New Jersey has many amenities, including creeks, rivers, and marshes, not to mention gateway roads to the Big Apple. Outside the city limits is a variety of flora and fauna just waiting to be discovered. One such type of fauna is the water snake.
There are 22 species of snake native to New Jersey, but just one is a true water snake. Continue reading this article to learn more about the only water snake and other snakes in the state.
Water Snakes in New Jersey
For the purposes of this article, water snakes refer only to the true water snakes, which are members of the genus Nerodia. They spend most of their life in and around a water source. Water snakes live close to bodies of water and hunt for prey in and around aquatic environments.
The one species of water snake native to New Jersey is the Common Water Snake. This snake is also known as the Northern Water Snake, but they are the same species. Its favorite habitats are the edges of ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers.
Common Water Snake
- Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon
- Length: 30” to 48”
- Venomous: No
Common Water Snakes’ scales can be dark gray, olive green, and black, depending on where they live. Their belly scales are yellow or white. Due to e blotches and cross-bands on their backs, they are occasionally mistaken for venomous snakes like copperheads and water moccasins.
Unlike other species of snakes, Common Water Snakes are active during the day and at night. While its sense of sight is not very good compared to humans, it makes up for this with lightning-fast reflexes, a good sense of smell, and the ability to sense the smallest of vibrations.
Look for Common Water Snakes near a stream, river, or pond. They prefer to live in shallow water or along the shoreline. They live in the southern half of New Hampshire.
Cold winters don’t agree with this species of snake. It stays alive during the winter months by brumating, a form of hibernation. It either finds a vacant burrow or digs its own. While brumating, the snake only awakens to drink water.
Other Types of Snakes in New Jersey
The Common Water Snake’s coloration and markings often lead people to confuse it with other types of snakes. These nonvenomous snakes are often mistaken for water moccasins or copperheads, by people who don’t know any better. Both of which are venomous. The good news is that only one of them, the Northern Copperhead, is native to New Jersey.
There is however, one other type of venomous snake in New jersey, and that’s the timber rattlesnake. Some snakes may try to imitate a rattlesnake, but they can’t imitate the sound of the rattle. It’s unmistakeable.
1. Timber Rattlesnake
- Scientific name: Crotalus horridus
- Length: 36” to 60”
- Venomous: Yes
The Timber Rattlesnake is one of two venomous snakes native to New Jersey. It is a shy, dark-scaled snake that lives in the forests and mountains of the state. When approached, it waves its rattle. They have dark brown or black blotches along the sides of the body.
They live in thick forests with rough geological features like rocks, cliffs, and hillsides. Only pregnant females regularly bask in the open. These females take advantage of the warmth from the sun by sitting on exposed ledges of rock.
Timber Rattlesnakes are active in the northern part of the state as well as south-central New Jersey.
2. Northern Copperhead
- Scientific name: Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen
- Length: 24” to 36”
- Venomous: Yes
The Northern Copperhead is the second venomous snake native to New Jersey. Recognize it by a few simple clues. First, the stripes along its back are shaped like an hourglass if you view it from above.
Second, when examined from a side view, the stripes are triangular. Lastly, the snake has vertical pupils. We don’t recommend you get close enough to check!
Even though the Northern Copperhead is venomous, it’s very unlikely you’ll encounter one in the wild. They live only in the rock-strewn hilly terrain of Northern New Jersey and they are very afraid of humans. It stays hidden in forests, among rocks, and under fallen leaves. They eat mice, voles, and small birds.
3. Eastern Milk Snake
- Scientific name: Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
- Length: 24” to 52”
- Venomous: No
The Eastern Milk Snake is a common nonvenomous snake native to New Jersey. It’s easy to identify this snake, thanks to its dark orange scales with black and white stripes. Sometimes they can be mistaken for Northern Copperheads, but they lack the hourglass-shaped stripe.
Eastern Milk Snakes live throughout the ecosystems and habitats in New Jersey. You’re most likely to find one near substantial rodent populations. They are adaptable and don’t mind living nearby low-impact human infrastructure like barns and workshops.
4. Northern Black Racer
- Scientific name: Coluber constrictor constrictor
- Length: 34” to 77”
- Venomous: No
The Northern Black Racers are agile black snakes that can grow over five feet long. Adults are completely black with a light underbelly, but young snakes have dark blotches that fade as they grow to adulthood. All ages have a white chin.
These snakes live throughout the forests of New Jersey. They are adept hunters and prey on a variety of small animals, such as mice, voles, frogs, and songbirds.
Some adapt to suburban environments, especially when homeowners put out bird feeders and nesting boxes. They are moderately aggressive and will attack if they are cornered.
5. Black Rat Snake
- Scientific name: Elaphe obsoleta
- Length: 34” to 101”
- Venomous: No
The Black Rat Snake is one of the largest snakes in New Jersey. This snake can grow to be over eight feet long. Like the Northern Black Racer, it is also completely black. Tell the two species apart by examining their body shape.
Black Rat Snakes’ bodies resemble a loaf of bread because the sides and belly are flat. This snake is active throughout the entire state of New Jersey. They are not aggressive but they may startle hikers and hunters because of their habit of climbing trees.
Black Rat Snakes are beneficial rodent-eaters which usually stay hidden. They don’t mind suburban and rural buildings; they take advantage of them to hunt for rats and mice.