Venomous (Poisonous) Snakes in Maryland

There are about 27 species and subspecies of snakes inhabiting Maryland’s diverse landscapes. Nonetheless, the snake population in the state should hardly give anyone anything to worry about – as they are mostly harmless to humans. There are only two indigenous snakes to look out for when you’re in Maryland: Copperheads and Timber rattlesnakes.

They are dangerous pit viper (Viperidae) snakes capable of injecting highly toxic venom in amounts that could lead to serious medical symptoms or, worse, death. Therefore, these snakes are referred to as ‘venomous,’ not ‘poisonous’ (because poisonous refers to an animal that causes serious medical symptoms when ingested).

Most snake bites in Maryland are due to copperheads found throughout the state. In contrast, timber rattlesnakes are exclusively found in restricted areas. So it is important to know how to identify these dangerous snakes so you’d stay out of their way when you encounter them. 

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Timber rattlesnaake coiled in a loop
Timber rattlesnakes have triangular and flattened heads with facial pits.

©Frode Jacobsen/

Also called canebrake rattlesnake or banded rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake is a venomous pit viper endemic to eastern North America. It is the only snake in Maryland with a rattle and the only rattlesnake species in most of the populous Northeastern United States. 

How to Identify a Timber Rattlesnake

A timber rattlesnake has a triangular and flattened head with facial pits between the eye and nostril. This snake’s head is yellow, gray, or tan, with a dark line running from each eye to the jaw. An adult timber rattlesnake measures between 36 and 60 inches long. The main body color may be yellow, tan, brown, or gray, with dark crossbands around the body. The markings are rounded toward the head and become more V-shaped or M-shaped toward the tail. Many individuals exhibit melanism, with some being dark or almost solid black. 

Where Do Timber Rattlesnakes Live In Maryland?

In Maryland, the timber rattlesnake’s range is almost completely limited to the western Maryland panhandle, including in Frederick, Allegheny, Garrett, and Washington counties. Timber rattlesnakes are native to the eastern part of the United States and are found in dense woodlands and thick brush. They are found in rocky, hilly, forested terrain in the northern parts of their range. They live mostly in swampy areas in the southern parts of their range. Timber rattlesnakes exist in small numbers in the far western part of the state, found in upland forested areas associated with rocky outcrops and talus slopes.

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What Do Timber Rattlesnakes Eat?

timber rattlesnake1
As carnivores, timber rattlesnakes include small mammals and small birds in their diet.

©Joe McDonald/

Timber rattlesnakes eat mainly small mammals, including rats, mice, squirrels, and rabbits. They also consume small birds and amphibians, as well as other snakes. However, timber rattlesnakes are not only predators; they also fall prey to various natural predators, including foxes, hawks, coyotes, bobcats, skunks, and king snakes.

Timber Rattlesnake Bite

The timber rattlesnake is one of the most dangerous snakes in North America. With distinct features such as its impressive size, long fangs, and high venom yield, it is also considered one of America’s venomous snakes. Its venom is highly toxic, containing neurotoxins that affect the brain and myotoxins, which cause muscle necrosis. Whether coiled or stretched out, rattlesnakes can quickly and accurately strike one-third or more of their body length from any position!

Despite their reputation for being dangerous, timber rattlesnakes are not aggressive. They will strike if stepped on, harassed, or physically threatened. Usually, they avoid confrontation and are harmless if left alone. Though bites from timber rattlesnakes are rare, do not attempt to capture or handle one because they will readily bite if provoked. Bites are extremely painful but rarely fatal. So it is important to seek medical attention immediately if bitten because rattlesnake bites are a medical emergency. If left untreated, the bite may result in severe medical problems.

Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) 

Broad Band Copperhead Snake
Copperheads are heavy-bodied snakes that measure around 20 to 36 inches.

©Dennis W Donohue/

The only other venomous snake in Maryland is the copperhead snake. It is also a species of venomous snake belonging to the Viperidae family. Here’s what you should know about copperheads:

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How To Identify a Copperhead

A copperhead is a heavy-bodied snake measuring between 20 and 36 inches long. It has a coppery-red to a tan head and brown hourglass-shaped crossbands on its tan to dark brown back. This peculiar body pattern creates the perfect camouflage for the snake to hide beneath leaf litter.

Like the timber rattlesnake, the copperhead has a triangular and flattened head with facial “pits’ between each eye and nostril. It has vertically slit pupils typical of pit viper snakes. Young copperheads have a sulfur yellow tail that wiggles to lure smaller animals such as skunks and other prey.

Where Do Copperheads Live in Maryland?

One of Maryland’s two venomous species, copperheads, occur throughout Maryland but are relatively uncommon on the Coastal Plain, only restricted to the plain’s lower eastern and western shores. They are abundant in western and central Maryland’s forested, rocky outcroppings.

Copperheads can be found in various habitats in Maryland, ranging from river valleys, coastal areas, marshes, and swamps to forests, agricultural fields near forests, wooded slopes, and sandy ridges near swamps and ravines. 

They are commonly found on rocky hillsides and river valleys with many shelters. During winter, copperheads will hibernate in communal, underground dens on rocky hillsides with different species, such as timber rattlesnakes.

What Do Copperheads Eat?

What Do Copperheads Eat
The copperhead eats frogs, salamanders, and insects.


Copperheads are carnivores that feed on frogs, salamanders, small rodents, such as mice, and large insects such as cicadas. They also eat birds, amphibians, and other snakes. Copperheads are ambush predators known to hide and wait in one position for a desirable prey to approach before they attack. They find prey with the help of the heat-sensing pit between their eye and nostril and inject venom into the prey to subdue it and make it easier to swallow whole. Hawks and owls are the main predators of copperheads. However, raccoons, opossums, and other large snakes may also prey on them.

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Copperhead Bite

Copperheads are venomous snakes, which means that they inject deadly venom into victims when they bite. Copperhead snake bites are extremely painful, and you should seek medical attention immediately if bitten. However, their bites are hardly fatal to humans or pets. Regardless, any venomous snake bite should be treated as a medical emergency. 

The interesting thing is copperheads aren’t out there looking to bite humans. Like most snakes, they are naturally unaggressive and shy. But be aware that they would readily strike a person if provoked, cornered, or threatened. The best way to avoid facing their wrath is to leave them alone – do not attempt to capture or kill these dangerous snakes if you encounter them.

Is it Illegal to Kill Snakes in Maryland?

Snakes play a vital role in controlling rodent populations and also help in removal of small disease-carrying animals. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, their significance in the ecosystem makes it necessary that all snakes in Maryland be protected by law –meaning it is illegal to kill snakes in Maryland. Since timber rattlesnakes have disappeared from many areas in Maryland, this species is now listed as ‘Endangered‘ in the state. Therefore, it is considered illegal to possess or harm a timber rattlesnake in Maryland.

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