spacer
Fishing & boating montage
spacer
County Guide - click for index
spacer
Regional Reports - click for index
spacer
Biologist Reports/Fisheries Management - click for index
spacer
spacer
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Amphibians & Reptiles
Much more information on our Amphibians & Reptiles page. More about snakes on our Snakes in PA page. Regulations in our Summary Book
spacer
SNAKES
1. What species of snakes are native or indigenous to PA?
2. Are water moccasins found in PA?
3. Do you need a permit to possess a timber rattlesnake or to keep one as a pet?
4. I heard that black rat snakes and copperheads are breeding and their offspring resemble the black rat snake but are as venomous as the copperhead. Is that true?
5. I would like to purchase/sell/possess a venomous exotic snake. Do I need a permit to possess such an animal?
6. What venomous species of snakes are found in PA?
7. How do I tell the difference between a venomous snake and a harmless one?
8. Can you determine the age of a rattlesnake by counting the rattles?
9. I saw a small black snake with an orange/yellow ring around the base of its head. What species of snake is it?
10. I have seen snakes in my yard. I heard placing ammonia or mothballs around the house/yard will keep the snakes away. Is this true?
11. Are there puff adders in PA and are they venomous?
12. I found some white oblong eggs around one to two inches in length in some mulch around the house. What will hatch from them and when?
13. Do baby/juvenile rattlesnakes have venom when they are first born?
14. How do I keep snakes away from my home and yard?
15. Where can I find pictures of snakes native to PA?
16. I found a dead timber rattlesnake lying on the road. Can I keep it?
17. I killed a timber rattlesnake on the porch of my camp. Can I get it mounted?
VENOMOUS SNAKE PERMITS
1. What are the new size restrictions on hunting timber rattlesnakes?
2. What are the possession limits and seasons to hunt timber rattlesnakes and northern copperheads?
3. Is there a size restriction on hunting northern copperheads?
4. I heard that you couldn’t hunt timber rattlesnakes on the South Mountain located in southcentral Pennsylvania, is this true?
 
VENOMOUS SNAKE PERMITS (cont.)
5. When are the report forms due for hunting timber rattlesnakes and copperheads?
6. When do I have to fill out a possession tag for a timber rattlesnake?
7. Is there a possession tag for northern copperheads?
8. How much does a venomous snake permit cost?
9. How do I obtain an application for the venomous snake permit?
10. Can I kill a timber rattlesnake or any snake with a firearm?
TURTLES
1. I bought a turtle from a pet store. I want to let the turtle go into a pond. Is that legal?
2. My child found a turtle and brought it home. Can we keep it?
3. The local pet store is selling baby turtles. Isn’t that illegal?
4. There’s a very large turtle in the mulch of my flower garden. What is it doing and how do I make it leave?
5. I found a turtle crossing the road, should I take it to a pet shop or nature center?
6. What are turtle hooks?
7. What turtles can I collect from the wild?
8. What turtles am I not allowed to collect from the wild?
9. I want to collect a snapping turtle for a pet/dinner, do I need a snapping turtle permit?
10. Who needs a snapping turtle permit?
11. Can I release my pet turtle into the wild?
SALE or PURCHASE of
REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS
1. Is it legal to buy/sell/own an alligator, cayman or crocodile in PA?
2. I want to propagate bullfrogs. Where do I purchase a permit?
3. I want to sell reptiles and amphibians. Do I need permit from the Fish and Boat Commission?
4. I want to catch timber rattlesnakes and copperheads and milk them so I can sell their venom. What permits do I need?
5. I caught a male and female hognose snake and they mated in captivity. Can I sell the offspring?
spacer
Don't see your question?
  • Please use the search box in the upper right corner of this page
  • Complete our web form to submit a question
FAQ INDEX
spacer
SNAKES
1. What species of snakes are native or indigenous to PA?
  There are 21 species of snakes native to Pennsylvania.
Venomous   Non Venomous    
  • Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
  • Northern Copperhead
  • Timber Rattlesnake
 
  • Black Racer
  • Black Rat Snake
  • Eastern Garter
  • Eastern Hognose Snake
  • Eastern King Snake
  • Eastern Milk Snake
  • Eastern Ribbon Snake
  • Eastern Worm Snake
  • Kirtland's Snake
 
