Photo courtesy of Metro Parks
The Eastern garter snake is one of three garter snakes in the state. The cold-blooded reptile can be found all around central Ohio, even in backyard gardens. It is one of five snakes that can be found in the area.
The weather is warming up and humans are not the only ones basking in the sun. The snakes have slithered out too.
The cold-blooded reptile has always been feared or revered. Now is the time of year when encounters with them are common but is there really a reason to fear them?
Peg Hanley, spokeswoman for Metro Parks, said none of the snakes in this part of the state are poisonous.
“Many people think all snakes are poisonous,” said Hanley. “They just don’t know how great they really are.”
Hanley said another myth about snakes is that they are slimy and scaly.
“They are actually completely dry,” she remarked.
Contrary to what movie makers will have you believe, snakes will not chase you. In fact, Hanley said they will do their best to avoid you. They can feel the vibrations from an approaching animal and will likely hide until the perceived threat is gone.
“If you don’t bug them, they won’t bug you,” said Hanley. “Not all snakes have fangs either.”
For some snakes, it’s mating season. For others, they just want to warm up in the sun. Hanley said soaking up the rays helps digestion in the reptile.
The following are facts on the five snakes people most commonly encounter in central Ohio.
Northern water snake
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), this is one of the most widely distributed and abundant snakes in Ohio. They can live in just about any permanent body of water.
The Northern water snake is usually 24 to 42 inches in size and has extreme variation in color. It is sometimes confused with the poisonous water moccasin or the cottonmouth.
This species will try to steer clear of humans but can be aggressive if aggravated. It will bite and its bite can be painful and leave deep lacerations.
Eastern garter snake
This snake is one of three garters in the state but is the most common. It is recognized by its color pattern of three yellow stripes on a black or brown body.
It is usually about four inches long and can be found in nearly every habitat, including backyard gardens. The garter gets its name from its resemblance to stripes on old fashioned sock garters.
If the snake bites, some people experience swelling or a rash.
Black rat snake
The black rat is Ohio’s largest snake, ranging between 47 to 72 inches in length. It is the most commonly killed snake due to human fear. It is all black, except for a small light patch under its chin.
This kind of snake prefers the forest. It is an accomplished climber and can be found high in trees or in woodpecker holes.
Hanley said the black rat is sometimes mistaken for a rattlesnake because it can vibrate its tail.
“Normally, it is a pretty shy creature,” said Hanley. “It even plays possum when threatened.”
If cornered or captured, the snake will likely vibrate its tail and strike repeatedly. It can also coil around something tightly and discharge a foul-smelling substance.
According to the ODNR, the black rat snake is one of the state’s most beneficial reptiles. It plays an essential role in controlling destructive rodents.
The queen snake sounds like a big one but it actually measures just 15 to 24 inches in length.
This snake is normally encountered when flat stones or boards are overturned. It is found along waterways and feeds on soft-shelled crayfish instead of rodents.
The queen snake is dark brown with a yellow stripe on the lower side of its body. The belly is yellow with brown stripes.
The queen snake has such small teeth, it barely pierces the skin if it bites.
Black racer snake
The black racer is the state snake of Ohio. It is normally 36 to 60 inches long and can reach speeds of up to 10 miles per hour.
Hanley said this snake is very shiny and prevalent in the area.
“The racer is great to Ohio farmers,” she noted because of its speedy hunting of rodents.
The black racer snake becomes nervous around humans and can be aggressive if captured. With small but numerous teeth, its bite can be painful.
Snakes around you
“Snakes are good at what they do,” said Hanley, “and that’s finding and hunting rodents.”
The reptiles also have natural predators including hawks, eagles and humans.
Hanley said the snake has always had a myth imprinted on it but said the snakes in central Ohio are not dangerous to humans.
To learn more about snakes, attend Battelle Darby Creek’s “Cold Blooded Critters” event on May 25 from 1 to 4 p.m. Interested persons are asked to meet at Indian Ridge Lodge.
For more information about reptiles or additional events, call Metro Parks at 895-6365 or log onto metroparks.net.