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Snakes in Indiana

Updated on July 19, 2016
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 pharmaceutical industry and for cancer research.

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

Genus
Species
Subspecies
Common Name
Scale Rows
Keeled Scales?
Anal Plate
Max 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)
** = snake is considered endangered in Indiana.
National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: North America (National Audubon Society Field Guides (Paperback))
National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: North America (National Audubon Society Field Guides (Paperback))

A book that provides a high level of detail and is better designed for use by snake experts.

 

Rear-fanged Venomous Snakes

Genus
Species
Subspecies
Common Name
Scale Rows
Keeled Scales?
Anal Plate
Max 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)
* = snake is considered a species of special concern in Indiana. ** = snake is considered endangered in Indiana.

Nonvenomous Snakes

Genus
Species
Subspecies
Common Name
Scale Rows
Keeled Scales?
Anal Plate
Max 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)
** = snake is considered endangered in Indiana.

What do you know about the snakes of Indiana?


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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 ChristopherJRex

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    • profile image

      llkizer 2 years ago

      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.

    • ChristopherJRex profile image
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      ChristopherJRex 3 years ago from Fort Wayne, IN

      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 profile image

      samowhamo 3 years ago

      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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