Venomous Snakes in Ohio?

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Summer is here, and many Ohioans will be exploring the state’s natural habitat, and possibly meeting a few fellow residents that just give some folks the shivers.

According to Jamey Emmert, Division of Wildlife spokesperson, “Venomous snakes are certainly a threat, but the chances of encountering one, especially in Northeast Ohio, are very slim. The Division of Wildlife field guide also notes that Ohio‘s three venomous snakes generally must be “thoroughly provoked” or aroused to strike.

Two species of snake in Ohio are classified by the state as threatened, facing possible endangered status if current levels of stress are continued or increased. The biggest threats are loss of habitat; the possible impact of an increase in the number of such natural predators as hawks, foxes, turkeys and coyotes; snake fungal disease; poaching for black market sales, and “just being vilified by people and killed,” Emmert said. When threatened, the snake will flatten its head and neck to form a cobra-like hood, hiss fiercely and strike violently.

If that fails to deter an intruder, the snake can “play possum,” twisting on its back and lying motionless, feigning death. People who find snakes in their yard or house can “look at it as an indicator of something taking care of a problem that maybe you didn’t know about,” Emmert said. Although they occupy a variety of habitats from floodplains to ridge tops, they show a marked preference for the rocky, wooded hillsides of southeastern Ohio.

One of the best ways to see copperheads is to go for a drive at night, especially after a warm rain has broken a long hot, dry spell. The name massasauga is from the Chippewa Indian language and refers to the marshy areas associated with the mouth of a river. Historically recorded in more than 30 Ohio counties, the secretive massasauga swamp rattlers are widely scattered and rarely seen.

Originally, these rattlers probably inhabited all the scattered prairies of glaciated Ohio, but extensive farming has drastically reduced their numbers. During summer, these rattlers range upland into nearby drier areas in search of small rodents. Fortunately, when encountered most timber rattlesnakes are mild in disposition unless aroused and make little attempt to rattle or strike.

The first part of the scientific name, Crotalus, is derived from the Greek word krotalon, which means a “rattle.” Timber rattlesnakes are most numerous in the more remote areas of Zaleski, Pike, Shawnee, and Tar Hollow state forests. Contrary to popular belief, it is difficult to estimate the age of a rattlesnake by counting the number of rattles at the end of its tail.

The decidedly aquatic queensnake 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. Kirtland’s snakes can easily be identified by the bright red belly conspicuously marked with a row of black spots along each side.

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. A master of deceit, the completely harmless hog-nosed snake 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.

Dry, sandy areas are preferred, especially the Oak Openings Region of northwestern Ohio where this generally uncommon snake is most abundant. Many specimens of this snake have a distinct purple tinge to the normal brown color and all black (melanistic) individuals are not uncommon in some populations. 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 red-bellied snake spends most of its life hidden beneath boards, rotting logs, brush piles, and leaves, where it seeks out slugs, earthworms, and beetle larvae. Some individuals may curl their upper “lip” outward showing off their tiny teeth, a behavior that is not fully understood by biologists. Like the wormsnake, this reptile is very secretive and spends most of its time hiding beneath flat stones and similar objects.

Ring-necked snakes are basically nocturnal and spend most of the day concealed beneath logs, stones, boards, and similar objects. They are normally mild-tempered when first caught, but discharge a pungent substance from their musk glands and wiggle violently to escape. 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.

The blue racer may be a gunmetal gray with a distinct greenish or bluish cast frequents western Ohio. Should you accidentally place yourself between a racer and its underground retreat, you might interpret its rapid movement towards you as an attack, when in fact it is just the snake’s attempt to escape to safety. Racers have an extremely varied diet, including everything from rodents to grasshoppers, other snakes, birds and eggs, and even the occasional small turtle!

It is an accomplished climber and is often found high in trees, frequently taking shelter in woodpecker holes and other cavities. The Eastern ratsnakes are one of Ohio‘s most beneficial and splendid reptile assets; they play an essential role in controlling destructive rodents. The Eastern foxsnake’s coppery head and vibrating tail can lead some to misidentify them as copperhead rattlesnakes.

Their habit of vibrating their tail when alarmed, together with the bold black and yellow coloration, may lead to their being mistaken for rattlesnakes. This snake is limited in Ohio to Adams, Scioto, Jackson, and Lawrence counties, and even in this area it is relatively uncommon. 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.

Eastern milksnakes 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 milksnake. These secretive snakes usually move about at night and spend the day hiding beneath objects such as logs, rocks, and old boards.

Like other members of the kingsnake group, milksnakes feed primarily upon mice and other small rodents, as well as smaller snakes. Gartersnakes close relatives of the watersnake are slender, medium-sized species which may attain a length of a yard or more, but are usually 18 to 26 inches long. These snakes occur in a wide variety of moist habitats in wet woodlands, meadows, bogs, marshes, and along drainage ditches and streams.

Along the Western Basin of Lake Erie, up to 50 percent of individuals may be melanistic (completely black), with the exception of some white on the chin. These brightly marked gartersnakes occur only in Wyandot County, in the vicinity of the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area where they inhabit remnants of what was once the most extensive wet prairie in Ohio. As a rule, they frequent the margins of small lakes, ponds, swamps, wet prairies and meadows, and occasionally moist woods throughout Ohio.

Greensnakes can be found in a variety of places, including blackberry bushes, grapevines, shrubs, roadside ditches, open grassy meadows, and marshy grass. Insects particularly crickets, grasshoppers, butterflies, small caterpillars, and ants plus spiders make up the bulk of their diet. The smooth greensnake is very rare in southwest Ohio, and is only commonly encountered in the largest prairie remnants of the state.

