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When it comes to the many varied species of creatures on the face of our planet perhaps one of the most feared is the snake. For many, the very mention of a slithering serpent is enough to send them running; however, of the many varied species of snake that exist worldwide there are far more non poisonous varieties than there are poisonous. In this article we will cover a number of non poisonous snakes and hopefully change your mind about fearing all snakes if you are one of those ophidiophobics out there. Read on to find out why all snakes were not created equal.
The Basics on Snakes
By definition a snake is an elongate carnivorous reptile that has no legs and belongs in the suborder serpents. While often confused by less experienced observers with legless lizards, snakes are identified by the complete lack of eyelids and external ears. Many people, however, are too afraid of these creatures to get close enough to make this distinction. Snakes are, for the most part amniote vertebrates meaning that they lay eggs that contain amniotic sacs; however, there are a few snake species that give birth to live young including garter snakes, all vipers and all boas.
Unfortunately for those who are afraid of snakes (a fear referred to as ophidiophobia), snakes can be found living on every continent in the world with the exception of Antarctica and a number of islands. There are currently over 2,900 different species of snake in 450 plus genera and while this strikes fear in to the hearts of ophidiophobics, it is a fact that many herpetologists wonder at. Why is the snake such an amazing creature? This incredibly diversified creature managed to outlast the dinosaurs and has been living on our planet since the early Cretaceous period!
Venomous Versus Non-Venomous Snakes
Aside from simply being disturbed by the way snakes look and move, many people are afraid of these creatures because of their potential for envenomation. If these individuals took a little time to learn more about snakes however, they would find that the majority of snake species are not venomous and even those snakes that are venomous would much prefer to retreat from confrontation with humans. The snake prefers using its venom for its intended purpose – to subdue or kill prey but when given no other path of retreat many snakes, both venomous and non venomous, with bite in self defense. Where a venomous snake will bite and more often than not inject venom even in self defense, non venomous snakes will bite and while they don’t inject their victims with venom, they do leave a laceration, possibly some teeth and a brewing infection. Certainly that idea does not instill confidence in ophidiophobics out there, but the key to remember is that most snakes will only bite humans when they feel that there is no other path of retreat.
While it is important to respect all living creatures for their ability to cause harm to us, it is equally important to respect these creatures for what they are and the role that they play in their ecosystem. Below we will cover a number of non poisonous snakes, in an effort to both introduce you to snakes that pose less of a threat to human kind and to educate you in terms of the serpents that can be found in your own back yard.
The Brown Water Snake
The brown water snake is also referred to as the Nerodia taxispilota. This snake will utilize water as a means to escape danger and will bite only when left with no other option. The brown water snake can grow up to approximately four feet long and is recognized by many for the location of its eyes nearly on the top of its head. The brown water snake has a chunky brown pattern on a lighter colored skin and prefers to feed on fish. This variety of snake is often found basking on tree limbs and is native to the southeast United States. This species of snake is often mistaken for a venomous species of snake; however, they are not venomous despite a number of common names which may indicate otherwise. Some of the common names that are used to refer to the brown water snake include: aspic, great water snake, southern water snake, water rattler, water pilot, false moccasin, pied water snake and water rattle. As you can see from many of these common names this snake is frequently mistaken for a water moccasin or a rattle snake; however, it holds the venom of neither.
