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West Virginia Venomous Snakes: A Look at Slithering Reptiles in the Mountain State

The Northern Copperhead

Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States, West Virginia is known for its rugged beauty, outdoor recreation, and diverse wildlife. However, among the many species of animals that call the Mountain State home, there are a few that pose a serious threat to humans: venomous snakes.

Snake Species Venomous or Not Size Color
Timber Rattlesnake Venomous Up to 6 feet Gray or yellow with dark crossbands
Copperhead Venomous Up to 4 feet Light brown with dark hourglass-shaped bands
Eastern Coral Snake Venomous Up to 2 feet Red, yellow, and black bands in a specific pattern
Northern Water Snake Non-venomous Up to 4 feet Brown or gray with dark bands on the sides
Eastern Garter Snake Non-venomous Up to 4 feet Green or brown with yellow stripes
Northern Ring-necked Snake Non-venomous Up to 1 foot Gray or brown with a distinct ring around the neck
Eastern Milk Snake Non-venomous Up to 5 feet Brown or gray with dark blotches or bands
Rough Green Snake Non-venomous Up to 3 feet Bright green with a yellow underside
Eastern Hognose Snake Mildly Venomous Up to 4 feet Brown or gray with dark blotches or bands

Dangerous Snakes in West Virginia

West Virginia is home to two species of venomous snakes, the Eastern Timber Rattlesnake and the Northern Copperhead, both of which are important components of the state’s ecosystem but require caution and

1. The Eastern Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus Horridus)

Also known as the canebrake rattlesnake, is the only venomous snake species that is found in all 55 counties of West Virginia. This pit viper is known for its distinctive appearance, with a patterned back that resembles tree bark, making it an expert at blending into its wooded surroundings.

Timber rattlesnakes are typically found in deciduous forests, mixed woodlands, and along rocky slopes, and they are known for their relatively docile nature and shy behavior. However, when threatened or cornered, they can defend themselves by delivering a venomous bite.

The venom of the Eastern Timber Rattlesnake is a complex mixture of enzymes and proteins that can cause a range of symptoms, including severe pain, swelling, and tissue damage. In rare cases, bites from timber rattlesnakes can be life-threatening, especially to vulnerable populations such as young children, the elderly, or those with pre-existing health conditions.

However, fatalities from rattlesnake bites are extremely rare, thanks to the availability of antivenom and the snake’s generally non-aggressive behavior towards humans.

2. The Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

The highland moccasin, as it is also referred to, is another venomous snake species that can be found in parts of West Virginia. Copperheads are known for their striking appearance, with a pattern of dark bands on a light background that provides excellent camouflage in leaf litter and forest undergrowth. They are typically found in deciduous forests, mixed woodlands, and along streams and rocky areas. Copperheads are known for their relatively mild temperament and usually prefer to avoid confrontation with humans.

The venom of the Northern Copperhead is less potent compared to that of the Eastern Timber Rattlesnake, but it can still cause local pain, swelling, and tissue damage. Like rattlesnake bites, fatalities from copperhead bites are extremely rare and can be mitigated with prompt medical treatment, including the administration of antivenom.

Staying Safe

Despite the presence of venomous snakes in West Virginia, it is important to note that bites from these species are relatively rare, and encounters with humans are typically accidental. Snakes play a vital role in the ecosystem as predators, controlling populations of rodents and other small animals. As such, it’s crucial to respect and appreciate these animals from a safe distance and take necessary precautions when exploring snake habitats.

If you encounter a venomous snake in West Virginia, it’s important to exercise caution and give the snake plenty of space to retreat. Avoid handling or attempting to capture the snake, as that increases the risk of getting bitten. It’s also essential to wear appropriate footwear and clothing when hiking or working in snake-prone areas, such as closed-toe shoes, long pants, and gloves.

Using a flashlight and sticking to well-traveled trails can also help you avoid surprise encounters with snakes. In case of a snake bite, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Do not attempt to suck out the venom, cut the wound, or use a tourniquet, as these outdated methods can do more harm than good.

Interesting Non-venomous Snake Species

While West Virginia’s venomous snakes, the Eastern Timber Rattlesnake and the Northern Copperhead, often receive attention due to their potential danger to humans, there are also several other fascinating snake species found in the state. Here are a few notable examples:

1. Eastern Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Also known as the Black Rat Snake, it is one of the largest snakes found in West Virginia, with individuals reaching up to 6 feet or more in length. They are known for their striking appearance, with glossy black scales, a white or yellow chin, and a pattern of light blotches on their back.

Eastern Rat Snakes are excellent climbers and are often found in wooded areas, where they prey on small mammals, birds, and eggs. They are known for their docile nature and are considered beneficial to humans due to their role in controlling rodent populations.

2. Eastern Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

This snake has vibrant colors and a distinctive banding pattern, which resembles the pattern of some venomous snakes. Eastern Milk Snakes have a base color of tan or light brown, with reddish-brown bands bordered by black or dark brown bands.

They are usually found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and grasslands, and feed on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Eastern Milk Snakes are known to emit a musky odor when threatened, and they are harmless to humans.

3. Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)

This non-venomous snake is commonly found in and around aquatic habitats, such as rivers, streams, and marshes, in West Virginia. Northern Water Snakes are known for their robust build, with dark-colored bodies that may be gray, brown, or reddish-brown, and a pattern of dark bands or blotches. They are excellent swimmers and feed on a diet of fish, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates. While they are not venomous, Northern Water Snakes may be defensive and may bite if they feel threatened, but their bite is not considered dangerous to humans.

4. Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis)

Known for its bright green coloration and slender build, it is a visually striking species. Smooth Green Snakes are usually found in grassy areas, meadows, and woodland clearings, where they feed on insects and spiders. They are known for their docile nature and are harmless to humans. Smooth Green Snakes are relatively uncommon in West Virginia and are considered a species of special concern in the state, as they are protected by law.

5. Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

Lastly, distinctive species with a black or dark brown body and a bright yellow, orange, or red ring around its neck. Ring-necked Snakes are usually found in wooded areas, where they feed on small snakes, insects, and amphibians.

They are secretive and nocturnal, often hiding under logs or rocks during the day. While they have mild venom that is not harmful to humans, Ring-necked Snakes are known for their timid nature and are not considered a threat to humans.

While you uncover the fascinating West Virginia venomous snakes, you may also want to expand your nature expeditions to a neighboring state; browse our guide to the Ohio Water Monsters.

Conclusion

These are just a few examples of the interesting and diverse snake species that can be found in West Virginia. Snakes play important roles in ecosystems as predators and are fascinating creatures that are worth appreciating from a safe distance in their natural habitats.

If you encounter a snake in the wild, it’s important to observe and appreciate it without disturbing or attempting to handle it, unless you are a trained professional.

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