Midland Brown Snake
(Storeria dekayi wrightorum)
Ohio is inhabited by a mixed population of northern and midland brown snakes. They are almost identical in coloration. Both have two rows of dark sports running down the back. On the midland brown snake, these spots are connected by dark crossbands. The midland brown snake has 176 or more ventral and subcaudal scales; the northern brown snake has 175 or fewer. Interbreeding between these subspecies occurs rather frequently, resulting in the intergrade brown snake, Storerian dekayi dekayi x wrightorum, which may possess the combined characteristics of both parents.

Brown snakes never bite when captured. Their only real defense is the musk glands which they freely exercise when first captured. 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.

Eastern Fox Snake
(Elaphe vulpina gloydi)
Length 36-54 in. (91-137 cm.)

Along the southwestern shores of Lake Erie, west of Sandusky, one may encounter the eastern fox snake. This is a subspecies of the western fox snake common to Wisconsin and adjacent states, several hundred miles away. The handsomely marked eastern fox inhabits many Lake Erie islands as well as the extensive marshes of Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Erie counties.

Most are docile, even when first captured. Unfortunately, their coppery head often causes them to be killed--mistaken for copperheads. Their habit of vibrating their tail when alarmed, together with the bold black and yellow coloration, may lead to their being mistaken for rattlers. Like their cousin the black rat snake, fox snakes are true constrictors. While not as agile tree climbers as the black rat snake, fox snakes are better swimmers.

Butler's Garter Snake
(Thamnophis butleri)
Length 15-20 in. (38-51 cm.) This is chiefly an inhabitant of flat, open fields. Although its range covers most of glaciated Ohio, the Butler's garter snake occurs only in isolated colonies. A lateral stripe covers the third row of scales, as well as the adjacent halves of rows 2 and 4. This snake was named for Amos Butler, an early Indiana naturalist
The Eastern garter snake is one of the three garter snakes in Ohio. The other two are Butler's garter snake and the Eastern Plains garter snake which is a state endangered species. The Eastern garter snake is the most abundant snake in Ohio. It is recognized by its pattern of three yellow stripes on a black or brown body. It can be found in almost every habitat type in the state.
Eastern Plains Garter Snake
(Thamnophis radix radix)
Length 20-28 in. (51-71 cm.) Strange as it may seem, Ohio has an isolated colony of eastern plains garter snakes. These brightly marked garter snakes occur only in Marion and Wyandot counties, in the vicinity of the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, where they inhabit remnants of what was once the most extensive wet prairie in Ohio. A distinctive feature is the lateral stripes along the third and fourth rows of scales.
Eastern and Western Smooth Green Snakes
Opheodrys vernalis vernalis

Length 14-20 in. (35-51 cm.) This dainty little snake inhabits the northeastern most quarter of Ohio. It has smooth scales. It is also more terrestrial than its cousin the rough green snake. However, it does not hesitate to climb small shrubs, where it handles itself remarkably well.

Opheodrys vernalis blanchardi

The western smooth green snake is a subspecies of the smooth green snake. The only difference is in the scale count. The relatively few specimens encountered in Ohio have been in the extreme southwest-- in the area of Butler, Hamilton, and Fayette counties. Since the western smooth green snake is primarily a prairie inhabitant of the West, those in Ohio are probably remnants of the western prairie that once extended into the state. This snake is rare not only in Ohio, but also throughout its range, wherever prairie has given way to civilization.

Rough Green Snake
(Opheodrys aestivus)
Length 22-32 in. (56-81 cm.) The rough green snake lives in the extreme southern quarter of the state. Much longer than the smooth green snake, it is more arboreal and has rough instead of smooth scales.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
(Heterodon platyrhino)
Length 18-30 in. (46-76 cm.) A master of deceit, the completely harmless hognose 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. The strike--usually made with the mouth closed--almost always falls short of the target. This act is so convincing that it often leads to the snake's being killed by its would-be victim.

These antics have earned the hognose such names as puff adder, blow snake, and hissing viper. If this first phase of the act fails to frighten off the intruder, the hognose resorts to "playing possum." When struck or handled, the hognose jerks convulsively, twists over on its back, and remains motionless. The open mouth, the tongue hanging out, and the apparent lack of breathing make a convincing picture--convincing, that is, until the snake is placed upright. Whereupon it promptly rolls over on its back again. It just can't be convinced that a dead snake shouldn't be on its back. After danger passes, it will raise its head, look around, turn upright, and go on its way.

The coloration of this essentially spotted snake is extremely variable, with color phases ranging from yellow and brown to black and gray. The most reliable field mark is the turned-up, hoglike snout, which is used for digging out the toads that are its primary food. The eastern hognose ranges over all of Ohio except the northeastern corner. Dry, sandy areas are preferred, especially the Oak Openings area of northwestern Ohio, where this generally uncommon snake is most abundant. In southern Ohio it occurs in most of the hill counties.

Black Kingsnake
(Lampropeltis getulus niger)
Length 36-45 in. (91-114 cm.)

