Snakes are an integral part of Maryland’s fauna, functioning as important middle predators. Snakes are limbless reptiles with elongate bodies that are covered with scales. All snakes lack external ear openings and eyelids and have long, forked tongues. Maryland is home to 27 species and sub-species of snakes, including two with medically significant venom, the copperhead and the timber rattlesnake. These two species are found in the viper family (Viperidae). The remaining species are in the family Colubridae, which is the largest snake family in the world. For more information on venomous snakes in Maryland, check out our venomous snakes page.
There are two species of pit vipers found in Maryland, the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) and the eastern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix). Both of these species are dangerously venomous and should be treated with caution. Do not approach or handle these snakes as a bite could be fatal. As the name implies the pit vipers have a heat seeking pit between each eye and nostril. The pit vipers also differ noticeably from the colubrids by having vertical pupils, and undivided subcaudal scales (Conant and Collins 1998).
For more information on Maryland’s venomous snakes, please click here. For visuals of snake anatomy features, please click here.
Maryland colubrids differ from vipers by having round pupils in the eyes, no heat seeking pit between each eye and nostril, a complete set of divided sub-caudal scales, and a series of large plates (scales) on the dorsum of the head.
There are 25 different types of snakes (including sub-species) from the Family Colubridae that can be found in Maryland. Due to the large number of genera (16) and the relatively few species within each genus (no more than two), identification of Maryland colubrids to genus is not discussed here. Species and sub-species descriptions follow.
A number of documents were used to compile the snake descriptions that follow.
The document that provided the most information was The Reptiles of Virginia by
Joseph C. Mitchell (1994). Amphibians and Reptiles of Pennsylvania by Arthur C.
Hulse, C. J. McCoy, and Ellen Censky (2001) and Amphibians and Reptiles of
Delmarva by James F. and Amy Wendt White (2002) were also extremely useful.
These books are recommended to anyone seeking more comprehensive information on
North American snake ecology and identification.
In addition to physical descriptions of snakes, maps depicting the distribution
of each snake species in Maryland are also included. The distribution maps
include historical distributional information that was compiled by Harris (1975)
and distributional surveys of select species by Thompson (1984). White and White
(2002) provided a great deal of distributional information for snakes on
Maryland’s eastern shore. Additional recent distribution information was
provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Biological
Stream Survey and Natural Heritage Program, and from additional literature where
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