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Snakes in Indiana

An Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus), relaxing in a curled position.  This front-fanged snake is becoming rare all across its range and is endangered in Indiana.

An Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus), relaxing in a curled position. This front-fanged snake is becoming rare all across its range and is endangered in Indiana.

A Northern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis) flicking its tongue.  This snake is an excellent example of how all of Indiana's rear-fanged venomous snakes are relatively harmless to humans.

A Northern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis) flicking its tongue. This snake is an excellent example of how all of Indiana's rear-fanged venomous snakes are relatively harmless to humans.

A nonvenomous Black Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) being carefully restrained in an effort to get a good view of its head.  Pic taken by Jake Houser.

A nonvenomous Black Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) being carefully restrained in an effort to get a good view of its head. Pic taken by Jake Houser.

What Snakes Can Be Found in Indiana?

Roughly 39 taxa (plural of taxon, which I use as a term to refer to each specific "kind" of snake in order to encompass each species and subspecies) of native snakes can be found in the wilds of Indiana. These snakes can be organized into three broad categories, based on the anatomy of their envenomation system.

While nine snakes are nonvenomous and pose minimal threat to humans, 26 are rear-fanged venomous snakes that are capable of producing mild envenomation symptoms (only in rare cases; find out why), and four are front-fanged venomous snakes that can cause significant injury to humans, even death.

I would like to emphasize that the rear-fanged snakes listed on here really don't pose any significant threat to people and can be considered relatively harmless. Their classification as "rear-fanged" is based on the fact they possess rear-fangs (enlarged, and sometimes grooved, teeth towards the back of the mouth) and functional Duvernoy's (venom) glands that produce venom. Nonvenomous snakes in Indiana are "ratsnakes" and their close cousins, which have evolved to "lose" their rear-fangs and venom systems in favor of a mechanical means (constriction) of subduing prey.

You will notice three tables below, listing each snake taxon in Indiana, organized by scientific name. This collection of snakes was assembled using distribution information from a variety of secondary literature sources (field guides, books, etc.), with the currently used/accepted taxonomy being derived from http://www.reptile-database.org/ .

Although the Western Mud Snake (Farancia abacura reinwardtii) is considered extirpated from the state, and the Western Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma) is in danger of becoming extirpated (only being present in Dubois and Harrison counties), they were included in this list.

Additional data on each snake taxon (such as the number of scale rows, the presence of keeled scales, condition of the anal plate, and maximum total length) is included in the tables in order to accompany the information in the next hub, which describes how to identify the snakes listed here (as well as how to count scale rows, determine whether scales are "keeled," and how to distinguish between a single or divided anal plate). Maximum (record) total snake lengths were rounded up to the nearest inch and then converted into millimeters.

Safety Advice for Indiana Snakes

With only four snake species of "real" concern in Indiana, and three of those being endangered, Hoosiers get off fairly easy when it comes to their chances of encountering a dangerous, front-fanged venomous snake (leaving just the Copperhead as a potential problem animal in the southern half of the state). Please keep in mind that the best thing to do when you find a snake is to keep your distance and leave the animal alone (as it will often avoid humans as well), regardless of what species it is. This advice is for your own (as well as the snake's) safety, as it is still possible to contract certain diseases from nonvenomous snakebites (e.g., tetanus, salmonella, influenza A/B).

It is absolutely critical that you do not engage in the persecution and killing of snakes because they are not only integral parts of the environment (feasting upon many creatures often considered as pests: slugs, spiders, centipedes, rodents, squirrels, rabbits, sparrows), but are also becoming increasingly important in the .

The next hub covers how to identify these snakes of Indiana, which you may feel free to explore after taking the quiz below to test your understanding about general Indiana snake knowledge. You can also check out the video below, which shows a rear-fanged venomous snake hunting for food along a shoreline in an Indiana forest. If you would like to learn more about snakes, please see the Amazon links below for some useful book resources. Click here if you have further questions about snakes that are not addressed by this article on Indiana Snakes (or any other articles in this Indiana Snake hub series).