Few of our snakes are prized more than the black kingsnake. This handsomely marked constrictor is limited in Ohio to Adams, Scioto, Jackson, and Lawrence counties, and even in this area it is relatively uncommon. It shows a marked preference for the Scioto and Ohio River bottomlands. 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.

Their diet includes small mammals, lizards, birds, and small snakes--including venomous species. Kingsnakes are immune to normal quantities of venom from all of our native poisonous snakes. Although often pugnacious when first encountered, with handling they soon become extremely gentle and long-lived captives.

Kirtland's Snake
(Clonophis kirtlandii)
Length 14-18 in. (35-36 cm.) Although encountered only occasionally, Kirtland's snake ranges throughout the glaciated western half of Ohio, and into a few glacial out wash-filled valleys in southwestern Ohio. Its secretive nature and marked preference for wet meadows makes it difficult to find. It is most common in the vicinity of Lucas and Hamilton counties, wherever wet fields remain. This least aquatic of all water snakes can easily be identified by its bright red belly conspicuously marked with a row of black spots along each side. When first encountered, the little Kirtland's snake usually flattens its body--making it appear larger--and strikes repeatedly. This is merely an act to frighten off intruders. Its strikes are ineffectual and, when handled, it makes no attempt to bite.

Like the Kirtland's warbler, the Kirtland's water snake was named for Doctor Jared P. Kirtland, an early physician and nationally renowned naturalist from Lakewood, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

Eastern Milk Snake
(Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum)
Eastern milk snakes 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 milk snake. These secretive snakes usually move about at night and spend the day hiding beneath objects such as logs, rocks, and old boards.

When first encountered, the milk snake either remains motionless or attempts to crawl away. If thoroughly pestered, it may vibrate the tip of its tail rapidly and strike repeatedly. However, the teeth can barely puncture the skin.

The belly has a black and white checkerboard pattern. A Y-shaped or V-shaped light-colored blotch is usually present on the nape of the neck.

The milk snake is a true constrictor. It usually throws several loops of its muscular body around its prey. These coils do not crush, but merely exert enough pressure to prevent breathing. The victim soon suffocates and is then swallowed whole. Like other members of the kingsnake group, milk snakes feed primarily upon mice and other small rodents, as well as smaller snakes. They should be considered an asset, worthy of protection on anyone's property.

Queen Snake
(Regina septemvittata )
Length 15-24 in. (38-61 cm.) The decidedly aquatic queen snake 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. When first captured, some attempt to bite. However, their teeth are so small they can barely pierce the skin. Others make no attempt to bite. All use their musk glands freely and struggle violently to escape. Although they become gentle with handling, they seldom eat in captivity. For this reason, they do not make hardy captives.

Black and Blue Racers
(Coluber constrictor subspp.)

Length 36-60 in. (91-152 cm.) Both the black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) (pictured right) and its larger relative, the blue racer (Coluber constrictor foxi) (pictured below), occur in Ohio. Some taxonomists no longer recognize the blue racer as a separate subspecies, and consider it synonymous with Coluber constrictor flaviventris, the eastern yellow-bellied racer. Regardless, geographically distinct blue and black forms occur in the state. The blue racer--actually a gunmetal gray with distinct greenish cast--frequents western Ohio, and the black racer--a uniform medium or plain black throughout--occurs in eastern Ohio.

A diagonal line drawn across the state from Hamilton County to Ashtabula County would roughly mark the area where the populations overlap. Interbreeding often occurs in this area of overlap, resulting in the blue and black racer intergrade, Coluber constrictor constrictor x foxi. This intergrade may be indistinguishable from either parent, or may possess their combined characteristics.

Although racers are among the swiftest and most graceful of all our snakes, their top speed is only 8 to 10 miles and hour. They are extremely nervous and become very aggressive when an attempt is made to capture them. They strike viciously and can inflict a painful bite with their small but numerous teeth. When alarmed, they rapidly vibrate the tip of their tail, as do many other species of snakes.

Black Rat Snake
(Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta)
Length 42-72 in. (107-183 cm.) This is Ohio's largest snake. Although it is typically four to six feet long, individuals have been known that were more than eight feet long. An essentially forest-loving snake, the black rat occurs throughout most of Ohio. It is an accomplished climber and is often found high in trees, frequently taking shelter in woodpecker holes and other cavities.

When first encountered, most black rats freeze in position, blending in with their surroundings. They remain motionless until grasped. Although some offer little or no resistance when first captured, many will vibrate their tail rapidly and strike repeatedly. When picked up, they usually coil tightly about the arm and discharge a foul-smelling substance from the anal scent glands. After being handled for a short time, they usually calm down. From then on they make excellent, hardy captives.

Black rat snakes often hibernate in rock crevices in the company of other snakes, such as copperheads and rattlers. This habit gave rise to the fallacy that rat snakes "pilot" these venomous snakes to safety in time of danger; thus they are often called pilot black snakes.

Of all the snakes senselessly slaughtered out of ignorance and fear, the black rat snake is one of the most common. The fact is that black rat snakes are one of Ohio's most beneficial and splendid reptile assets; they play an essential role in controlling destructive rodents.

