This article was last updated July 29, 2016
Scaly, slithery, and sometimes deadly, snakes are found in underbrush and other wooded areas in Western Pennsylvania.
While you should be cautious of all snakes, there are three venomous snakes in particular that you should be on the lookout for when you’re enjoying the outdoors.
If you plan to spend a lot of times outdoors it is important you are able to recognize each of the snakes, as well as what to do if you are bitten.
One of Pennsylvania’s most aggressive breeds, Copperhead snakes are the cause of thousands of rarely-fatal bites a year. Newborns’ fangs are as venomous as adult fangs and full-grown snakes range between two to three feet in length. Copperheads prey on small birds and snakes, lizards, amphibians, and insects. They are usually found in forests anywhere between New England and the Southwest.
Distinguishing Characteristics of Copperhead Snakes:
- Broad head
- Distinctive neck which can flatten, akin to that of a cobra
- Usually light brown or tan
- Dark, triangular banding that fades from dark to light pigment
The largest of Pennsylvania’s venomous snakes, Timber Rattlesnakes can be found in forests throughout the eastern United States. Timbers prey on small mammals, birds, and amphibians. Their venom can be fatal to humans if left untreated, so their bites require immediate medical attention.
Distinguishing Characteristics of Timber Rattlesnakes:
- Broad, flat, and triangular heads
- Vertically slit pupils
- Three to four feet long
- Skin pattern alternates between light (yellow or gray) and dark (brown or black)
- V-shaped bands that blend in with the forest floor
- Solid black tails topped with a brown or yellow rattle
Small and venomous, Massasauga Rattlesnakes have declined so much in population that they are on the path to becoming extinct if work is not done to conserve them. They usually inhabit wet prairies, marshes, and lakes. They rarely bite unless threatened and do contain fairly toxic venom, so listen for the rattle and keep your distance to avoid an incident.
Distinguishing Characteristics of Massasauga Rattlesnakes:
- Thick bodies
- Grey or brown skin with a blotch pattern
- Heart-shaped heads with a white stripe
- Vertical pupils
- Tails marked with brown rings and a gray-yellow, horned rattle
- Typically grow to be two feet long
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Do You Know the Difference Between Venomous and Poisonous Animals?
Many people use these two terms interchangeably, but incorrectly. Although both venomous and poisonous animals are dangerous to humans, the toxin produced is delivered differently.
Venomous animals, such as copperhead snakes, inject toxin into humans. On the other hand, poisonous animals, such as poison dart frogs, are harmful when eaten or touched because their entire body, or part of it is poisonous.