🐍 A venomous snake bite is a medical emergency — What to do and not do

🐍 Two venomous snakes are native to NJ — How to identify them

🐍 Tips to keep snakes out of your yard and home

If news of a Somerset County woman ending up in the hospital after being bitten by a venomous snake sent shivers down your spine, take heart that it was a rare occurrence.

While New Jersey is home to about 22 different species of snakes, most of them are harmless and all of them are beneficial to the ecosystem.

There are only two species that are venomous:

🔺 The Timber Rattlesnake

🔺 The Northern Copperhead snake

A bite from either of these snakes is considered a medical emergency.

The bite from a rattlesnake or copperhead is extremely painful but rarely fatal. Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems may have stronger reactions to the venom.

How to identify New Jersey's venomous snakes

According to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, "Three-fourths of the snakes native to the Garden State are misidentified by observers as a Rattlesnake, Copperhead or both at some time."

The DEP says the confusion "is a result of the observer relying solely on color to identify the snake, but when compared, their patterns are quite different."

How to Identify the Timber Rattlesnake in New Jersey (source: NJDEP)

The rattle: An obvious feature on the snake if seen, but if only the rattle is heard a person may be getting duped! Many New Jersey snakes mimic the rattlesnake by shaking the ends of their tails vigorously on leaves, grass, rock, logs, cement, etc., making a rattling sound and often confusing the observer! It’s a great trick to warn off predators and, like it or not, humans are predators in the snake’s eyes!

 “Velvet tail”: The last few inches of the living tail (i.e., the area excluding the rattle) is solid black appearing like black velvet, leading to the nickname “velvet tail.”

◼ Pattern: Regardless of color, the Timber Rattlesnake has a unique pattern (the darker color). It is often in the shape of irregular blotches along the neck nearest the head and becomes thick, jagged, lateral bands across the sides and back around mid-body. These bands are occasionally “broken” (i.e., not extending completely across) but overall, you can see the thick, jagged bands remain.

◼ Color: As with other snake species, color can be highly variable. Even the Timber Rattlesnake, which is characterized by two color phases (yellow/light versus black/dark) based on the color of their head, demonstrates a wide range of coloration within those phases. For example:

Phases of Timber Rattlesnake in New Jersey Photo credit: NJ DFW, ENSP
Phases of Timber Rattlesnake in New Jersey
Photo credit: NJ DFW, ENSP

Where are Timber Rattlesnakes found in New Jersey?

The New Jersey DEP states: The Timber Rattlesnake resides in the state's Pinelands region and throughout most of the mountainous areas of the northern region of the state. They also are found within the valleys immediately proximate to the mountains during their summer movements.

How to Identify the Northern Copperhead snake in New Jersey (source: NJDEP)

While a rattlesnake will often give plenty of warning before striking (unless you step on one), copperheads typically do not. Unlike most venomous snakes, copperheads give no warning signs and strike almost immediately if they feel threatened.

Where are Northern Copperhead snakes found in New Jersey?

The NJ DEP says the Northern Copperhead is also found in the rattlesnake’s northern New Jersey range but also dips south. Some isolated populations have been found as far south as found in Hunterdon, Somerset and Mercer counties.

What do I do if I find a copperhead snake or rattlesnake on my property?

If you suspect a snake on your property is a rattlesnake or a copperhead, call the DEP Endangered and Nongame Species Program to arrange for a visit and possible relocation.

You can reach the northern New Jersey regional office at (908) 638-4381 or (908) 638-4127

You can reach the southern New Jersey regional office at (609) 628-2103.

After hours and on weekends call (877) WARN-DEP.

What snakes are mistaken for copperhead or rattlesnakes in New Jersey?

◼ Copperhead impostors

The Northern Water Snake and the Eastern Milk Snake are often misidentified as Copperheads. This confusion often is a result of the observer relying solely on color to identify the snake.

As you can see in the photos below, when the snakes are compared, their patterns are very different.

Both the Eastern Milk Snake and the Northern Water Snake are non-venomous.

Eastern Milk Snake 

Eastern Milk Snake
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Northern Water Snake 

Northern Water Snake
Getty Images/iStockphoto

The DEP notes: The Northern Water Snake is NOT the same as a Water Moccasin. The Water Moccasin is venomous, but is NOT native to New Jersey.

Even though the Northern Water Snake is not venomous, snake experts warn they will bite if they are threatened and that bite is very painful. Their saliva also contains a mild anticoagulant that inhibits bleeding and can make the bite injury appear worse.

◼ Rattlesnake impostors

The Eastern Milk Snake, Eastern Kingsnake, Corn Snake, and the Black Rat Snake are often mistaken for rattlesnakes in New Jersey.

Eastern Milk Snake

Eastern Milk Snake
Getty Images/iStockphoto

 Eastern Kingsnake

Pinelands Protection Association
Pinelands Protection Association

Corn Snake


Black Rat Snake

National Wildlife Federation
National Wildlife Federation

While their coloring may look similar, the DEP again cautions on relying on that as a primary identifier.

What do I do if I am bitten by a venomous snake?

A venomous snake bite is a medical emergency.

🔺 Try and stay as calm as possible to keep your heart rate down and slow the spread of venom
🔺 Call 911 immediately and do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital
🔺 Wash the bite with soap and water, if available
🔺 Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than your heart
🔺 DO NOT cut into the bite wound or try to suck our the venom

How do I keep snakes out of my yard?

Snakes are attracted to certain types of food and environment. While there is no fool-proof way to snake-proof your home and yard, here are some tips to avoid attracting them to your property.

🐍 Reduce rodent populations — Clean up pet food, sweep under and eliminate bird feeders, and store bird seed and other food sources in sealed containers
🐍 Limit basking areas — Remove rocks, shrubs, boards, and debris
🐍 Keep your lawn mowed short to deter snake presence — This will also allow you to view potential snake activity at a glance
🐍 Keep your property free of mulch and debris piles — Mulch is composting material that generates heat as it decomposes, creating a warm, inviting basking area for some snakes

How do I keep snakes out of my house?

In general, snakes wont try to enter your home. They are scared of humans and would prefer to avoid you.

However, the NJ DEP says Some snakes, such as garter snakes and milk snakes, can often be found near homes and in basements.

🐍 During the summer months, make certain that all cracks and crevices in the house and outbuilding foundations are sealed
🐍 Although not scientifically proven, some people believe the use of aromatic cedar mulch annually deters snake presence on their properties

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