountered only occasionally, Kirtland's snake ranges throughout the glaciated western half of Ohio, and into a few glacial outwash-filled valleys in southwestern Ohio. Its secretive nature and marked preference for wet meadows makes it difficult to find. It is most common in the vicinity of Lucas and Hamilton counties, wherever wet fields remain. This least aquatic of all water snakes can easily be identified by its bright red belly conspicuously marked with a row of black spots along each side. When first encountered, the little Kirtland's snake usually flattens its body-making it appear larger-and strikes repeatedly. This is merely an act to frighten off intruders. Its strikes are ineffectual and, when handled, it makes no attempt to hide
Like the Kirtland's warbler, the Kirtland's water snake was named for Doctor Jared P. Kirtland, an early physician and nationally renowned naturalist from Lakewood, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
NORTHERN WATER SNAKE
Nerodia sipedon sipedon
Length 24-42 in.
The northern water snake is one of the most widely distributed and certainly one of the most abundant snakes in Ohio. It may inhabit just about any permanent body of water.
This stout-bodied snake shows extreme variations in color and pattern, and is unfortunately confused by many with the poisonous water moccasin, or cottonmouth. The cottonmouth, however, does not occur in Ohio; it ranges no farther north than southeastern Virginia.
Northern water snakes are particularly fond of basking, and can often be seen sunning upon emerged logs, stumps, and rocks, or on low branches-overhanging the water. They are very wary and, when disturbed, drop into the water and disappear quickly. Water snakes usually flee from man, but when grabbed they are almost always extremely aggressive. They bite viciously and large ones are capable of producing painful, deep lacerations. When picked up, they invariably secrete an obnoxious smelling substance from their musk glands.
LAKE ERIE WATER SNAKE
Nerodia sipedon insularum
Length 24-42 in.
A subspecies of the northern water snake, the Lake Erie water snake is similar to its relative, except that the dark pattern of cross bands is very pale or completely lacking. The general coloration is gray, greenish, or brownish. The belly is white orpale yellow, occasionally tinged with pink or orange down the center.
These snakes are limited to the islands of Lake Erie in the vicinity of Put-in-Bay. They have suffered from persecution, and while still common on the islands that have remained substantially undeveloped, they have been greatly reduced on the more populated islands.
COPPERBELLY WATER SNAKE
Nerodia erylhrogaster neglecta
Length 24-42 in.
This stout-bodied water snake is currently known only from Williams County, although small, widely scattered remnant populations may occur elsewhere in northwestern Ohio. Agricultural development on its limited habitat has all but eliminated this snake from the state. The adult is a uniform black or brownish black above, with a beautiful orange-red or scarlet belly.
Copperbellies inhabit swampy woodlands and river bottoms which often become dry in summer. When this happens, these snakes move into adjacent woodlands and meadows. Like their cousin the northern water snake, copperbellies are active and aggressive snakes.
NORTHERN BROWN SNAKE
|Northern Brown Snake
Storeria dekayi dekayi
MIDLAND BROWN SNAKE
Storeria dekayl wrightorum
Length 9-13 in.
Ohio is inhabited by a mixed population of northern and midland brown snakes. They are almost identical in coloration, Both have two rows of dark spots running down the back. On the midland brown snake, these spots are connected by dark crossbands. The midland brown snake has 176 or more ventral and subcaudal scales; the northern brown snake has 175 or fewer. Interbreeding between these subspecies occurs rather frequently, resulting in the intergrade brown snake, Storeria dekayidekayi x wrightorum, which may possess the combined characteristics of both parents.
Brown snakes never bite when captured. Their only real defense is the musk glands which they freely exercise when first captured. These common but secretive little snakes are often encountered hiding under stones, logs, old boards, and other such debris, where they feed extensively on snails, slugs, worms, and soft-bodied insects.
NORTHERN RED-BELLIED SNAKE
|Northern Red Bellied Snake
Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomacu/ata
Length 8-10 in.
The northern redbelly is the smallest snake in Ohio. A uniformly scarlet or red-orange belly, plus three usually well defined light blotches immediately behind the head, is the most distinctive characteristic. This snake may be found in sphagnum bogs, wet meadows, or swamp forests, as well as dry, open wooded areas in the eastern half of the state.
Very secretive, the northern redbelly spends most of its life hidden beneath boards, rotting logs, brush piles, and leaves, where it seeks out slugs, earthworms, and beetle larvae. Like its close relative the northern brown snake, it makes no attempt to bite, even when first captured.
