It's snake season in Central New York. Is your lawn crawling with them?

Did you know there are 17 species of snakes native to New York? Dr. Angelena Ross, a DEC Biologist in Potsdam, tells us all the snakes here are harmless, but some, like water snakes, can be a little more assertive if approached by humans.

Although all our native snakes are protected wildlife, some people must move snakes that are in or around their homes (even though it's technically against the law). You should use a broom and a garbage can or bucket to push them into, then move them to the back yard and away from the house.

Snakes are not out to get you, nor are they even interested in being seen, which is why they hide under rocks and wood, especially if it has been lying on the ground for a while.

If you want to have fewer snakes around your residence, then move firewood piles away and don't have items leaning or stored against the home as that will attract snakes and will give them plenty of places to hide. Many times they'll stay away from a mowed lawn as it makes them feel vulnerable with less cover.

If you see a snake in front of your lawnmower, stop or slow down, and it will move away when it sees you, it will return the favor by eating nuisance species like mice around the yard.

DEC

Ross tells us that in Region 6 in northern New York, which includes Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Oneida and Herkimer Counties, there are no venomous snakes. 

There are only a couple of species of poisonous snakes in the world. This is because “poisons” are toxic if ingested. Garter snakes are inedible, as are keelbacks, due to their diet of toads which allow them to accumulate poison in their tissues. One might call them poisonous because they would make you sick if you ate them.

Venom is different as it enters the bloodstream by stings or bites but is not a poison because you can ingest venom, and it will not hurt you unless you had a way for it to enter the bloodstream before it was broken down in your stomach acids.

Ross says the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake is the smallest of the three venomous snakes found in New York State. The other two are the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead.

All three species occur in more specific areas of higher elevations in southern, western, and far eastern NY, with the massasauga restricted to just two areas in NY.  None are present in Region 6.

Snakes are an important part of the ecosystem, says Ross. "Ecosystems are biological communities that are made up of interacting organisms with their physical environment.  In ecosystems, nutrients cycle and energy flow between different levels in the food web. Some snakes have a link in turning aquatic energy (by eating frogs and fish) into terrestrial energy (by getting eaten by red-shouldered hawks, for example).  Snakes also eat rodents, which are far more harmful to human health and safety.  In fact, rodent-eating snakes compliment the foraging styles of other predators like birds and mammals to keep populations of rats and mice in balance. We have an evolutionary fear of snakes and spiders, but it's okay.  Early mammals had to survive in an environment dominated by reptiles.  It may be hard-wired into our biological makeup to fear snakes."

It is illegal to capture, release, move, or kill any native snakes in NY.

  • In New York, any use of toxicants or repellents requires you to have a pesticide applicator license.
  • No toxicants are registered for use on snakes.
  • It is illegal to kill native snakes in NY.
  • It is illegal to trap a native snake in NY.
  • It is illegal to capture, release, or move any native snake in NY.
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