Snakes are on the move now that the warmer weather has arrived, looking for places to shed, mate, eat, nest and birth. New York is home to 17 species of snakes, but only 3 of these are venomous. Do you know the difference?

Common New York Snakes

The most common snakes in New York state are the garter and water snake. Garter snakes can be found almost anywhere but are completely harmless. Water snakes can be found near any body of water, hence the name. They are also harmless.

The black rat snake is the largest in New York. Some can get as long as eight feet. They can be found primarily along cliffs and rocky slopes but surprisingly are absent from most of the Adirondacks.

There's the milk snake that doesn't milk cows, like many people assume. They can however, be found in barns looking for rodents.

Venomous New York Snakes

There are only three species of venomous snakes living in New York. These are the timber rattlesnake, the massasauga and the copperhead.

Timber Rattlesnake

Timber rattlesnakes are 3 to 4 feet or more in length, making it the largest venomous snake in New York. They usually come out in late April but in Northern New York, they often wait until mid-May.

The venom can be fatal if untreated. The good news is, there have been no recorded timber rattlesnake deaths in humans during the last several decades in New York. There have however, been runs ins with the deadly snakes. One was found in a vacation home in Lake George last summer.

Credit - NYS DEC
Credit - NYS DEC

Massasauga Rattlesnake

The massasauga rattlesnake is the smallest of the three venomous snakes found in New York State. It can measure anywhere from 18-40 inches in length but the average is 27.5 inches.

The massasauga rattlesnakes are normally active during the day, but may resort to evening and nighttime activity to escape the mid-summer heat. You'll find these venomous snakes around wet, lowland habitats, including marshes and floodplains.

Credit - NYS DEC
Credit - NYS DEC


Copperhead snakes can be found in habitat similar to that of the timber rattlesnake. They primarily eats small rodents, but will take anything from caterpillars to small birds.

David Kenny/Think Stock
David Kenny/Think Stock

Distinguishing a venomous snake from a harmless one can be difficult. You can look for the
presence of a pit between the nostril and the eye. But the NY DEC says "if you don’t know how to identify snake species and you’re close enough to see the pit, you’re too close."

If you’re in doubt, leave the snake alone and don't panic. Keep a safe distance away and let them move along on their own. Most snakes are not aggressive unless provoked.

To learn more on snakes in New York visit

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