GARTER SNAKES AND RIBBON SNAKES
|Eastern Garter Snake
|Eastern Plains Garter Snake
|Butler's Garter Snake
|Eastern Ribbon Garter Snake
Garter snakes-close relatives of the water snake-are slender, medium-sized species which may attain a length of a yard or more, hot are usually 18 to 26 inches long. Normally they have yellowish stripes on a dark background, but coloration and pattern are extremely variable.
These snakes occur in a wide variety of moist habitats-in wet woodlands, meadows, bogs, and marshes, and along drainage ditches and streams. They feed primarily on frogs, toads, salamanders, earthworms, minnows, and mice
Garter snakes, sometimes called garden snakes, are probably the most widely known of all Ohio snakes. The name derives from the longitudinal stripes on the body which resemble the design on once-stylish sock garters. Three species of garter snakes occur in Ohio.
EASTERN GARTER SNAKE
Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Length 18-26 in.
This most common of Ohio's garter snakes is found across the state. Normally, it is marked with a pattern of three light stripes on a darker background. One stripe runs down the center of the hack, with a lateral stripe on the second and third rows of scales on each side. These stripes are usually yellow, but may be shades of green, brown, or blue. In some snakes the lateral stripes are dominated or replaced by dark spots.
EASTERN PLAINS GARTER SNAKE
Thamnophis radix radix
Length 20-28 in.
Strange as it may seem, Ohio has an isolated colony of eastern plains garter snakes. These brightly marked garter snakes occur only in Marion and Wyandot counties, in the vicinity of the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, where they inhabit remnants of what was once the most extensive wet prairie in Ohio. A distinctive feature is the lateral stripes along the third and fourth rows of scales.
BUTLER'S GARTER SNAKE
Length 15-20 in.
This is chiefly an inhabitant of flat, open fields. Although its range covers most of glaciated Ohio, the Butler's garter snake occurs only in isolated colonies. A lateral stripe covers the third row of scales, as well as the adjacent halves of rows 2 and 4. This snake was named for Amos Butler, an early Indiana naturalist.
EASTERN RIBBON SNAKE
Length 18-26 in.
Ribbon and garter snakes may easily be confused. The ribbon snake has an exceptionally long tail that accounts for one-fourth to one-third of its total length. The garter snake has a relatively short tail, usually five inches or less. Unlike other members of the garter snake group, ribbon snakes usually will not eat earthworms. Instead, they prefer small fish, tadpoles, salamanders, small frogs, and toads.
These semi-aquatic snakes seldom venture far from water. As a rule, they frequent the margins of small lakes, ponds, and swamps, and occasionally moist woods throughout Ohio.
The small, trim ribbon snake is more at home on shore than in the water. When encountered, though, it invariably retreats to the water. But, instead of diving to the bottom as a water snake would, it swims rapidly along the shore and may disappear quickly into the vegetation.
Ribbon snakes are very high-strung and, even after being in captivity for a long time, will dart about nervously at the slightest movement.
EASTERN HOG-NOSED SNAKE
Length 10-30 in.
A master of deceit, the completely harmless hognose can put on an act that will frighten the bravest of people. When first alarmed, this bluffer coils, flattens its head and neck to form a cobra-like hood, inflates its body, hisses fiercely, and strikes violently. The strike-usually made with the mouth closed-almost always falls short of the target. This act is so convincing that it often leads to the snake's being killed by its would-be victim. These antics have earned the hognose such names as puff adder, blow snake, and hissing viper. If this first phase of the act fails to frighten off the intruder, the hognose resorts to "playing possum." When struck or handled, the hognose jerks convulsively, twists over on its back, and remains motionless. The open mouth, the tongue hanging out, and the apparent lack of breathing make a convincing picture-convincing, that is, until the snake is placed upright. Whereupon it promptly rolls over on its back again. It just can't be convinced that a dead snake shouldn't be on its back. After danger passes, it will raise its head, look around, turn upright, and go on its way.
The coloration of this essentially spotted snake is extremely variable, with color phases ranging from yellow and brown to black and gray. The most reliable field mark is the turned-up, hoglike snout, which is used for digging out the toads that are its primary food. The eastern hognose ranges over all of Ohio except the northeastern corner. Dry, sandy areas are preferred, especially the Oak Openings area of northwestern Ohio, where this generally uncommon snake is most abundant. In southern Ohio it occurs in most of the hill counties.
EASTERN SMOOTH EARTH SNAKE
|Eastern Smooth Earth Snake
|Northern Ring-Necked Snake
Virginia valerian valeriae
Length 7-10 in.
