If you see a snake in New York state, it could be any of 17 different species. The most common snakes in New York state are the water snake, the garter snake and the milk snake, which are all completely harmless. Venomous snakes in New York state are the timber rattlesnake, the massasauga and the copperhead, but don't worry – you'll probably never see them.
Water Snakes in NY
The water snake, which can reach up to 4 feet in length, can be identified by its heavy, light-colored body, which has reddish-brown bands and patches across the spine, and smaller patches along its sides. Older water snakes are darker in color: dark brown or almost black. You're most likely to come across water snakes in NY near water bodies, as it preys mainly on small fish and frogs.
Garter Snakes in NY
The garter snake is the most common New York snake. It can live in a wide range of places, but is typically found in fields, lawns and on the periphery of woodland. The color pattern of a garter snake varies widely, but is most often dark green or brown with three yellow stripes down the back and sides. It may grow up to 30 inches long and feeds on insects, worms, slugs and small mice and frogs.
Milk Snakes in NY
It's common to spot a milk snake in NY barns and outbuildings, where they hunt for mice and other snakes. This species has vibrant reddish or brown patterns on its slim, greyish-white body, and a lighter colored Y- or V-shaped mark on its head. The milk snake may reach a length of 3 feet and on rare occasions, 4 feet.
Venomous Snakes in NY
Although uncommon, timber rattlesnake, massasauga and copperhead NY state snakes are venomous. The timber rattlesnake, which is listed as a threatened species by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, is found mainly in the southeastern part of New York state, apart from Long Island and New York City. The massasauga, which is listed as endangered, is only ever found in large wetlands northeast of Syracuse or west of Rochester. The copperhead is most often spotted along the lower Hudson Valley, and distributed through the Catskills.
The timber rattlesnake and massasauga both have a rattle at the end of their tails, made of several hollow scales. While both species are stout, the timber rattlesnake is much longer, typically reaching a length of 6 feet compared to the massasauga's maximum of 3 feet. The timber rattlesnake has a broader head than the massasauga's and smaller scales on its crown.
The copperhead snake doesn't have a rattle, but its tail does vibrate when it is irritated. As you would expect, this species has a coppery-colored head, but the rest of its body is chestnut to dark brown with a pinkish-tan pattern. The copperhead usually grows no longer than 3 feet.
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Claire is a writer and editor with 18 years' experience. She writes about science and health for a range of digital publications, including Reader's Digest, HealthCentral, Vice and Zocdoc.