Black snakes in Pennsylvania that are most frequently encountered in the wild are easy to distinguish if you know the differences. Almost all of the snakes on this list have a non-black marking that allows you to differentiate between individuals from different species.
Most of the snakes in Pennsylvania do not pose any real danger to humans. This doesn’t stop people from mistaking snakes on this list for the highly venomous cottonmouth. The cottonmouth is not native to Pennsylvania as its range ends in more southern states.
Some of the snakes listed here make great pets, though you should seek snakes from breeders instead of trying to capture one in the wild. That’s because snakes raised in captivity are easier to acclimate to a vivarium and frequent handling.
We’ll take a closer look at the seven most common black snakes in the state of PA now.
1. Northern Black Racer
Northern black racers are a common species in PA. They’re long and slender snakes that are capable of moving very quickly. They like to hang out under rocks or inside logs in fields, rocky hills, and grasslands. These snakes are excellent climbers, so they can be found in bushes and up in trees. Northern black racers are nonvenomous, but they still don’t like being bothered.
When a wild individual is picked up, it will likely bite repeatedly. You’ll know the snake is upset because it mimics a rattlesnake when threatened. It taps its tail against the ground to imitate a rattle.
Both their stomachs and their backs are black. Northern black racers usually have a small white patch under their chins. Juveniles are patterned and lighter in color, so their appearance is a great way to try and age one of these snakes.
2. Timber Rattlesnake
The timber rattlesnake is the most dangerous snake in the state, and it’s one of three venomous snakes. It’s the only black venomous snake in PA.
Timber rattlesnakes are most commonly found along wooded edges of mountain ranges. They’re extremely venomous, but they aren’t aggressive unless threatened. These snakes go through two phases: a yellow and a black phase. When they’re in their black phase, they still have some obvious banded patterning. They appear almost all black, despite these bands.
3. Queen Snake
Queen snakes are similar in appearance to rat snakes and are often misidentified as such. A yellow belly distinguishes them as well as their hardly visible brown stripes running down the length of their body. While these snakes are common in their range, they’re only found in the western and southeastern parts of the state.
Queen snakes are great swimmers, so they’re often confused with the deadly water moccasin. However, they are nonvenomous and pose little threat. They like rocky creeks and streams over large lakes or open ponds.
4. Black Rat Snake
Black rat snakes are eastern rat snakes that are all black. They aren’t different from eastern rat snakes, as it’s just a name for certain individuals within the eastern rat snake population.
Black rat snakes aren’t picky about their habitats and can be found everywhere. This makes them one of the most common snakes that people will encounter in the state. Farmers are especially familiar with these snakes, as they love the rodents around produce fields.
While black rat snakes can be spotted year-round, they’re most often out during the day in the fall and spring. Most brumate during the winter with other snakes like copperheads to conserve heat. They aren’t in danger during this moment because all the venomous snakes are too inactive from the cold to feed.
Black rat snakes produce a disgusting musk when threatened, but they are nonvenomous and relatively harmless.
5. Northern Ring-Necked Snake
Northern ring-necked snakes are common snakes in Pennsylvania. They are small snakes growing no more than two feet in length. They’re nocturnal and shy, so they’re rarely spotted by humans in the wild.
These snakes like damp habitats and hang out in wooded areas. They’re nonvenomous, but they release a musk when threatened that smells terrible.
Northern ring-necked snakes have a colored belly with a matching ring around their neck. This bright coloration is usually yellow or orange. Sometimes they’re more bluish than black, but enough individuals are mostly black that this snake earned a place on our list.
6. Eastern Garter Snake
Most garter snakes have a black body with yellow stripes running down the length of this black body. These snakes are neither aggressive nor are they venomous. They can be approached in the wild or when you spot one in your yard.
Garter snakes like moist environments with lots of hiding spots. They’re so common in gardens that they are also known as garden snakes. These snakes are most commonly found roaming around between March and October.
An interesting characteristic of eastern garter snakes is their ability to adapt to a shortage of their usual food supply. Pennsylvania isn’t known for its amphibian populations, even though the eastern garter snake eats frogs as a substantial part of its diet.
7. Northern Water Snake
Northern water snakes are the only water snakes found in Pennsylvania. Some individuals are black, although they can come in a wide variety of colors. These snakes are often confused with water mocassins because they like the same type of aquatic environments. Individuals with certain colorations are also mistaken for copperheads.
Northern water snakes are non-aggressive, but you’ll know they feel threatened when they coil up and begin snapping. If you see this occurring on a snake you’ve encountered, slowly move away from the snake.
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