Although similar to the northern brown snake, the eastern smooth earth snake lacks the pattern of the northern and is more stout-bodied. It is a small, plain gray or brownish snake with a plain white or yellowish belly. Many are marked with a number of small black dots on the back. The distinctly small head and lack of distinctive body markings are good identifiers. Although rare over much of its range, the eastern smooth earth snake is often common locally. In Ohio it occurs only in the southern quarter of the state, especially in the forested area of Shawnee and Pike state forests. Like the worm snake, this reptile is very secretive and spends most of its time hiding beneath flat stones and similar objects.
NORTHERN RING-NECKED SNAKE
Diadophis punctatus edwardsii
Length 10-15 in.
As the name implies, these little snakes have a ring around the neck that is yellow or yellowish orange. Except for approximately the northwestern quarter, ring-necked snakes occur throughout Ohio. They prefer rocky, wooded hillsides and cutover wooded areas such as those in southeastern Ohio, where they abound. Ringnecks are basically nocturnal and spend most of the day concealed beneath logs, stones, boards, and similar objects.
Unlike most egg laying snakes, ringnecks tend to deposit their eggs in a community nest, frequently in rotted logs exposed to the sun.
When routed from a hiding place, ring-necked snakes usually seek cover under the nearest available object. They are normally mild tempered when first caught, but discharge a pungent substance from their musk glands and wiggle violently to escape.
MIDWEST WORM SNAKE
Carphophis amoenus helenae
Length 7.5-11 in.
EASTERN WORM SNAKE
Carphophis amoenus amoenus
Probably no snakes more closely resemble an earthworm than the worm snakes. They have a small, pinkish brown body, shiny iridescent scales, and a small, narrow head which is not distinct from the translucent body.
Worm snakes range throughout the southern third of the state, particularly southeastern Ohio. These reptile versions of the nightcrawler are rarely encountered in the open, but can be discovered under large, flat slabs of rock, logs, and other debris. They show a marked preference for moist earth, such as hillside seeps. During dry weather worm snakes work deep into the ground, seeking moisture.
Although worm snakes do not bite, when handled they continually try to push between one's fingers with both their head and tail-which has a spinelike tip. This tail spine has deceived some people into believing that snakes have stingers; however, no snake has a stinger. Worms and soft-bodied insects make up the bulk of the worm snake's diet.
Colubor constrictor subspp.
Length 36-60 in.
Both the black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) and its larger relative, the blue racer (Cohther constrictor foxi), occur in Ohio. Some taxonomists no longer recognize the blue racer as a separate subspecies, and consider it synonymous with Coluber constrictor Ilaviventris, the eastern yellow-bellied racer. Regardless, geographically distinct blue and black forms occur in the state. The blue racer-actually a gunmetal gray with a distinct greenish cast-frequents western Ohio, and the black racer-a uniform medium or plain black throughout-occurs in eastern Ohio.
A diagonal line drawn across the state from Hamilton County to Ashtabula County would roughly mark the area where the populations overlap. Interbreeding often occurs in this area of overlap, resulting in the blue and black racer intergrade, Coluber constrictor constrictorx foxi. This intergrade maybe indistinguishable from either parent, or may possess their combined characteristics.
Although racers are among the swiftest and most graceful of all our snakes, their top speed is only 8 to 10 miles an hour. They are extremely nervous and become very aggressive when an attempt is made to capture them. They strike viciously and can inflict a painful bite with their small but numerous teeth. When alarmed, they rapidly vibrate the tip of their tail, as do many other species of snakes.
Two species and one subspecies of green snake occur in Ohio. As the name implies, these snakes are a beautiful grass green. The underbody is a yellowish cream color. Green snakes have been found in a variety of places, including blackberry bushes, grapevines, shrubs, roadside ditches, open grassy meadows, and marshy grass. Because they are small and secretive, blend in well with their surroundings, and are comparatively rare throughout their range, green snakes are only occasionally encountered.
Insects-particularly crickets, grasshoppers, butterflies, small caterpillars, and ants-plus spiders makeup the bulk of their diet. Except for struggling violently when handled, even after being in captivity for sometime, the green snakes are gentle and never bite. Unfortunately, they often cannot be induced to eat in captivity and therefore do not make hardy captives.
ROUGH GREEN SNAKE
|Rough Green Snake
Length 22-32 in.
The rough green snake lives in the extreme southern quarter of the state. Much longer than the smooth green snake, it is more arboreal and has rough instead of smooth scales.
EASTERN SMOOTH GREEN SNAKE
Opheodrys vernalis vernalis
Length 14-20 in.