This stout-bodied snake shows extreme variations in color and pattern and is unfortunately confused by many with the venomous water moccasin, or cottonmouth. Common watersnakes are particularly fond of basking and can often be seen sunning upon logs, stumps, and rocks, or on low branches overhanging the water. Copper-bellied watersnakes spend a great deal of time on land, moving among temporary and permanent wetlands, including swampy woodlands and river bottoms.

The snake has benefited from the construction of docks and shoreline protection done in a snake-friendly manner demonstrating its ability to coexist with people. The favorite food of the Lake Erie watersnake is the round goby, an invasive aquatic nuisance species. Contrary to popular belief, the snake’s forked tongue does not carry a stinger, but instead is a smelling device.

The tongue deposits the particles here and the sensory cells of these cavities help the brain interpret them as odors. 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.

What counties in Ohio have poisonous snakes?

They’re found in Warren, Clark, Champaign, Licking, Wayne and Wyandot counties. I’ve personally seen only two massasaugas, one on the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Wyandot and Marion counties and one at the Willard Marsh Wildlife Area in Huron County, both spotted long years ago.

What is the most poisonous snake in Ohio?

Northern Copperhead. The copperhead, which is usually up to 3 feet long, gained the name from its copper-colored head. It is the most encountered venomous snake in the state of Ohio and is most active April through October.

What counties in Ohio have Copperheads?

In Ohio this snake has been found in southern counties in the western half of the state, and in all but the northern counties in the eastern half. The Northern Copperhead lives in rocky and wooded parts of hilly and mountainous areas.

What poisonous snakes are in Northeast Ohio?

Only three are venomous – the Northern copperhead, timber rattlesnake and Eastern massasauga (the only one that has been found in Northeast Ohio).

But according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, It ranges no farther north than the Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia in the eastern portion of its range, and extreme southern Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, in the western part of its range. Water moccasins are not native to Ohio.

Although they occupy a variety of habitats from floodplains to ridge tops, they show a marked preference for the rocky, wooded hillsides of southeastern Ohio. WHERE TO FINE THEM: Historically recorded in more than 30 Ohio counties, the secretive massasauga swamp rattlers are widely scattered and rarely seen.

Originally, these rattlers probably inhabited all the scattered prairies of glaciated Ohio, but extensive farming has drastically reduced their numbers. Fortunately, when encountered most timber rattlesnakes are mild in disposition unless aroused and make little attempt to rattle or strike.

Back when I was a kid in the hills of Scioto County near the Ohio River I spent my school-free summers roaming forests and fields in often wild country. Along with some friends we traveled tall timber, sometimes overnighted far from human habitation and spent our evenings roasting potatoes and frying bacon on sticks. It was an idyllic existence marred only by occasional encounters with venomous snakes.

Finally come eastern copperheads, a venomous snake that is not on the endangered species list and lives in modest numbers in Adams, Scioto, Lawrence, Jackson, Vinton, Hocking, Athens, Meigs and Washington counties. Their two toned brown coloration and yellowish head make them hard to see, and they’re very sluggish snakes prone to lie still when you pass, even closely.

Theres good news and theres bad news when it comes to venomous snakes in Ohio. The bad news is that they do exist. The good news is that theres only three of them

Inhabiting areas solely on the Atlantic side of the Continental Divide, they are responsible for a higher proportion of the 8,000 annual bites in the country than any other species. Just check the range of these slinky forest dwellers it starts in Georgia, extends all the way up the Eastern Seaboard into New York and New England, and crosses over to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

That means lots of valleys and cooler highland areas covered in old-growth forest the perfect place to find this type of snake. That means youll need to keep a lookout for them as you move to the Bluegrass region and the rising peaks of Appalachia in the south and east parts of Buckeye. Photo credit: Wikimedia.comSometimes called the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, these broad-bodied serpents are unique in that theyre more commonly found in the northern portion of the Buckeye State.

They arent found so far south in the US as, say, the timber rattler, but do cross into Ontario and the banks of the Great Lakes on the Canada side of the border. Theyre armed with a strong cocktail of cytotoxic substance that prevents blood from clotting and actively works to breakdown living tissue. Most of the major bite incidents have been down to chance attacks in overgrown areas, often with hikers straying off marked paths and without the correct footwear.


Copperheads have the dubious distinction of having bitten more people in the United States than any other venomous snake, yet fewer snakebite deaths are attributed to the copperhead.Because the amount of venom injected during a bite is not enough to seriously hurt a healthy adult, the bite is rarely fatal. However, it is extremely painful, and, like a honeybee sting, has the potential to produce a life-threatening allergic reaction. Their coloration not only serves as excellent camouflage, but also makes them one of Ohio’s most beautiful reptiles.When encountered, copperheads are usually content to lie motionless or retreat if given the chance. But if aroused, they will vibrate their tail rapidly and strike wildly, wildlife officials said.


“Swamp rattler” and “black snapper” are other names given to this small rattlesnake. The name massasauga is from the Chippewa Indian language and refers to the marshy areas associated with the mouth of a river.Massasaugas typically are very sluggish and make little or no attempt to bite unless thoroughly provoked.The bite is seldom, if ever, fatal to a healthy adult. Although the venom is highly toxic, a typical bite does not deliver large enough quantities to be lethal. This is still a venomous snake, however, and should be treated with utmost caution and respect, wildlife officials say.Its color varies from gray to brownish gray – and some specimens are almost entirely black. The stout-bodied massasauga can easily be identified by its small but conspicuous rattle.