  • Northern Brown Snake
  • Northern Ring-Neck Snake
  • Northern Water Snake
  • Queen Snake
  • Red-bellied Snake
  • Rough Green Snake
  • Short-head Garter
  • Smooth Earth Snake
  • Smooth Green Snake

Back to top

   
2. Are water moccasins found in PA?
  Water moccasins or cottonmouths are not native to PA. They are found primarily in the southern states. Their range only goes as far north as southern Virginia. There are only three venomous snakes native to PA; the northern copperhead, timber rattlesnake, and eastern massasauga rattlesnake.

Back to top

   
3. Do you need a permit to possess a timber rattlesnake or to keep one as a pet?
  It is legal to possess a live timber rattlesnake in Pennsylvania under certain circumstances. The person in possession of the snake would have to obtain a Venomous Snake Permit from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission prior to obtaining the snake. The snake would then have to be legally collected from the wild in Pennsylvania during the open season and in compliance with size and possession limits. The possession limit for timber rattlesnakes is one. This is the only way to legally acquire a timber rattlesnake in Pennsylvania.

A timber rattlesnake obtained from the wild in Pennsylvania without a permit would be illegal to possess. Timber rattlesnakes may not be imported into Pennsylvania from other states or countries. It is illegal to breed timber rattlesnakes (or most other native reptiles and amphibians) in captivity in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission does not recommend keeping venomous reptiles as pets.

Back to top

   
4. I heard that black rat snakes and copperheads are breeding and their offspring resemble the black rat snake but are as venomous as the copperhead. Is that true?
  No, that’s false. It is impossible for the black rat snake and copperhead to successfully breed. These two species of snakes have two different reproductive strategies. The copperhead give birth to live young encased in a sac while the black rat snake lays eggs which then incubate for two to three months. These two distinctively contrasting methods of reproduction make it impossible for these to species to breed.

Back to top

   
5. I would like to purchase/sell/possess a venomous exotic snake. Do I need a permit to possess such an animal?
  PA Fish and Boat Commission regulations only pertain to native species of PA. In other words, our regulations do not cover any species not found in PA. Therefore, you would not need a permit from our agency. However, you may want to contact you local municipal government to see if they have any ordinances in effect that regulate the possession of “dangerous animals” or exotic pets. Due to some recent high-profile cases in the news of non-native snake bites and snakes getting loose in neighborhoods additional municipalities are adding such laws.

Back to top

   
6. What venomous species of snakes are found in PA?
  There are three venomous species native to PA - Timber Rattlesnake, Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake and the Northern Copperhead. All three are pit vipers. Pit vipers have distinctive characteristics, which can separate them visually from the native nonvenomous species of snakes in PA. A complete list of PA snakes is listed in question 1.

Back to top

   
7. How do I tell the difference between a venomous snake and a harmless one?
  There are two main features on a venomous snake’s head, which can distinguish it from a nonvenomous snake. Keep in mind this only pertains to snakes native to PA. All three venomous snakes native to PA are pit vipers. Two facial characteristics common to all pit vipers are vertically elliptical (like a cat’s eyes in bright light) pupils and facial pits (indentations on the “cheeks” which aid in heat detection and locating prey). Facial pits are not found on nonvenomous snakes native to the commonwealth.

In addition, rattlesnakes have rattles or the remnants of rattles beginning at the base of the tail. The northern copperhead has a single row of scales on the underside of the tail between the anal opening and the tip of the tail. Our nonvenomous snakes have two rows of scales under the tail.

Our “Snakes in PA” page contains illustrations that show the differences....go to Snakes of PA.

Back to top

   
8. Can you determine the age of a rattlesnake by counting the rattles?
  No. A rattlesnake develops a new rattle on its tail every time the snake sheds its skin. A healthy snake can shed its skin 2-3 or more times per year, each time adding a rattle to its tail. There is no visual method used to determine the age of a rattlesnake.