This dainty little snake inhabits the northeastern quarter of Ohio. It has smooth scales. It is also more terrestrial than its cousin the rough green snake.
However, it does not hesitate to climb small shrubs, where it handles itself remarkably well.
WESTERN SMOOTH GREEN SNAKE
Opheodrys vernalis blanchardi
The western smooth green snake is a subspecies of the smooth green snake. The only difference is in the scale count. The relatively few specimens encountered in Ohio have been in the extreme southwestin the area of Butler, Hamilton, and Fayette counties. Since the western smooth green snake is primarily a prairie inhabitant of the West, those in Ohio are probably remnants of the western prairie that once extended into the state. This snake is rare not only in Ohio, but also throughout its range, wherever prairie has given way to civilization.
BLACK RAT SNAKE
Elaphe obsolota obsoleta
Length 42-72 in.
This is Ohio's largest snake. Although it is typically four to six feet long, individuals have been known that were more than eight feet long. An essentially forest-loving snake, the black rat occurs throughout most of Ohio. It is an accomplished climber and is often found high in trees, frequently taking shelter in woodpecker holes and other cavities.
When first encountered, most black rats freeze in position, blending in with their surroundings. They remain motionless until grasped. Although some offer little or no resistance when first captured, many will vibrate their tail rapidly and strike repeatedly. When picked up, they usually coil tightly about the arm and discharge a foul-smelling substance from the anal scent glands. After being handled for a short time, they usually calm down. From then on they make excellent, hardy captives.
Black rat snakes often hibernate in rock crevices in the company of other snakes, such as copperheads and rattlers. This habit gave rise to the fallacy that rat snakes "pilot" these venomous snakes to safety in time of danger; thus they are often called pilot blacksnakes.
Of all the snakes senselessly slaughtered out of ignorance and fear, the black rat snake is one of the most common The fact is that black rat snakes are one of Ohio's most beneficial and splendid reptile assets; they play an essential role in controlling destructive rodents.
EASTERN FOX SNAKE
Elaphe vulpina gloydi
Length 36-54 in.
Along the southwestern shores of Lake Erie, west of Sandusky, one may encounter the eastern fox snake. This is a subspecies of the western fox snake common to Wisconsin and adjacent states, several hundred miles away. The handsomely marked eastern fox inhabits many Lake Erie islands as well as the extensive marshes of Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Erie counties.
Most are docile, even when first captured. Unfortunately, their coppery head often causes them to be killed-mistaken for copperheads. Their habit of vibrating their tail when alarmed, together with the bold black and yellow coloration, may lead to their being mistaken for rattlers. Like their cousin the black rat snake, fox snakes are true constrictors. While not as agile tree climbers as the black rat snake, fox snakes are better swimmers.
Lampropeltis getulus niger
Length 36-45 in.
Few of our snakes are prized more than the black kingsnake. This handsomely marked constrictor is limited in Ohio to Adams, Scioto, Jackson, and Lawrence counties, and even in this area it is relatively uncommon, It shows a marked preference for the Scioto and Ohio River bottomlands. Except in early spring and fall, when they bask in the open, these snakes are very secretive, spending the day beneath logs, rocks, and the like, and emerging to hunt by night.
Their diet includes small mammals, lizards, birds, and small snakes including venomous species. Kingsnakes are immune to normal quantities of venom from all of our native poisonous snakes. Although often pugnacious when first encountered, with handling they soon become extremely gentle and long-lived captives.
EASTERN MILK SNAKE
Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
Length 24-36 in.
Eastern milk snakes are commonly encountered throughout Ohio in a variety of habitats, including woods, meadows, and river bottoms-even within cities, where they occasionally enter buildings in search of mice. Their frequent occurrence in rodent-infested barns led to the fallacy that they milk cows by night; hence the name milk snake. These secretive snakes usually move about at night and spend the day hiding beneath objects such as logs, rocks, and old boards.
When first encountered, the milk snake either remains motionless or attempts to crawl away. If thoroughly pestered, it may vibrate the tip of its tail rapidly and strike repeatedly. However, the teeth can barely puncture the skin.
The belly has a black and white checkerboard pattern. A Y-shaped or V-shaped light-colored blotch is usually present on the nape of the neck.
The milk snake is a true constrictor. It usually throws several loops of its muscular body around its prey. These coils do not crush, but merely exert enough pressure to prevent breathing. The victim soon suffocates and is then swallowed whole. Like other members of the kingsnake group, milk snakes feed primarily upon mice and other small rodents, as well as smaller snakes. They should be considered an asset, worthy of protection on anyone's property.