There are many varieties of snakes that live in New Jersey, however only two varieties are poisonous: the northern copperhead and the timber rattlesnake. Both snakes are pit vipers which are aptly named for the two facial pits found midway between the nostrils and the eyes on each side of the head. In addition, the head of a poisonous snake is noticeably wider than the body portion directly behind the head. Other distinguishing characteristics include a single row of scales on the ventral, or underneath, side of the snake from the vent to the end of the tail, and vertical, elliptical shaped pupils. These features are found only on our two venomous snakes and are not found on any non-venomous species of snake found in New Jersey.
The northern copperhead has a color pattern that consists of an hourglass pattern that runs the length of the body. From above, a series of dark chestnut crossbands look narrow in the center and wider on the sides. Between the crossbands, small dark spots are often present. There are dark rounded spots at the sides of the belly. The head is a copper-red color. Juvenile specimens are lighter in color, have a yellow tail tip and a narrow dark line that runs through the eyes.
These snakes are generally quiet, almost lethargic, preferring to lie motionless or to make a slow retreat when encountered. When sufficiently agitated, however, they can strike vigorously and may vibrate their tails rapidly.
Timber rattlesnakes are the only rattlesnake varierty in the populous northeast. They have dark brown to black blotches on the body section just behind the head. Moving backwards from the head and neck, the blotches generally become connected and form primarily unbroken lateral crossbands, or chevrons by the mid-section of the body. The dark bands are typically outlined with a lighter color. There are actually three different color phases. On light-phased snakes, the background colors vary from brilliant to pale to brownish yellow. Intermediate phase snakes have shades of grays, blacks, and white.
Some species of nonpoisonous snakes occur throughout several states, but the majority have only limited ranges.
Snakes are not very mobile, and even though some are fairly adaptable, most have specific habitat requirements. Some live underground (these are mostly small in size), and some have eyes shielded by scales of the head. Others, such as green snakes, live primarily in trees. One group spends its entire life in the oceans. In general, snakes like cool, damp, dark areas where they can find food. The following are areas around the home that seem to be attractive to snakes: firewood stacked directly on the ground; old lumber piles; junk piles; flower beds with heavy mulch; gardens; unkempt basements; shrubbery growing against foundations; barn lofts— especially where stored feed attracts rodents; attics in houses where there is a rodent or bat problem; stream banks; pond banks where there are boards, innertubes, tires, planks, and other items lying on the bank; unmowed lawns; and abandoned lots and fields.
All snakes are predators, and the different species eat many different kinds of food. Rat snakes eat primarily rodents (such as rats, mice, and chipmunks), bird eggs, and baby birds. King snakes eat other snakes, as well as rodents, young birds, and bird eggs. Some snakes, such as green snakes, eat primarily insects. Some small snakes, such as earth snakes and worm snakes, eat earthworms, slugs, and salamanders. Water snakes eat primarily frogs, fish, and tadpoles.
General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior
Snakes are specialized animals, having elongated bodies and no legs. They have no ears, externally or internally, and no eyelids, except for a protective window beneath which the eye moves. The organs of the body are elongated. Snakes have a long, forked tongue, which helps them smell. Gaseous particles from odors are picked up by the tongue and inserted into the two-holed organ, called the Jacobson’s Organ, at the roof of the mouth.
The two halves of the lower jaw are not fused, but are connected by a ligament to each other. They are also loosely connected so the snake can swallow food much larger than its head. Because snakes are cold-blooded and not very active, one meal may last them several weeks. Also, because they are cold-blooded, they may hibernate during cold weather months or aestivate, a state similar to hibernation, during hot summer months when the climate is severe. In either case, they consume little or no food during these times. Some snakes lay eggs, some hatch their eggs inside the body, and some give live birth. The young of copperheads, rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths are born alive.
Nonpoisonous snakes are harmless to humans. In most cases, a snake will crawl away when approached if it feels it can reach cover safely. No snakes charge or attack people, with the exception of the racers, which occasionally bluff by advancing toward an intruder. Racers will retreat rapidly, however, if challenged. Snakes react only when cornered. Different species react in different ways, playing dead by turning over on the back, hissing, opening the mouth in a menacing manner, coiling, and striking and biting if necessary.
Nonpoisonous snakes have two rows of scales between the vent and the tip of the tail, while poisonous snakes have only one row.
Damage and Damage Identification
A nonpoisonous snake bite has no venom and can do no more harm than frighten the victim. The only harm nonpoisonous snakes can cause is frightening people who are not familiar with them. A bite from a poisonous snake, however, causes an almost immediate reaction—swelling, tissue turning a dark blue-black, a tingling sensation, and nausea. If none of these is observed or felt, the bite was from a nonpoisonous snake. Also, bites from one of the pit vipers (copperheads, rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths) will reveal two fang marks, in addition to teeth marks. All snakes have teeth; only pit vipers have fangs. North American pit vipers have only two rows of teeth on top and two on the bottom, whereas nonpoisonous snakes have four on top and four on the bottom.
Economics of Damage and Control
As mentioned earlier, nonpoisonous snakes are completely harmless and cause no damage, except occasionally frightening people. Therefore, no expense toward control of nonpoisonous snakes is justified. Most methods to remove snakes are inexpensive, except for the snake-proof fence, which can be quite expensive.
In most states, snakes are considered non-game wildlife and are protected by state law unless they are about to cause personal or property damage. Therefore, snakes should not be indiscriminately killed. Some species are listed on federal and/or state threatened and endangered species lists.
Damage Prevention and Control Methods
Seal all openings (1/4 inch [0.6 cm] and larger) with mortar, 1/8-inch (0.3-cm) hardware cloth, sheet metal, or steel wool. A snake-proof fence can be used to exclude snakes.
Reduce rodent populations. Keep all vegetation closely mowed; remove bushes, shrubs, rocks, boards, firewood, and debris lying close to the ground, especially around buildings. Alter all sites that provide cool, damp, dark habitat for snakes.
Several snake repellents have been promoted, but none are consistently effective.
None are registered.
None are registered.
A funnel trap with drift fences can be used.
Nonpoisonous snakes are protected by law in most states and indiscriminate killing is illegal.
Remove snakes from inside buildings by placing piles of damp burlap bags or towels in areas where snakes have been seen. After snakes have been attracted, remove the bags and snake(s) from the building.
Glue boards can be used to capture snakes found inside houses or other buildings. Once caught, the snake and board can be taken outside. The snake can be released unharmed by pouring vegetable oil on it; the oil counteracts the adhesive.
Since nonpoisonous snakes are completely harmless, control programs for them are not necessary.
Contact Little Rascals Nuisance Wildlife Removal Services to schedule an inspection!