Back to top

   
9. I saw a small black snake with an orange/yellow ring around the base of its head. What species of snake is it?
  The snake you encountered is a northern ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus). This nonvenomous snake can be found throughout Pennsylvania. Measuring 10-24 inches in length, the northern ringneck can be gray to black in color with a yellow or orange ring around its neck. The belly color will match that of the neck. This snake can be found resting under logs, stones and other debris. Ringneck snakes are one of the most common snakes to get into homes and basements. They are nonvenomous and harmless.

Back to top

   
10. I have seen snakes in my yard. I heard placing ammonia or mothballs around the house/yard will keep the snakes away. Is this true?
  Ammonia and mothballs are not an effective snake repellent. In fact, we know of no truly effective snake repellent that can be used safely without danger to humans and/or pets. If you would like tips on how to deter snakes from your home or yard read our “Snakes in Basements and Buildings” online article....go to the article.

Back to top

   
11. Are there puff adders in PA and are they venomous?
  When using the term “puff adder”, most herpetologists are referring to an African species. Some people, however, refer to the eastern hognose snake as a puff adder. The eastern hognose is a nonvenomous snake, which is easily identified by its upturned snout. It ranges from Somerset County in the southwest to Wayne County in the northeast with populations also found in the Lake Erie drainage. Its diet is primarily frogs and toads, but will also eat salamanders.

When threatened the hognose (although it is harmless) will flare its neck, inflate its body with air, hiss and may strike out toward the intruder. If this behavior fails to scare off the threat, it will "play dead," rolling over on its back remaining very still. If you would flip it on its belly, the hognose may roll over onto its back again, forgetting that it's "dead."

Back to top

   
12. I found some white oblong eggs around one to two inches in length in some mulch around the house. What will hatch from them and when?
  The eggs are probably those of a black rat snake, northern black racer or maybe an eastern milk snake. These species lay their eggs in mulch, sawdust piles or decaying vegetation where the decaying activity provides sufficient heat to incubate the eggs. Eggs may be laid during June or July and will hatch in six to eight weeks.

Once these eggs are laid, they should not be moved. Moving the eggs from their original orientation will affect their ability to hatch. Also, it is illegal to purposely damage or disrupt the nest or eggs of a reptile in PA. (Link to herp regs). The intent of the regulation is to aid in the reproductive success of PA’s native reptiles. These species are nonvenomous and are important rodent predators.

Back to top

   
13. Do baby/juvenile rattlesnakes have venom when they are first born?
  Yes. A neonate (newborn) rattlesnake possesses enough venom to subdue its prey and obtain its first meal.

Back to top

   
14. How do I keep snakes away from my home and yard?
  For tips on how to deter snakes from your home and/or yard please read our “Snakes in Basements and Buildings” online article....go to the article.

Back to top

   
15. Where can I find pictures of snakes native to PA?
  We have some photos of PA snakes at our....go to the photos.

Other websites have more photos, we list a few at the bottom of our Amphibians & Reptiles page....go to the page.

Back to top

   
16. I found a dead timber rattlesnake lying on the road. Can I keep it?
  A permit is required to hunt or possess a timber rattlesnake. The season for timber rattlesnakes runs from the second Saturday in June to July 31st. It is unlawful to possess a timber rattlesnake without a permit and a permit must be obtained prior to possessing a timber rattlesnake. Timber rattlesnakes found dead on the road during the closed season may not be retained and a permit will not be issued for their possession.

Back to top

   
17. I killed a timber rattlesnake on the porch of my camp. Can I get it mounted?
  PA Fish and Boat Commission regulations provide that a person may kill a venomous snake in defense of life and limb. This can be done regardless of the season. However, by law a person must report to the Commission in writing within 5 days, that such a killing occurred. Persons killing a venomous snake in defense of life and limb are not permitted to retain the snake. So, you would not be able to keep the snake and get it mounted.

Back to top

   
VENOMOUS SNAKE PERMITS
1. What are the new (2007) size restrictions on hunting timber rattlesnakes?
  The timber rattlesnake must be at least 42 inches in length, measured lengthwise along the dorsal surface from the snout to the tail, excluding the rattle, and must possess 21 or more subcaudal scales.

Back to top

   
2. What are the possession limits and seasons to hunt timber rattlesnakes and northern copperheads?
  The season to hunt both the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead is from the second Saturday in June to July 31.