Northern Red-bellied Snake
(Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata)
The northern redbelly is the smallest snake in Ohio. A uniformly scarlet or red-orange belly , plus three usually well defined light blotches immediately behind the head, is the most distinctive characteristic. 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 redbelly spends most of its life hidden beneath boards, rotting logs, brush piles, and leaves, where it seeks out slugs, earthworms, and beetle larvae. Like its close relative the northern brown snake, it makes no attempt to bite, even when first captured

Eastern Ribbon Snake
(Thamnophis sauritus)
Length 18-26 in. (46-66 cm.) Ribbon and garter snakes may easily be confused. The ribbon snake has a relatively short tail, usually five inches or less. Unlike other members of the garter snake group, ribbon snakes usually will not eat earthworms. Instead, they prefer small fish, tadpoles, salamanders, small frogs, and toads.

These semi-aquatic snakes seldom venture far from water. As a rule, they frequent the margins of small lakes, ponds, and swamps, and occasionally moist woods throughout Ohio.

The small, trim ribbon snake is more at home on shore than in the water. When encountered, though, it invariably retreats to the water. But, instead of diving to the bottom as a water snake would, it swims rapidly along the shore and may disappear quickly into the vegetation.

Ribbon snakes are very high-strung and, even after being in captivity for a long time, will dart about nervously at the slightest movement.

Northern Ring-necked Snake
(Diadophis punctatus edwardsii)
Length 10-15 in. (25-38 cm.) As the name implies, these little snakes have a ring around the neck that is yellow or yellowish orange. Except for approximately the northwestern quarter, ring-necked snakes occur throughout Ohio. They prefer rocky, wooded hillsides and cutover wooded areas such as those in southeastern Ohio, where they abound. Ringnecks are basically nocturnal and spend most of the day concealed beneath logs, stones, boards, and similar objects.

Unlike most egg laying snakes, ringnecks tend to deposit their eggs in a community nest, frequently in rotted logs exposed to the sun.

When routed from hiding place, ring-necked snakes usually seek cover under the nearest available object. They are normally mild tempered when first caught, but discharge a pungent substance from their musk glands and wiggle violently to escape.

Copperbelly Water Snake
(Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta)
Length 24-42 in. (61-107 cm.) This stout-bodied water snake is currently known only from Williams County, although small, widely scattered remnant populations my occur elsewhere in northwestern Ohio. Agricultural development on its limited habitat has all but eliminated this snake from the state. The adult is a uniform black or brownish black above, with a beautiful orange-red or scarlet belly.

Copperbellies inhabit swampy woodlands and river bottoms which often become dry in summer. When this happens,these snakes move into adjacent woodlands and meadows. Like their cousin the northern water snake, copperbellies are active and aggressive snakes.

Lake Erie Water Snake
(Nerodia sipedon insularum)
Length 24-42 in. (61-107 cm.) A subspecies of the northern water snake, the Lake Erie water snake is similar to its relative, except that the dark pattern of crossbands is very pale or completely lacking. The general coloration is gray, greenish, or brownish. The belly is white or pale yellow, occasionally tinged with pink or orange down the center.

These snakes are limited to the islands of Lake Erie in the vicinity of Put-in-Bay. They have suffered from persecution, and while still common on the islands that have remained substantially undeveloped, they have been greatly reduced on the more populated islands.

Northern Water Snake
(Nerodia sipedon sipedo)
Length 24-42 in. (61-107 cm.) The northern water snake is one of the most widely distributed and certainly one of the most abundant snakes in Ohio. It may inhabit just about any permanent body of water.

This stout-bodied snake shows extreme variations in color and patter, and is unfortunately confused by many with the poisonous water moccasin, or cottonmouth. The cottonmouth, however, does not occur in Ohio; it ranges no farther north than southeastern Virginia.

Northern water snakes are particularly fond of basking, and can often be seen sunning upon emerged logs, stumps, and rocks, or on low branches overhanging the water. They are very wary and, when disturbed, drop into the water and disappear quickly. Water snakes usually flee from man, but when grabbed they are almost always extremely aggressive. They bite viciously and large ones are capable of producing painful, deep lacerations. When picked up, they invariably secrete an obnoxious smelling substance from their musk glands.

Midwest and Eastern Worm Snakes

Length 7.5 -11 in. (19-28 cm.)

MIDWEST WORM SNAKE (Carphophis amoenus helenae)

EASTERN WORM SNAKE (Carphophis amoenus amoenus) (pictured right)

Probably no snakes more closely resemble an earthworm than the worm snakes. They have a small, pinkish brown body, shiny iridescent scales, and a small, narrow head which is not distinct from the translucent body.

Worm snakes range throughout the southern third of the state, particularly southeastern Ohio. 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. They show a marked preference for moist earth, such as hillside seeps. During dry weather worm snakes work deep into the ground, seeking moisture.

Although worm snakes do not bite, when handled they continually try to push between one's fingers with both their head and tail--which has a spine-like tip. This tail spine has deceived some people into believing that snakes have stingers; however, no snakes has a stinger. Worms and soft-bodied insect make up the bulk of the worm snake's diet.