If you’re going to Pennsylvania for some snake site-seeing, I have you covered.
Today, we will discuss the 10 black snake species roaming throughout PA and covering a wide range of habitats.
Without further ado, let’s get right in!
Eastern Black Snake (Pantherophis Alleghaniensis)
This one comes in several colors, aside from the intense tar-like black. Some specimens are dark blue and grey and even mixed with a black dorsal area and a white underbelly.
- Habitat – The Eastern black snake is present in several different habitats, including forests, open grass fields, and swamps. It also reaches urban and suburban areas but prefers to dwell near different water sources like creeks, rivers, or ponds.
- Diet – The snake is carnivorous and prefers to consume small mammals, lizards, and birds. It can also eat insects if its usual foods aren’t available.
- Venom – The Eastern black snake is non-venomous.
- Lifespan – This species can live up to 15 years in the wild, although the lifespan varies on numerous factors, like predation, human encounters, disease, diet, etc.
- Adult size – This snake can grow up to 3-4 feet under ideal conditions.
- Behavior – Eastern black snakes qualify as diurnal animals, as they perform their main activities during the daytime. But they can also become active at night, depending on the situation. Especially if they can’t find food during the day. Otherwise, the snake is timid and prefers to avoid human contact as much as possible.
- Conservation – The Eastern black snake is not threatened or endangered. Actually, the snake is fairly common in Pennsylvania and other areas that meet the reptile’s living conditions. Despite being harmless to humans, many Eastern black snakes are still killed out of ignorance and fear.
Northern Black Racer (Coluber Constrictor)
This species is larger than the previous one and showcases a similar appearance, although not identical.
This species is widely spread throughout the Eastern US, making them one of the most common reptiles on the American continent.
- Habitat – The Northern black racer prefers humid regions around marshes and forests, preferably around some bodies of water. They can also reach human settlements in search of food and shelter.
- Diet – This snake is a carnivorous predator that can consume a variety of prey. These include mammals, birds, lizards, amphibians, insects, and even venomous snakes.
- Venom – This is a non-venomous species that poses no threat to humans.
- Lifespan – The snake’s lifespan varies between 10 and 20 years in its natural habitat, depending on the environmental conditions, predation avoidance, genetics, and many other variables.
- Adult size – The typical Northern black racer can reach 5-6 feet as an adult.
- Behavior – The snake is typically active during the day but can also show some nighttime activity, depending on the circumstances. Expect to find the snake primarily in trees and hiding in the vegetation, hiding from predators and setting ambushes for its prey. This reptile is non-aggressive and prefers to flee when encountering humans.
- Conservation – The Northern black racer is a widespread snake with stable conservation status.
Black Rat Snake (Pantherophis Obsoletus)
The black rat snake is another interesting arboreal species showcasing several color variations.
The typical snake is black with a white underbelly, but many specimens display subtle color variations like grey and dark blue.
- Habitat – The main habitat comprises swamps, forests, and rocky environments, including human settlements. These snakes are good climbers, so it’s not uncommon for humans to find them in their attic in search of feeding opportunities.
- Diet – As the name suggests, this species prefers to consume rodents like mice and rats but will settle for anything else along the way. This includes birds, smaller reptiles, and even eggs if they can find any.
- Venom – The black rat snake is a non-venomous species.
- Lifespan – This species usually lives up to 10-12 years, although the average is closer to 6.
- Adult size – The maximum size sits between 6-8 feet, but most snakes won’t grow past 5-6 in general. Some extreme exceptions exist as well, with some reporting black rat snakes as large as 10 feet.
- Behavior – Black rat snakes are agile reptiles. They can climb virtually everywhere in search of food and are extremely effective hunters. This makes them prized assets in the fight against pests like rats and mice, especially around greeneries and other points of interest for rodents. Black rat snakes are not aggressive and will flee when encountering humans.
- Conservation – The black rat snake population is stable throughout the Eastern and Central US, proving the snake’s adaptability and resilience.
Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon Platirhinos)
This species diverges from the article’s norm due to its unusual appearance. The typical hognose snake comes with a flat and wide head, considerably disproportionate compared to its body.
Interestingly, some specimens are black, but most are not. These snakes come in a multitude of colors and patterns, including mixes of red, brown, yellow, orange, etc.
- Habitat – The snake inhabits various dry environments like sandy dunes, grasslands, and rocky regions throughout the eastern US and all the way to Texas.
- Diet – As a carnivorous, the Eastern hognose snake prefers to hunt amphibians, other snakes and reptiles, mammals, and insects, if nothing else is available. They are effective and silent hunters, thanks to their ability to easily traverse rugged terrain; their flat bodies are great for this purpose.
- Venom – This is a non-venomous species.
- Lifespan – Hognose snakes can live up to 20 years in the wild, although they’re more likely to stay under the 15-year mark.
- Adult size – Hognose snakes are smaller than what you’re used to. Most specimens won’t go over 2 feet, with some being capable of reaching 3 feet max.