The Eastern Indigo Snake
The Eastern Indigo snake is also recognized as the Drymarchon couperi and is known for being the biggest snake native to the United States. This snake can reach as long as eight and a half feet long and can weigh up to ten pounds. The pigmentation of this snake’s skin is what gives it the name the “Eastern Indigo Snake” because it appears to be a dark indigo color. In fact the skin of the Eastern Indigo snake is a blue – black color although the snake can often have an orange pigmentation on the facial area. The Eastern indigo snake is currently a federally protected species under the endangered species act. This snake species is known for having particularly large territorial areas around the burrow in which they live – these tend to be tortoise burrows that they have taken over. While this snake is incredibly large and is known for being an amazing predator that feeds on rattle snakes and cottonmouths in addition to rats, frogs and small turtles, it has one of the lowest incidences for bites perpetrated upon humans. The eastern indigo snake habitat ranges from South Carolina down to Florida and as far west as Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The Scarlet King Snake
The scarlet king snake, also known as Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides, is a particularly brightly colored snake for being a non venomous snake. Rings of red, black and yellow or white run down this creature’s body and lead many to mistakenly believe that this snake is poisonous. The scarlet king snake is a constricting snake that relies upon squeezing its prey to death before consuming it. Commonly this variety of snake can be found in southeastern Georgia in areas of pine flatwoods where they often squeeze between bark. This snake can be identified not only from its coloration but also from the flat snout that has developed over time to allow it to slither underneath bark without damaging their delicate snout. The scarlet king snake is not a snake that prefers to be out and about during the daytime when it can be spotted and most often during the summer it can be found at night time hunting down prey such as green anoles. This particular variety of king snake is the smallest of the king snake genus and generally always measures less than two feet when fully grown – although the longest ever scarlet king snake recorded was 27 inches long.
The Corn Snake
The corn snake is also referred to as Elaphe guttata or the red rat snake. This snake is most often found in Georgia in the southern United States and can be recognized by the checkerboard type pattern across its back. The corn snake has an orangish skin with red blotches that are surrounded with a black border which make this snake particularly easy to identify. The corn snake is a constrictor snake and is a very skilled climber which comes in particularly handy when searching for prey. Most commonly corn snakes feed on small rodents such as mice and rats as well as birds, juvenile corn snakes may often eat lizards as well. Many people believe that the corn snake is so named because of their desire to feed on corn; however, they are actually named so because they used to hunt in the barns where farmers would store their corn because it would attract a vast number of rats and mice! The corn snake is a commonly found pet in the snake world, not only because they are a smaller snake but also because they are extremely docile and generally will not bite unless absolutely forced to do so. The corn snake can live as long as 23 years when kept in captivity.
The Black Racer
The black racer is also referred to as the Coluber constrictor and is a particularly common snake in the southeastern United States. As its name suggests, the black racer is a rather fast mover and is often seen on roadways particularly in Georgia. Due to the dark coloration of its skin this deep black snake is often mistaken for the eastern indigo snake but the black racer is faster and skinnier than the eastern indigo and can be found in much more abundance. If you are able to get close enough to one of these snakes you may also notice that it lacks the orange pigmentation that is often found on the eastern Indigo snake. The black racer usually grows up to three and a half feet long but it should be noted that some of the 11 subspecies of this snake can grow to double that! This snake is diurnal, meaning that it hunts for prey during the daytime and prefers to feed on birds, eggs, frogs, rodents, lizards and toads. While the black racer is referred to as being a constrictor, this snake actually uses its muscular body to keep its prey in a position while it is swallowed alive rather than using its muscles to suffocate prey items. Most commonly when seen in nature these snakes are fast moving with their heads lifted to take advantage of their keen eyesight.
The Rough Green Snake
The rough green snake or Opheodrys aestivus is commonly recognized for its incredibly bright green color that keeps it camouflaged in grassy vegetated areas in which it most commonly can be found. This snake prefers to live in vegetation or trees that border water bodies where it feeds upon grasshoppers, spiders and other invertebrates. The rough green snake is a rather petite snake, generally never growing to be more than three feet long and they are extremely reluctant to bite. This snake lives predominantly in the southeastern United States from Texas to New Jersey and down to Florida and can also be found in Thailand and Mexico. Interestingly this snake variety cannot be found in the high elevations of the Appalachian Mountains. The rough green snake has a number of predators in nature including the Eastern racer, the Eastern king snake and birds and large spiders. This largely diurnal snake is also referred to as the grass snake or green grass snake as well, but these names are most commonly used in description of the smooth green snake.