Range Map for Front-fanged Venomous Snakes in Indiana

Distribution map of Indiana's front-fanged venomous snakes.  Created using information from the Indiana DNR.  Map template courtesy of www.nationalatlas.gov

Distribution map of Indiana's front-fanged venomous snakes. Created using information from the Indiana DNR. Map template courtesy of www.nationalatlas.gov

Front-fanged Venomous Snakes

GenusSpeciesSubspeciesCommon NameScale RowsKeeled Scales?Anal PlateMax Length (mm)

Agkistrodon

contortrix

mokasen

Northern Copperhead

23-25

weakly

single

53" (1347)

Agkistrodon

piscivorus

leucostoma

Western Cottonmouth**

25

strongly

single

62" (1575)

Crotalus

horridus

 

Timber Rattlesnake**

23-25

yes

single

75" (1905)

Sistrurus

catenatus

catenatus

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake**

25

yes

single

40" (1016)

Rear-fanged Venomous Snakes

GenusSpeciesSubspeciesCommon NameScale RowsKeeled Scales?Anal PlateMax Length (mm)

Carphophis

amoenus

helenae

Midwestern Worm Snake

13

no

divided

14" (356)

Clonophis

kirtlandii

 

Kirtland's Snake**

19

yes

divided

25" (635)

Coluber

constrictor

foxii

Blue Racer

17

no

divided

72" (1829)

Coluber

constrictor

priapus

Southern Black Racer

17

no

divided

73" (1855)

Diadophis

punctatus

edwardsii

Northern Ringneck Snake

15-17

no

divided

28" (712)

Farancia

abacura

reinwardtii

Western Mud Snake**

19

no

usually divided

82" (2083)

Heterodon

platirhinos

 

Eastern Hognose Snake

23-25

yes

divided

46" (1169)

Nerodia

erythrogaster

neglecta

Copperbelly Water Snake**

23-27

strongly

usually divided

62" (1575)

Nerodia

rhombifer

rhombifer

Northern Diamondback Water Snake

25-31

strongly

divided

63" (1601)

Nerodia

sipedon

pleuralis

Midland Water Snake

21-25

strongly

divided

59" (1499)

Nerodia

sipedon

sipedon

Northern Water Snake

21-25

strongly

divided

56" (1423)

Opheodrys

aestivus

aestivus

Northern Rough Green Snake*

17

yes

divided

46" (1169)

Opheodrys

vernalis

blanchardi

Western Smooth Green Snake**

15

no

divided

26" (661)

Regina

septemvittata

 

Queen Snake

19

yes

divided

37" (940)

Storeria

dekayi

dekayi

Northern Brown Snake

15-17

yes

divided

20" (508)

Storeria

dekayi

wrightorum

Midland Brown Snake

15-17

yes

divided

21" (534)

Storeria

occipitomaculata

occipitomaculata

Northern Redbelly Snake

15

yes

divided

16" (407)

Tantilla

coronata

 

Southeastern Crowned Snake**

15

no

divided

13" (331)

Thamnophis

butleri

 

Butler's Garter Snake**

19

yes

single

29" (737)

Thamnophis

proximus

proximus

Western Ribbon Snake*

19

strongly

single

38" (966)

Thamnophis

radix

 

Plains Garter Snake

21

yes

single

43" (1093)

Thamnophis

sauritus

sauritus

Eastern Ribbon Snake

19

strongly

single

40" (1016)

Thamnophis

sauritus

septentrionalis

Northern Ribbon Snake

19

strongly

single

40" (1016)

Thamnophis

sirtalis

semifasciatus

Chicago Garter Snake

19

yes

single

36" (915)

Thamnophis

sirtalis

sirtalis

Eastern Garter Snake

19

yes

single

49" (1245)

Virginia

valeriae

elegans

Western Earth Snake

17

weakly

divided

16" (407)

Nonvenomous Snakes

GenusSpeciesSubspeciesCommon NameScale RowsKeeled Scales?Anal PlateMax Length (mm)

Cemophora

coccinea

copei

Northern Scarlet Snake**

19

no

single

33" (839)

Lampropeltis

calligaster

calligaster

Prairie Kingsnake

25 or 27

no

single

56" (1423)

Lampropeltis

nigra

 

Black Kingsnake

21

no

single

58" (1474)

Lampropeltis

triangulum

syspila

Red Milk Snake

19-23

no

single

42" (1067)

Lampropeltis

triangulum

triangulum

Eastern Milk Snake

19-23

no

single

52" (1321)

Pantherophis

obsoletus

 

Black Rat Snake

25-33

weakly

divided

101" (2566)

Pantherophis

ramspotti

 

Western Fox Snake

25 or 27

usually

divided

71" (1804)

Pantherophis

spiloides

 

Gray Rat Snake

25-33

weakly

divided

85" (2159)