- Behavior – Hognose snakes are timid and resort to burrowing to protect themselves from predators and evade dangers. These are diurnal animals to remain in hiding during nighttime. They are not aggressive towards humans but will resort to a variety of defensive mechanisms when feeling threatened. These include inflating their bodies to seem larger and even playing dead.
- Conservation – Hognose snakes qualify as protected in many states and have achieved the rank of ‘special concern’ in others due to their dwindling habitats. The main threats include human activity, habitat fragmentation, and intensive pet trade.
Eastern Milk Snake (Lampropeltis Triangulum)
This is another species that doesn’t fit the general profile we’ve established in today’s article. Some Eastern milk snakes are black with white stripes, but most specimens are brightly colored.
The standard pattern consists of color blotches covering the entire body surface. Expect colors like brown, red, orange, yellow, and white.
- Habitat – The standard habitat includes grasslands, woodlands, and rich fields with a variety of hiding areas. These protect the snake from predators, especially birds of prey that can detect the snake’s vibrant colors from above.
- Diet – The snake is carnivorous, feeding primarily on smaller rodents and reptiles. As an opportunistic eater, the milk snake can consume anything it can catch, including other snakes and birds.
- Venom – This is a non-venomous species, posing no direct threat to humans.
- Lifespan – The milk snake only lives between 3 and 5 years in the wild, but up to 20 years in captivity.
- Adult size – Milk snakes typically grow up to 3-4 feet, with the maximum size being 5 feet. Adults can weigh between 3 and 5 pounds.
- Behavior – Milk snakes are timid and reclusive and prefer to flee when encountering humans. They can flatten their heads when threatened and even shake their tails, which vibrate, producing a specific hiss sound. This is just for show, though, as they don’t pose any real danger.
- Conservation – The conservation status is stable all around. Milk snakes are adaptable reptiles that have learned to live with humans to a point. Their habitat can experience fragmentation due to human activity in some states and areas, but this is not a generalized issue.
Eastern Coachwhip (Masticophis Flagellum)
The Eastern coachwhip is another interesting species with a peculiar and unusual appearance. The snake’s name comes from its thin neck and tail, contrasting with the snake’s thicker midsection.
Most specimens are brown, with about 30% of their bodies being black (the frontal area that also includes the head.) Some specimens only have one dominant color, like, light brown or grey.
- Habitat – The snake’s habitat spreads throughout Texas, Eastern US, and Canada and includes woodlands, prairies, and rocky regions. The snake uses the environment to navigate in search of prey and protect itself from predators. The bland coloring makes the snake harder to detect, especially from above.
- Diet – The Eastern coachwhip prefers small rodents as main courses but can adapt to whatever it can find. Small birds, reptiles, and even amphibians and insects are also part of the menu.
- Venom – This species is non-venomous, which you should be able to tell right away, thanks to the snake’s visible round pupils.
- Lifespan – Coachwhips can live up to 10-12 years in good condition, with some specimens going past that threshold.
- Adult size – This species can reach 6-8 feet, sometimes even 10, in the right conditions. The snake is fairly long, which contributes to its whip-like appearance.
- Behavior – These are agile and quick snakes that are most active during the daytime. Although they are generally timid, these snakes are feistier than you might expect. They don’t shy away from attacking and biting when threatened or cornered, even though their bites are harmless.
- Conservation – Coachwhip populations are stable, and the snake faces no immediate threats. Public education regarding the species is always welcome, considering these snakes play a critical role in their ecosystem; coachwhips feed primarily on pests like small rodents and insects.
Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis Sirtalis)
The Eastern garter snake is highly recognizable thanks to its trademark longitudinal bands.
Some specimens are black or dark grey with a white or yellow band traversing the back from head to tail.
Two other sidebands may be visible in adult snakes, one on each side of the body, following the same pattern. Some specimens are more brightly colored, exhibiting red, yellow, brown, or shades of green.
- Habitat – This species is more common in areas with grasslands, open fields, forests with moderate vegetation, and near various water sources. These provide the snake with adequate cover and feeding opportunities. The species is more common in the Easter regions of the US and Canada, but can also be found in Texas and adjacent regions.
- Diet – The garter snake has a varied diet, which includes food items like amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. It can also consume larger insects in case of need, especially when young.
- Venom – Garter snakes are non-venomous, so they don’t pose any real danger to humans.
- Lifespan – This species has a shorter lifespan than you would expect, with most specimens only reaching up to 4-6 years. Some can reach 8 years in ideal conditions, but that’s rare.
- Adult size – Garter snakes usually grow up to 2-3 feet, with some even reaching 4 feet.
- Behavior – This is a shy animal that prefers to flee when threatened or when encountering humans. These snakes are known to produce a foul odor when in a state of distress, designed to deter predators and other animals that may take an interest in the reptile. The Eastern garter snake is among one of the first species to become active during spring after hibernation.
