Worldwide there are about 2700 different snake species from 11 families. In the United States we have around 115 species of snakes from 5 snake families, ranging from venomous to nonvenomous. If you are dealing with a snake problem, give Centurian Wildlife Services a call at 1-888-313-2842!
North America's Five Snake Families:
- Colubrid Snake Family -- the Colubridae (many kinds of snakes in this largest of all snake families, found nearly throughout North America
- Here are the main groups of Colubrid snake:
- rat snakes -- genus Elaphe
- kingsnakes -- genus Lampropeltis
- water snakes -- genus Nerodia
- garter snakes -- genus Thamnophis
- hognose snakes -- genus Heterodon
- Coral Snake Family (venomous) -- the Elapidae (In the US, only in the Deep South & southern Arizona & New Mexico)
- Pit Viper Family (venomous) -- the Viperidae (in most of the US)
- Slender Blind Snake Family -- the Leptotyphlopidae (really slender & blind, in North America found only in the US Southwest; seldom seen)
- Boa & Python Family -- the Boidae (large, thick snakes, in North America found only in the western states and southern British Columbia)
Most of the world’s snakes are what are referred to as clinically non-venomous. This means they do not produce a toxin that is clinically significant to people. However, many harmless-to-humans snakes, like Hognose snakes, Garter snakes and Rat snakes for example, do produce toxins that are scientifically or technically venomous.
CALIFORNIA MOUNTAIN KINGSNAKE
- Usually 20 to 40 inches long. Found in Sierra Nevada yellow pine belt, Coast Ranges chapparal, redwood forests south of San Francisco Bay; sea level to 8,000 ft. Range is from Kern County, CA north along western slope of Sierra Nevada Mountains into SW Oregon, southward in eastern portion of Coast Ranges to San Francisco Bay area, and south in mountains in scattered populations to north central Baja California.
- Commonly found in SE North Carolina, SW Tennessee, extreme SE Illinois, extreme SW Nebraska, E Colorado, north central New Mexico, SW Utah, west central and S Nevada, central California, and S through Florida and Texas. Attains a maximum length of about 102 inches. Prefers dry, relatively open pine and palmetto flatwoods, rocky hillsides, grassland prairies, desert scrub, and chapparal. Found from sea level to 7,000 feet.
COMMON GARTER SNAKE
- The most widely distributed snake in North America. Commonly found in most areas from the Atlantic to Pacific Coasts, except desert regions of the Southwest. Attains a maximum length of about 52 inches. Prefers areas that are close to water, damp woodland and farms. Found from sea level to 8,000 feet.
- Ranges in size from 36 - 82". Prefers dry rocky wooded hillsides to river swamps, coastal marshes, desert and chappral. Found from sea level to about 6,900'. Range is from south New Jersey to to south Florida and west to California and Mexico.
- Ranges in size from 24 - 72", prefers wooded groves, rocky hillsides, meadowland, around springs, barnyards and abandoned houses. Found from sea level to 6,000'. Found from south New Jersey through Florida and west to Texas, and also in eastern Utah and western Colorado.
DEKAY'S BROWN SNAKE
- Usually 10 to 20 inches long. Likes moist upland woodland to lowland freshwater and saltwater marshes; margins of swamps, bogs and ponds; vacant lots, gardens, and golf courses. Ranges from S Maine, S Quebec, and S Minnesota, south to the Florida panhandle, and through Texas and Mexico to N Honduras.
EASTERN HOGNOSE SNAKE
- Commonly found from eastern-central Minnesota to extreme S New Hampshire, south to S Florida, west to E Texas and W Kansas. Attains a maximum length of about 45 inches. Prefers open sandy soiled areas; thinly wooded upland hillsides, cultivated fields and woodland meadows. Found from sea level to 2,500 feet. Sometimes mistaken for Cottonmouth Moccasin. The easiest way to discern the difference between the two is the Hognose's pointed, slightly upturned snout.
EASTERN RIBBON SNAKE
- Commonly found in all areas of the eastern U.S., except northern New England. Attains a maximum length of about 40 inches. Prefers wet meadows, marshes, bogs, ponds, swamps and shallow, meandering streams.
- Size is about 26 to 70 inches, prefers dry, open sandy areas, coastal chaparral, sagebrush flats and oak-hickory woodland. Found from sea level to 5,500 ft. Range is from SE Texas and extreme SW Nebraska west to central California, south into Mexico.
- Considering all the sub-species, this snake is found in most parts of the US. Because of its appearance and aggressive behavior when cornered, it is often mistaken for a rattlesnake.
- This is a small snake, usually 9 - 19" long and will usually be found in dry open areas, rocky wooded hillsides, along river beds and in brushy desert. Ranges from Texas and Oklahoma west to California and north to Nevada, Oregon and Idaho.
