Who knew? Snakes in CT aren’t aggressive

The non-venomous eastern milksnake can be found in Connecticut. (Photo by Paul J. Fusco, DEEP Wildlife Division).
The non-venomous eastern milksnake can be found in Connecticut. (Photo by Paul J. Fusco, DEEP Wildlife Division).

This has been proclaimed the Year of the Snake by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) to raise awareness for snake conservation.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) Wildlife Division is participating in this effort by shining a spotlight on Connecticut’s native snake species throughout 2013.

Other state and federal wildlife agencies, along with several conservation and snake organizations, also are partnering with PARC to foster appreciation and understanding of snakes.

“The DEEP Wildlife Division has made a commitment to inform Connecticut residents about the state’s native snake species through regular press releases; informative articles and species profiles in issues of our bimonthly magazine, Connecticut Wildlife; a children’s art contest; and related events,” said Rick Jacobson, Wildlife Division director.

Some snakes endangered, some poisonous

Fourteen snake species occur in Connecticut. Four of these snakes (common ribbonsnake, eastern hog-nosed snake, smooth greensnake, and timber rattlesnake) are currently on the state's list of endangered, threatened and special concern species.

Only two of Connecticut’s snakes are venomous (or poisonous) — the northern copperhead and the state-endangered timber rattlesnake.

Connecticut’s native snake species

— Common gartersnake

— Common ribbonsnake (special concern)

— Eastern hog-nosed snake (special concern)

— Eastern milksnake

— Eastern ratsnake

— Eastern wormsnake

— Northern black racer

— Northern brownsnake

— Northern copperhead

— Northern watersnake

— Northern red-bellied snake

— Ring-necked snake

— Smooth greensnake (special concern)

— Timber rattlesnake (endangered)

Snakes are fascinating

Snakes are reptiles that survive in some of the most extreme environments on Earth and occur in a variety of habitats.  They are long and slender, covered with scales, and have no limbs.

Snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded); their body temperature changes with the temperature around them. A snake will bask in the sun to warm up or it will take refuge in a cool, shady spot when the weather is hot.

Snakes are carnivores; they eat other animals, such as mice, birds, fish, frogs, insects, and even other snakes.

Use their tongues to ‘smell’

Snakes have a variety of ways to sense their environment. They can see, but use their tongues to “smell” and find food.  The Jacobson’s organ, located in the roof of the mouth, enables snakes to identify prey as well as other snakes and animals that may want to prey on them.

Pit vipers, a type of snake, use special nerve endings in their skin to detect the body heat of prey animals. The only pit vipers found in Connecticut are the northern copperhead and timber rattlesnake.

Some snakes constrict their prey until it suffocates. Some eat their prey alive. Venomous snakes inject their prey with venom through fangs.

Snakes have special jaws that help them swallow their food whole, and strong digestive juices — called enzymes — that dissolve prey, including fur, feathers and bones.

Threats to snakes

Humans cause the largest harm to snake populations, DEEP officials said, but people have the power to make positive changes toward snake survival. The biggest threats to snake populations include:

— Habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation.

— Unnecessary killing of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, due to fear, misunderstanding and persecution.

— Mortality from roads, agricultural machinery, and predation by cats and dogs.

— Over-collection of wild snakes for the pet trade.

— Climate change.

What you can do

Hundreds of snakes are needlessly killed by people each year because of mistaken identity, fear and misunderstanding.  Very often, when a snake is found near a home, people panic and may even assume that the snake is dangerous or venomous.

Few Connecticut residents realize that they are unlikely to encounter a venomous snake around their home. The two venomous snake species found in Connecticut (timber rattlesnake and copperhead) do not have wide distributions.

These venomous snakes, along with the other 12 Connecticut snake species, are not aggressive and will only bite if threatened or handled. If left alone, snakes pose no threat to people.

If you encounter a snake in your yard or while enjoying the outdoors, observe and enjoy the snake from a distance and allow it to go on its way.

Other ways to help

Other important ways you can help snakes are:

— Never release a captive, pet snake into the wild. It could have a disease that is difficult to detect, but can harm native snakes.

— Never collect a wild snake to keep as a pet. Any person who collects (or kills) a protected snake species could be faced with fines or legal action.

— Watch for snakes basking on, or crossing, roads. Avoid running over snakes with your vehicle, but only if it is safe to do so.

— Learn more about snakes and educate others.

Learn more about snakes

One way to learn more about snakes during the Year of the Snake is to subscribe to the DEEP’s Connecticut Wildlife magazine (www.ct.gov/deep/wildlifemagazine). People also can visit PARC’s website (www.yearofthensnake.org), as well as the Year of the Snake page on the DEEP website (www.ct.gov/deep/YearoftheSnake).

What Is PARC?

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) is an organization dedicated to the conservation of the herpetofauna -- reptiles and amphibians -- and their habitats.

Members include individuals from state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, museums, pet trade industry, nature centers, zoos, energy industry, universities, herpetological organizations, research laboratories, forest industries, and environmental consultants.

PARC focuses on habitats by concentrating on endangered and threatened species and keeping common native species common.