Pituophis

catenifer

sayi

Bullsnake

27-37

yes

single

100" (2540)

What do you know about the snakes of Indiana?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Approximately how many taxa of snakes are there in Indiana?
    • 4
    • 9
    • 26
    • 30
    • 39
  2. How many Indiana snake taxa are venomous (front- or rear-fanged)?
    • 4
    • 9
    • 26
    • 30
    • 39
  3. The front-fanged venomous snake, the Cottonmouth, is fairly common throughout Indiana.
    • True
    • False
  4. Indiana’s rear-fanged venomous snakes are only capable of causing mild envenomation symptoms in humans.
    • True
    • False
  5. Nonvenomous snakes in Indiana prefer to use constriction to kill prey.
    • True
    • False
  6. Whenever you encounter a snake, the best thing to do is leave the snake alone, regardless of its venomous status.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. 39
  2. 30
  3. False
  4. True
  5. True
  6. True

Rear-fanged Venomous Snake Foraging in the Wilds of Indiana

Disclaimer

I would like to start off by thanking Ken and Hoffa (sp?), who were kind enough to see my 30 minute talk on venomous snakes (discussing identification and their importance) at Chain O' Lakes State Park on 8/3/12 and encouraged/inspired me to write this article.

This article is intended to educate people ranging from snake experts to laymen about the species and subspecies of snakes that may be found in Indiana, as well as their venomous status. This information contains generalizations and by no means encompasses all exceptions to the most common "rules" presented here. This information comes from my personal experience/knowledge as well as various primary (journal articles) and secondary (books) literature sources (and can be made available upon request). All pictures and videos, unless specifically noted otherwise, are my property and may not be used in any form, to any degree, without my express permission (please send email inquiries to christopher.j.rex@gmail.com).

I wholly believe feedback can be a useful tool for helping make the world a better place, so I welcome any (positive or negative) that you might feel compelled to offer. But, before actually leaving feedback, please consider the following two points: 1. Please mention in your positive comments what you thought was done well, and mention in your negative comments how the article can be altered to better suit your needs/expectations; 2. If you intend on criticizing "missing" information that you feel would be relevant to this article, please be sure you read through the other article in this Indiana Snake series first in order to see if your concerns are addressed there.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out how you can help support snake venom research examining the pharmaceutical potential of various snake venom compounds, please check out my profile. Thank you for reading!

References

  1. Behler, J., King, F., 1979. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians (Chanticleer Press ed.). Knopf, NY.
  2. Conant, R., Collins, J.T., 1998. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.
  3. MacGowan, B.J., Kingsbury, B.A., 2001. Snakes of Indiana. Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.
  4. Minton, S.A., 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana (Rev. 2nd ed.). Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN.
  5. The Reptile Database. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://www.reptile-database.org.

© 2012 Christopher Rex

Comments

llkizer on August 10, 2014:

I live on Chamberlain Lake in St. Joseph County. While it's more of a wetland, I have spotted two snakes while mowing the last four years. I believe them to be an Eastern Ribbon and an Eastern Hognose. Both were much larger in length and girth to the photos I have seen here. The prior resident stated that they have seen and killed a copperhead.

Christopher Rex (author) from Durham, NC on August 14, 2013:

Hello samowhamo. Although lizards are neat creatures too, I'm a whole lot better at finding/capturing/handling/studying snakes. I understand snakes much more than any other creature, so I'm trying to help pass on that knowledge by educating people about them through Powerpoint presentations to the public and these articles. Btw, you might have a personal "hypothesis" about a second age of reptiles, but keep in mind that it is not a "theory" until it is supported by mounds of scientific evidence. When humans are gone, a number of different things can happen, as all creatures would be released from anthropogenic pressures and niches would open back up. We are working on making all large mammals extinct (with the most recent being wild populations of the Black Rhino), so perhaps reptiles could make a return to large body size and world dominance... Thanks for stopping by!

samowhamo on June 05, 2013:

Snakes are interesting but I personally prefer lizards. I have a personal theory of mine that in the distant future probably after humans go extinct there may be what you could call a second age of reptiles in which lizards and lizard-like animals evolve a dinosaur-like body plan or something similar either by nature or maybe even by genetic modification done by humans. I asked my dad once about that and he says that it is possible if the conditions on Earth are right I would like to do a speculative evolution/biology project on that sometime I have to do more reaserch into it though.

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