There are only two kinds of rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania, but that doesn’t mean rattlesnakes are rare in the state. These two rattlesnakes combined can be found in almost all parts of the state of PA, though they do tend to be relegated to wooded areas and upland forests.
There are 121 state parks throughout the state of Pennsylvania, giving these rattlesnakes a lot of land to find their preferred habitat. There are also about 11 mountain ranges throughout PA, also giving rattlesnakes that prefer to live in rocky areas more options to settle down!
Keep reading to learn more about the two most common types of rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania!
2 Types of Rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania
There are only two main rattlesnake species in all of Pennsylvania: the Timber Rattlesnake and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.
1. Timber Rattlesnake
Scientific Name: Crotalus horridus
Length: 36 – 60 in
The Timber Rattlesnake is one of the most common rattlesnakes in the United States. In the northeastern United States, it has the largest range out of all the other species of rattlesnakes, as it can be found in almost all states in this area.
In Pennsylvania specifically, Timber Rattlesnakes can be found throughout almost the entire state. Currently, these snakes are in 50 out of 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties. The only area of the state where these snakes normally aren’t found is along the western border and counties in the southeastern part of the state.
However, they can be located in all other areas of PA. They tend to be found in upland forests across Pennsylvania, as well as in crevices and rocky habitats.
Timber Rattlesnakes can get to be quite large snakes and are often considered to be the largest rattlesnakes in many states. They are venomous pit vipers, so they don’t necessarily look too different from other vipers in their family.
For example, their head is broad, flat, and triangular-shaped — just like many other North American vipers. Somewhat differently than other vipers, the Timber Rattlesnake’s head is normally a yellow, tan, or gray color. Their head also tends to have a dark line that runs from each eye to their jaw.
A Timber Rattlesnake’s body is also often yellow, tan, or gray, though it can also be brown. These snakes also have dark markings on their body. While these markings can be rounded towards their head, they normally turn into v-shaped markings on the rest of their body.
A brown stripe can also be found on a Timber Rattlesnake’s back. Finally, their tail is normally black, with a prominent rattle.
Their interesting body markings and colors actually help them easily blend into their surroundings — which they do often. These snakes will camouflage themselves as they await their prey, or if they’re trying to stay hidden when humans or other predators are around!
For the most part, Timber Rattlesnakes prefer to live in upland forests, or some type of rugged terrain. Often, these snakes can be found in dense woodlands that have rocky outcroppings.
Interestingly, pregnant female Timber Rattlesnakes often choose to move up to rocky ledges that are out in the open before giving birth, especially during the summer. These pregnant females will even take their time to bask in the sun before birthing!
The Timber Rattlesnake is present throughout almost all of the Eastern states of the United States. While some of these rattlesnakes can be found in the Midwest and the Central US, they aren’t ever really found in any Western states.
In the Midwest, though, these rattlesnakes tend to dwindle out. For example, in Indiana, the Timber Rattlesnake is really only found in one area. Many of these rattlesnakes also used to be found throughout many parts of Iowa, though it appears their numbers have definitely dwindled over time.
Their range also used to include Canada, including southern Ontario and southern Quebec. However, the Canadian government reported that these snakes were extirpated, though they are attempting to reintroduce the species to what was once their natural habitat in the country!
A Timber Rattlesnake’s diet mainly consists of small mammals. These mammals include deer mice, cotton rats, chipmunks, squirrels, voles, and cottontail rabbits. While they prefer to eat small mammals, as they’re normally easier to hunt, these snakes will also feed off of birds (mainly bobwhites and passerines) and frogs.
Timber Rattlesnakes will also hunt and eat garter snakes. While they can consume other rattlesnakes, their most common snake prey are garter snakes.
Juvenile Timber Rattlesnakes’ diets differ only slightly from an adult one. While they cannot successfully prey upon large cottontail rabbits, juvenile rattlesnakes will instead focus on shrews and deer mice.
Timber Rattlesnakes have very powerful venom. However, they actually aren’t considered to be one of the more aggressive snakes. Instead, these rattlesnakes are often shy and won’t ever attack unless they feel incredibly threatened.
They will rattle and shake in warning if humans get too close to them — and then will have no choice but to attack if their predator doesn’t go away. However, there aren’t a lot of reported Timber Rattlesnake bites, as these shy snakes will go out of their way to not deal with confrontation. Timber Rattlesnakes are therefore considered to be mild rattlesnakes.
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2. Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
Scientific Name: Sistrurus catenatus catenatus
Length: 20 – 30 in
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is found throughout various states in the Eastern and Central parts of the United States. In Pennsylvania specifically, these rattlesnakes are only found in the western part of the state, for the most part.
However, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake’s population in PA has dwindled quite a lot in the last 20 or so years. Currently in the state, only four of 19 populations of the snake still exist. They are considered to be a threatened species, so they definitely aren’t as seen as Timber Rattlesnakes are.
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes tend to be light gray with a different colored pattern on their body. These patterns can be a dark brown or black color and are often in a series of dark blotches. These snakes are considered to be small and stout rattlesnakes.
Juvenile Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes can be recognized by their small nature, as they will only be about nine inches. Instead of having a fully mature rattle, young snakes will also only have a yellow-tipped tail that looks like it has a button.
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake actually changes their preferred habitat depending on the season they’re in. In the spring, fall, and winter, these rattlesnakes tend to like living in poorly drained, low-lying, open habitats.
However, everything changes for them in the summer, as they prefer to live in drier habitats. They’ll move more upland in the summer and live in fields, meadows, or prairies.
Pregnant females will give birth around August to September. So, before birth (and before fall really sets in), these females can be found basking in the sun in dry, vegetated areas.
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake can be found in many eastern states in the US, including New York and Pennsylvania. In the midwest, they are mainly found in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri.
These snakes can also be found in Canada, mainly around southern Ontario.
Like many other rattlesnakes, Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes prefer to eat small mammals, mainly rodents such as mice and voles. However, they will also eat frogs, reptiles, other snakes, and invertebrates. These snakes have also been known to eat more frogs than usual in some states and populations!
Juvenile Eastern Massasaugas tend to stick to reptiles and other snakes, for the most part. Once they become fully mature snakes, they’ll switch to choosing to eat small mammals above all else.
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes can bite and inject venom into your body when they feel threatened, just as with any other type of viper or rattlesnake. However, these specific snakes are actually quite tame and are considered to be incredibly mild-mannered, especially when compared with other rattlesnakes.
Often, they won’t strike or attack humans unless they are being handled. Instead, these snakes will just slither off when humans get near them, or they will attempt to hide or blend into their surroundings until the threat is gone.
Their rattling is also very interesting, mainly because it’s not very loud. In fact, an adult’s rattle is often mistaken for a buzzing insect. You can’t even hear an Eastern Massasauga’s rattling from more than five feet away!