The northern copperhead has an annual limit of 1. The timber rattlesnake has an annual limit of 1 but the snake must be at least 42 inches in length, measured lengthwise along the dorsal surface from the snout to tail, excluding the rattle, and must possess 21 or more subcaudal scales. Subcaudal scales are large flat scales that are located on the rear ventral portion (underside) of a timber rattlesnake between the vent (anal scale) and the base of the rattle. Males have 21 or more subcaudal scales, females have less than 21 subcaudal scales.

Back to top

   
3. Is there a size restriction on hunting northern copperheads?
  No, at this time, there is no size restriction on northern copperheads.

Back to top

   
4. I heard that you couldn’t hunt timber rattlesnakes on the South Mountain located in southcentral Pennsylvania, is this true?
  It is unlawful for a person to hunt, take, catch, or kill timber rattlesnakes west of Route 15 and south of Interstate 81 to the Maryland line where there is no open season. Thus, hunting timber rattlesnakes is prohibited on the South Mountain.

Back to top

   
5. When are the report forms due for hunting timber rattlesnakes and copperheads?
  Within 10 business days following the capture or kill of a timber rattlesnake and/or a copperhead. If no snake is captured or killed, then 10 days of the conclusion of the season (August 10 of the permit year).

Back to top

   
6. When do I have to fill out a possession tag for a timber rattlesnake?
  Once you take, catch, kill or possess a timber rattlesnake, you must immediately complete the possession tag that is attached to your permit and detach the tag from the permit in the field.

The possession tag must be kept in a safe location so that it can be presented along with the timber rattlesnake to which it pertains upon the request of an officer authorized to enforce the code.

Back to top

   
7. Is there a possession tag for northern copperheads?
 

No. While a venomous snake permit is needed to collect a copperhead, a possession tag is only for timber rattlesnakes.

Back to top

   
8. How much does a venomous snake permit cost?
  The fee for a venomous snake permit is $50 for non-residents and $25 for residents. The permit allows one to take, capture, or kill a timber rattlesnake and a northern copperhead. It does not apply to the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, which is listed as a state endangered species.

Back to top

   
9. How do I obtain an application for the venomous snake permit?
  You can obtain a permit application online....go to the form.

Back to top

   
10. Can I kill a timber rattlesnake or any snake with a firearm?
  No, it is now unlawful to take, catch, or kill a reptile or amphibian through the use of a firearm.

Back to top

   
TURTLES
1. I bought a turtle from a pet store. I want to let the turtle go into a pond. Is that legal?
  Except for common snapping turtles, it is unlawful to take any reptile or amphibian from the wild in PA for sale, trade or barter. Therefore, all legally sold pet turtles cannot have been taken from the wild in PA. Thus, releasing a turtle obtained form a pet store would mean that you were releasing a species or individual that does not belong in the wilds of our Commonwealth. It is also illegal to release non-native species into the wild in PA.

Non-native species, which have been released into PA and have become nuisances. They compete with native species for habitat; food resources, nest sites, etc., often out-competing the native species. For example, red-eared slider turtles are not native to PA. These turtles were widely purchased in pet stores throughout the state especially during the 1960s and 1970s. Once the owners no longer desired these turtles as pets they released them into ponds, wetlands or streams. Presently, red-eared sliders have established populations in southeastern PA and are competing many of our native turtles for habitat and food, including the PA threatened red-bellied turtle.

Back to top

   
2. My child found a turtle and brought it home. Can we keep it?
 

As of Jan. 1, 2007, a possession permit is required to possess a live reptile or amphibian that is in compliance with possession limits in effect up to Dec. 31, 2006, but not in compliance with possession limits in effect on Jan. 1, 2007. This is required for continued possession for the remainder of the reptile or amphibian’s life. This is a one-time permit and must be submitted no later than June 30, 2007.

See the Reptiles and Ampbibians section of the PA Summary Book for complete regulations...view regulations.