- Size is 22 to 41 inches, likes dry open prairie, desert brushland coastal chaparral to tropical habitat in Mexico. Found from sea level to 5,400 ft. Ranges from SW Kansaas, SE Colorado and New Mexico south into Mexico and NW to Arizona, W Utah, Nevada and central California.
- Commonly found from SE Maine, S Wisconsin, central and southeast Minnesota south through most of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. Attains a maximum length of about 78 inches. Prefers damp coastal bottomland, tropical hardwood forests, pine forests, open deciduous woodland, meadows, rocky hillsides, prairies, sand dunes, farmland and suburban areas. Found from sea level to 8,000 feet. Commonly mistaken for Coral Snake, however the Milk Snake has red and black bands that are adjacent. On the Coral Snake, red and yellow bands are adjacent. Remember the jingle, "Red and black, friend of Jack; red and yellow kill a fellow".
- Length is usually 38 to 81 inches. Likes swampy, weedy lake margins, slow moving, mud bottomed streams and floodplains. Found from SE Virginia to S Florida, west to E Texas and north in Mississippi Valley to S Illinois.
- 12 to 26 inches long, slender and cylindrical body, usually beige. Likes semiarid and arid sandy or rocky areas from plains and desert flats to heavy brush chaparral and blue oak-Digger pine woodland. Found from sea level to 7,000 ft. Ranges from north central California, south central Washington, S Idaho, Utah and SW Kansas south through Baja California.
NORTHERN WATER SNAKE
- Often mistaken for a Cottonmouth Moccasin and found in aquatic situations from sea level to about 4,800'. It ranges from Maine to the coast of North Carolina and south to Georgia and Alabama.
- Considering all the sub-species, this snake is found in most of the western US and also in the southeast. It is a large snake, usually 44 - 100" long. It is powerfully built, and because of its appearance, is sometimes mistaken for a rattlesnake. It prefers, dry, sandy pine-oak woodlands, cultivated fields, rocky desert and chapparal. Found from sea level to 9,000'.
PLAIN-BELLIED WATER SNAKE
- Length is 30 to 62 inches. Likes river swamps and the forested edges of streams, ponds, lakes and bayous. Ranges from S Delware to N Florida, west through Alabama to W Texas and southeast New Mexico, north to W Missouri and S Illinois and Indiana.
PLAINS BLACK-HEADED SNAKE
- Usually 7 to 15 inches in length, likes rocky and grassy prairie and hillsides where soil is moist. Range is from S Nebraska south through W Kansas and E Colorado to S Texas, New Mexico, SE Arizona and into Mexico.
- Usually 30 to 52 inches in length. Likes open fields, cultivated farmland, barnyards, pastures, prairies, rocky hillsides and open woodland. Ranges from central Maryland to north Florida, west to SE Nebraska and E Texas.
- This widely distributed snake is found in most parts of the eastern US except New England and Florida. It prefers areas near streams and small rivers. Its size ranges from 16 - 36".
- Commonly found in every state in the continental U.S., except Alaska. Attains a maximum length of 77 inches. Prefers abandoned fields, grassland, sparse brushy areas along prairie land, open woodland, mountain meadows, rocky wooded hillsides, grassy bordered streams and pine flatland. Found from sea level to 7,000 feet. Sometimes mistaken for Cottonmouth Moccasin. However, the Racer is narrow bodied, long and thin. The Cottonmouth Moccasin is much more heavy bodied and thick.
- Size is 35 to 66 inches. Prefers areas of loose sandy soil near water and marshland. Found from S Maryland south to central Florida, and west to Mississippi River.
- Commonly found from E Ontario and S Vermont south to Florida Keys, west to W Texas, north to SW Minnesota and S Michigan. Attains a maximum length of about 100 inches. Prefers hardwood forest, wooded canyons, swamps, rocky timbered upland, farmland, old fields and barnyards. Found from sea level to 4,400 feet. Sometimes mistaken for Cottonmouth Moccasin. However, the Ratsnake is narrow bodied, thin and long. The Cottonmouth Moccasin is much more heavy bodied and thick.
- A small snake, only 8 to 16 inches long. Likes mountains and hilly woodlands. Ranges from SE Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia, south to central Florida and west to E Texas. Found from sea level to 5,600 ft.
- Commonly found from Nova Scotia to Florida Keys, west to the Pacific coast, south to central Mexico. Attains a maximum length of 30 inches. Prefers moist areas in varied habitat; forest, grassland, rocky wooded hillsides, chaparral, upland desert and along streams. Found from sea level to 7,000 feet.
- Size is usually 24 to 42 inches. Prefers desert, arid scrub, brushland, rocky chaparral covered hills, particularly where moisture is available. Found from S California into N Baja California and SW Arizona. Found from sea level to about 4,000 ft.