- Conservation – The population of garter snakes is stable throughout the reptile’s native habitat. Human activity may pose a danger in the future, though, which is why efforts are still being made to minimize the impact of human presence on the snake’s habitat.
Northern Water Snake (Nerodia Sipedon)
The Northern water snake is also widely spread throughout North US and Canada, especially in the central and eastern sides. The snake is rarely black, despite it reaching today’s list, but rather lighter in appearance.
Most specimens exhibit an earthy color, often with banded patterns. The snake has a muscular body with a small head.
- Habitat – To stay true to its name, the water snake inhabits various bodies of water like marshes, rivers, and lakes.
- Diet – The snake’s diet consists primarily of water-specific creatures like amphibians, crustaceans, other water reptiles, and fish. Very rarely, the snake will hunt land animals that come close to its main dwelling area.
- Venom – This is also a non-venomous species.
- Lifespan – The Northern water snake can reach 8 to 10 years in the wild.
- Adult size – Most water snakes won’t grow past 3-4 feet, although some can reach 5 feet with a good diet and a bit of luck.
- Behavior – Water snakes are diurnal animals that spend their nights in cover to rest and find protection against predators. They are very good swimmers and can move unseen in their habitat. They don’t attack humans and prefer to flee and hide when threatened. When cornered, the snake may exude a foul odor and even attack; the bite is harmless against humans.
- Conservation – Northern water snake populations are generally stable but can exhibit local imbalances due to various human-related factors. Among the standard threats like habitat loss and fragmentation, Northern water snakes also face ‘discrimination’ due to people mistaking them for venomous species.
Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus Horridus)
Say hello to the first venomous entry on today’s list. The timber rattlesnake is an iconic US snake with a mean look and even meaner behavior.
The typical timber rattlesnake is spotted with colors ranging from black to white, yellow, and earthy brown. There are no full-black specimens.
- Habitat – This species prefers to dwell near water sources, where it spends its time hunting and finding protection from potential predators. The snake is also present in woodlands and rocky ecosystems provided a water source is nearby.
- Diet – The diet is typical for a carnivorous snake, including small mammals, lizards, snakes, birds, and amphibians.
- Venom – This species’ venom is hemotoxic but not very potent. The snake’s bite can produce local inflammation, pain, and mild bleeding, but it’s unlikely to be fatal. Even so, you should always look for immediate medical assistance to prevent the risk of complications.
- Lifespan – Timber rattlesnakes have a very long lifespan in the wild, capable of reaching up to 20 or even 30 years in good conditions. Many specimens can go above that in some cases.
- Adult size – The typical timber rattlesnake can reach 3-5 feet, but older snakes can even reach 6 feet in some cases.
- Behavior – Timber rattlesnakes aren’t particularly aggressive, but they’re not quite shy, either. They will bite if cornered, but they prefer to save their venom reserves and flee if possible. These snakes are primarily diurnal but can change their day/night cycle depending on the season. These rattlesnakes can actually exhibit nocturnal activity during the more soaring summer days when day hunting comes with the risk of overheating.
- Conservation – The timber rattlesnake ranks as vulnerable and is protected under the law in many states. The primary threats include human activity and habitat fragmentation, causing the snake to qualify as threatened in some regions and endangered in others.
Queen Snake (Regina Septemvittata)
The queen snake draws its name from its beautiful scales covering the entire body and giving the snake a pearly look.
The head is also plated with shiny scales meant to provide extra protection. The snake is typically black with some variation, including white underbellies and different color gradients.
Some specimens are light brown with white side bands stretching across the entire body.
- Habitat – The snake’s habitat includes regions in the Eastern US and Canada, as well as Ontario, Georgia, and Texas. You can find the reptile roaming the local marshes, woodlands, and fields located in the vicinity of larger water sources.
- Diet – Queen snakes have a more specialized diet, focusing primarily on mussels, snails, and freshly molted crayfish whose exoskeletons haven’t hardened yet. They can also hunt tadpoles and small fish whenever given the opportunity.
- Venom – Queen snakes are not venomous.
- Lifespan – This species can live between 5 and 10 years in the wild and more than 20 years in captivity.
- Adult size – Queen snakes are relatively small, only reaching 2-3 feet and weighing up to 2 pounds.
- Behavior – These snakes are diurnal and non-combative in general. They prefer to run in the face of danger but can exhibit other defensive mechanisms as well if cornered. This includes emanating an unpleasant smell meant to deter anything with nostrils. It generally works.
- Conservation – Queen snakes have the status of ‘special concern,’ which means they are protected under the law in several states. Habitat fragmentation and destruction, natural predators, and the illegal pet trade are some of the causes that contribute to the species’ decline.
These 10 species stand proof of the US’s outstanding reptile variety. All of these species are beneficial to the ecosystem due to their feeding on pests like rodents, lizards, and even venomous snakes and insects.
Almost none of the snakes on today’s list pose any threat to humans, including the timber rattlesnake, which only possesses a mild venom.
So, next time you come across a black snake in your native Pennsylvania, thank it for its services and leave it be.