The Eastern Hognose Snake
The Eastern hognose snake or the Heterodon platirhinos is a snake that can be found from eastern Minnesota all the way across to New Hampshire and south down to Florida and west to Texas. This widespread snake is most commonly recognized for its upturned snout or “hognose.” The Eastern hognose snake is generally a solid black snake the prefers to live in sandy uplands where it feeds most often on toads. This snake has an immunity to the poison that many toads secrete and as such they thrive well on these fat forest creatures. This variety of snake may look threatening and if they feel cornered they will hiss and spread out their neck imitating poisonous cobras; however, if this display does not scare off a predator the snake rolls over and pretends to be dead in hopes of driving away the predator. The Eastern hognose snake is not known for biting humans even when they feel threatened. The characteristic upturned snout of this snake is used to dig in soil. The Eastern hognose snake has a wide number of common names including: spreading adder, hog-nosed snake, adder, bastard rattlesnake, black adder, black blowing viper, black hog-nosed snake, black viper snake, blauser, blower, blowing adder, blowing snake, blow(ing) viper, blow snake, buckwheat-nose snake, calico snake, checkered adder, checquered adder, chunk head, common hog-nosed snake, common spreading adder, deaf adder, eastern hog-nosed snake, flat-head, flat-head(ed) adder, hay-nose snake, hissing adder, hissing snake, hog-nosed adder, hog-nosed rattler, hog-nose snake, hog-nosed viper, hissing viper, (mountain) moccasin, North American adder, North American hog-nosed snake, pilot, poison viper, puff(ing) adder, red snake, rock adder, rossel bastard, sand adder, sand viper, spotted (spreading) adder, spread nelly, spread-head moccasin, spread-head snake, spread-head viper, (spreading) viper.
The Eastern Garter Snake
The Eastern garter snake or the Thamnophis sirtalis is a rather small snake that generally grows to less than two feet in length. This relatively small snake has a dark body that is characterized by the presence of three yellow stripes that run down the body lengthwise and black lines that outline their lip scales. Uniquely, the Eastern garter snake – like other garter snake species – gives birth to live young, sometimes having more than 50 young in a single birthing session. These small snakes are native to all of North America and their habitat ranges from streams and marshes to forests and fields, but they do prefer to live near a water source to facilitate easier food sources. Most commonly these snakes feed on small amphibians, fish, toads, rats and earthworms. The Eastern garter snake has a number of predators however, including foxes, large fish, bullfrogs, milk snakes, skunks, turtles and cats. While the Eastern garter snake is not listed as being an endangered species the subspecies, the San Francisco Garter Snake has been listed as an endangered species and has been so since 1967.
The Banded Water Snake
The banded water snake is also known as Nerodia fasciata and is recognized for having a dark body of black, brown or reddish color that features a faint band pattern over it. This variety of snake is a particularly aquatic snake variety and can be found in central and the southeastern United States. This snake can grow anywhere from 2 feet to 4 feet long and are recognized not only by their pattern but also for their flat shaped head. This non venomous snake is often confused for the cottonmouth as they tend to have similar habitats, preferring to live in swamps, ponds, grassy ditches, rivers and streams. These snakes are actually particularly good swimmers and are known to dive underwater to fetch prey and to escape. The banded water snake feeds on fish and frogs for the most part and while they are not venomous to humans they are rather easily aggravated and will more than likely give a nasty bite if someone attempts to handle them. This snake variety is also commonly known as the southern water snake or the water bandit.
What Are the Benefits of these Snakes to their Environment?
While many people question the presence of snakes in any environment, these small slithering creatures actually play a significant role in population control of a number of other creatures that can be found in their habitat. Without a number of these non poisonous snakes the mouse, rat, toad and frog populations in particular would be out of control and where a non venomous snake tends to keep to itself, a hungry mouse or rat certainly does not. So when it comes to non venomous snakes it appears that their presence is a necessary factor in pest control and without pest control our homes as well as our food supplies from local farmers would be overrun by disease carrying rodents. Non poisonous snakes are, if you will, the lesser of two evils and while they can certainly still initiate a rather painful and unsanitary bite when cornered, these snakes, when left alone, play a significant role in protecting us from the large number of diseases that their prey items carry. So there you have it, would you rather be bitten by a non-venomous snake and get an infected bite or would you rather be bitten by a rat infected with toxoplasmosis, the Hantavirus, typhus, salmonella, rat-bite fever, leptospirosis, and meningitis? It seems that these non poisonous serpents aren’t that bad after all!