- Size is usually 14 to 33 inches, and looks rubbery. Prefers damp woodlands and coniferous forests. Ranges from British Columbia to S California, eastward to Montana, Wyoming and Utah. Found from sea level to 9,200 ft.
- Size ranges from 15 to about 32 inches; often mistaken for Coral Snake, but the Scarlets wide red bands are separated by narrower black-bordered yellow bands, and the bands do not encircle the body. Likes hardwood, mixed or pine forest and open areas with sandy or loamy well drained soils. Found from S New Jersy to S Florida, west to E Oklahoma and E Texas and S Texas.
SOUTHEASTERN CROWNED SNAKE
- A small snake usually 5 - 13" long, it prefers pine and hardwood forests where the soil is most. It is found from Virginia southwest to the Gulf coast.
- Usually 40 to 72 inches in length. Likes grassland and arid brushy flatland to rugged mountains. Range is from south central Washington to S New Mexico and west and central Texas.
WESTERN HOGNOSE SNAKE
- Usually 16 to 35 inches long, likes sand and gravelly soiled prairie, scrubland and river floodplains. Found from sea level to 8,000 ft. Range is from SE Alberta and NW Manitoba south to SE Arizona, Texas and into N Mexico.
WESTERN SHOVEL-NOSED SNAKE
- A small snake; usually only 10 to 17 inches. Ranges from south central Nevada south into Baja California. Prefers arid desert, sandy washes, dunes and rocky hillsides. Found from sea level to about 4,700 ft.
WESTERN TERRESTRIAL GARTER SNAKE
- With a name like this, it just had to be included here. Usually 18 to 42 inches in length, likes moist places near water, and margins of streams, ponds, lakes, damp meadows, open grassland to forest. Found from sea level to 10,500 ft. Range is from SW Manitoba and S British Columbia southward into Mexico, extreme SW South Dakota and extreme W Oklahoma west to Pacific coast.
Venomous snakes are reptiles that produce a toxin in a specialized gland that possesses a specific venom delivery system, typically injected through fangs upon biting prey.
Many of the world's venomous snakes have venom that is straightforward and “easy” to treat effectively with the proper antivenoms - Mamba bites, for example. Other species may cause a clinical explosion of problems for which antivenoms are not very effective - some rattlesnake bites are this way.
- Usually 28 to 49 inches in length. Likes rocky mountainous areas; among rimrock and limestone outcrops, wooded stony canyons, chaparral, rocky streambeds; found near sea level to about 9,000'. Ranges from Arizona east to central Texas, south through central Mexico.
- The Eastern Copperhead is commonly found in the southeastern U.S. and also in E Texas and E Oklahoma. The Northern Copperhead is found from SW Massachusetts to SW Illinois, south to NE Mississippi, N Alabama, N and central Georgia and piedmont of South Carolina. Attains maximum length of 53". Prefers wooded hillsides with rock outcrops above streams or ponds; edges of swamps. Found from sea level to 5,000'.
- Commonly found in most parts of SE U.S. and in S Missouri to south-central Oklahoma and central Texas. Attains maximum length of about 75". A very dangerous and aggressive snake. Prefers lowland swamps, lakes, rivers, bayheads, sloughs, irrigation ditches and small clear rocky streams. Found from sea level to 1,500'.
EASTERN CORAL SNAKE
- This beautiful snake is commonly found from SE North Carolina to S Florida (and the Florida Keys) west to S Texas. Attains a maximum length of about 48". Prefers moist, densely vegetated hammocks near ponds or streams in hardwood forests; pine flatwoods; rocky hillsides and canyons. Note that the red and yellow bands are adjacent. Do not confuse this poisonous snake with other species that are harmless, such as the Scarlet Snake and Scarlet Kingsnake. For these non-poisonous species, the red and black bands are adjacent. Remember the jingle, "Red and black, friend of Jack; red and yellow kill a fellow".
EASTERN DIAMONDBACK RATTLESNAKE
- Commonly found in the SE U.S. in lower coastal plains; SE North Carolina to Florida Keys, W to S Mississippi and E Louisiana. Attains a maximum length of 96", which makes it our largest rattlesnake. Has a reputation for being the most dangerous snake in North America. Found from sea level to 500'.
- This rattlesnake is usually 18 - 39" long. Unlike other rattlers, it has 9 enlarged scales on top of its head. It ranges from northwest Pennsylvania west to eastern Iowa and southwest into Texas. Its habitat ranges from dry woodlands to rocky hillsides to bogs and swamps.
- Commonly found in southeastern US; S Nevada, S California and SW Utah. Attains maximum length of about 51". Prefers upland desert flatland supporting mesquite, creosote bush and cacti; also arid lowland with sparse vegetation, grassy plains, Joshua tree forests, and rock hills. Found from sea level to 8,300'.
- Usually 15 - 31" long and ranges from eastern North Carolina to the Florida Keys west to eastern Oklahoma and east Texas. It prefers mixed pine-hardwood forest, sandhills, marshes and the areas near ponds.
- Commonly found in the desert areas of the southwestern U.S. Attains maximum length of about 33". Prefers arid desert flatland with sandy washes or mesquite-crowned sand hammocks. Can be found from below sea level to 5,000'. Travels over shifting surfaces by "sidewinding", a process by which the snake makes use of static friction to keep from slipping when crossing soft sandy areas. It leaves a trail of parallel J-shaped markings behind it. Primarily nocturnal, it is usually encountered crossing roads (and trails) between sundown and midnight in spring. During the day, it occupies mammal burrows or hides beneath bushes.
- Commonly found in the desert areas of the southwestern U.S. Attains maximum length of about 52". Prefers rugged rocky terrain, rock outcrops, deep canyons, talus and chapparal amid rock piles and boulders. Can be found from sea level to 8,000'. Active during the day in spring and fall, at night in summer.
TEXAS CORAL SNAKE
- Usually 22 to 47 inches long. Prefers ponds or streams in hardwood forests; pine flatwoods; rocky hillsides and canyons. Ranges from Southern Arkansas, W Louisiana, S Texas into NE Mexico. Like other species of Coral snake, the red and yellow bands are adjacent. For the non-poisonous look-alikes, the red and black bands are adjacent.
- Usually 20 to 36 inches long. Prefers arid rocky foothills and canyons, primarily in ocotilla-mesquite-creosote bush and saguaro-paloverde associations; sea level to 4,800'. Ranges from Central Arizona south to S Sonora, Mexico.
- Commonly found in most of the eastern US, except the extreme northern regions. Attains a maximum length of about 75". Prefers remote wooded hillsides with rock outcrops, swampy areas and floodplains. Found from sea level to 6,600'.
WESTERN CORAL SNAKE
- Prefers rocky areas, plains to lower mountain slopes; rocky upland desert in arroyos and river bottoms. Found from sea level to 5,900'. Habitat ranges from central Arizona to sw New Mexico south to Mexico. Do not confuse this poisonous snake with other species that are harmless, such as the Milk Snake. The Coral snake has red and yellow bands that are adjacent, the non venomous species have red and black bands that are adjacent. Remember the jingle, "Red and yellow kill a fellow, but red and black is a friend of Jack".
WESTERN DIAMONDBACK RATTLESNAKE
- Commonly found in the southwestern US, from SE California eastward to central Arkansas. Attains a maximum length of about 84". Prefers arid and semiarid areas; brush desert, rocky canyons, bluffs along rivers and rocky foothills. Found from sea level to 7,000'.
The Snake's Unique Jaw
A snake’s jaw doesn't have a chin bone and is separated into 4 separate movable quadrants that are attached by ligaments. This gives a snake the ability to easily swallow prey much larger than itself because the chin stretches away from each quadrant and the lower jaw bone stretches away from the upper part of the skull.
Snake scales can be smooth or rough and will typically feel dry (as opposed to the wet and slimy texture of amphibians). Most snakes use belly scales to travel and to grip surfaces.
To get rid of old skin, snakes remove their outer layer of skin in one complete layer (like turning a snake inside out) in a process called moulting. Snake moulting is repeated periodically throughout a snake's life; although the number of sheds per year depends largely on species, age, reproductive state, size, food availability, and injuries. Since they don't have eyelids, the snake’s eyes are also covered by scales – they are transparent scales known as “spectacle” scales or eyecaps.
Snake's Forked Tongue
Snakes are able to track prey or detect predators using their finely tuned sense of smell, and a snake will use its forked tongue to collect airborne particles, giving them a directional sense of smell and taste. The tongue is always in motion, looking for prey or predators.
Sensitive to vibration, a snake can sense an approach by hearing for vibrations in the air or on the ground. Snakes lack external ears, but are believed to have internal hearing structure proving that snakes can in fact "hear". This complex internal structure depends on airborne and ground vibrations - the vibrations travel to the inner ear, cause reverberations in the inner ear bones, and then transfer sound.
Snakes eat meat. They eat small animals including lizards, other snakes, small mammals, birds, eggs, fish, snails or insects.
In fact, without the hunting powers of these successful predators, humans would be in trouble. For instance, snakes play an important role in controlling the rodent population, as large rodent populations can devastate crops and spread deadly diseases to humans and other animals.
Snakes can range in size from the 4-inch-long thread snake, to pythons and anacondas size---which are over 23 feet long.
Venomous snakes make up only 10% of the entire snake population. Snake venom is used to kill prey. Many of these venoms have evolved into a very effective means of defense as well:
Some snakes like the Spitting Cobras of African and Asia can defensively spray venom into the eyes of an attacker.
A few of the best spitters can spray venom 10-15 feet into the distance. If you are attacked by a snake, call a medical professional immediately.