Back to top

   
3. The local pet store is selling baby turtles. Isn’t that illegal?
  There are federal regulations in effect that pertain to the sale of turtles with shell lengths of less than four (4) inches. With some exceptions, turtles offered for sale are supposed to have shell length greater than four inches. These regulations were created a number of years ago to address concerns that small children, who may acquire these turtles as pets might put them into their mouths and contract Salmonellosis. Salmonella bacteria can sometimes be found on turtles that have been kept in captivity. The US Food and Drug Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service can enforce these federal regulations. The Fish and Boat Commission does not have authority to enforce these regulations.

Back to top

   
4. There’s a very large turtle in the mulch of my flower garden. What is it doing and how do I make it leave?
  During May and June, snapping turtles leave the lakes, rivers and wetlands and go onto land in search of suitable locations to lay their eggs. Railroad grades, roadsides, sand traps at golf courses, and mulched flower beds are all places where nesting may occur. Successful sites will be in full or almost-full sunlight and the soil media is usually dark to absorb the heat needed for proper incubation. Female snapping turtles often move on rainy nights and may still be found nesting during the early morning hours. When they are finished with egg laying, they will leave to return to the water. Thus, if a turtle is encountered in the garden it will no doubt leave on its own within a few hours. If left alone, they will finish egg-laying more quickly than if bothered. It is not advisable to attempt to remove such a turtle as they may become agitated if they are interrupted or threatened.

After the eggs are laid, the female does not return to the nest. Many nests (3 out of 4) are preyed upon by foxes, raccoons, and skunks soon after the eggs are laid. Incubation takes between 60 and 90 days depending on the air and soil temperatures. The hatchlings typically emerge from the nest between mid-August and mid-September and head towards water. Under Fish and Boat Commission regulations, it is unlawful to disturb the nest or eggs of a reptile. Moving eggs after they have been deposited in the nest can prevent the eggs from hatching.

Back to top

   
5. I found a turtle crossing the road, should I take it to a pet shop or nature center?
  No. If you see a turtle crossing a road and want to help it, check carefully to make sure it is safe for you to enter the roadway, and then move the turtle across the road in the direction it was traveling. Putting a turtle on the side of the road it was coming from will only cause it to re-enter the roadway. They have strong homing instincts and it will no doubt continue its efforts to cross the road. Turtles seen on roads should not be picked up to take to a nature center or pet shop. Turtles taken from their native habitat often cannot be released to the wild because their exact origins of capture are usually not conveyed to persons at the receiving end. For a number of reasons both ecological and legal, these turtles may then become destined for a life in captivity. Thus, if you want to help a turtle cross the road, do so but don’t take him/her from the site.

Back to top

   
6. What are turtle hooks?
 

Turtle hooks are the only hooks a person is allowed to use to take, catch, or kill a turtle with. These turtle hooks must be at least 3.5 inches in total length with at least a 1-inch space between the point and shank.

Back to top

   
7. What turtles can I collect from the wild?
 

You are allowed to possess one of each native species not listed as threatened/endangered or as a species of concern.

Back to top

   
8. What turtles am I not allowed to collect from the wild?
  The following turtles are protected (no take, catch or kill) in Pennsylvania:
  • Bog turtle (endangered)
  • Red-bellied turtle (threatened)
  • Blanding’s turtle (candidate, species of concern)
  • Spotted turtle (species of concern)
  • Wood turtle (species of concern)
  • Eastern box turtle (species of concern)

Back to top

   
9. I want to collect a snapping turtle for a pet/dinner, do I need a snapping turtle permit?
  You do not need a snapping turtle permit if you are collecting a snapping turtle for your own personal use. As long as you have a valid PA fishing license, an individual can collect 15 daily and have a total of 30 in their possession.

 

Back to top

   
10. Who needs a snapping turtle permit?
  Anyone wishing to sell, barter, or trade snapping turtles or their parts needs to have a snapping turtle permit. These permits are $50 for residents per year and $100 for non-residents per year. This permit must be possessed at all times while hunting for turtles. You can obtain a permit application online....go to the form.

Back to top

   
11. Can I release my pet turtle into the wild?
  It is illegal to place into the wild any species that are not native to Pennsylvania. It is also illegal to release any native species of turtles taken from Pennsylvania unless:
  1. The turtle is released at the point of capture.
  2. The turtle is released within 30 days of capture.
  3. The turtle is released between May 1 and September 31.
  4. The turtle is in good health.
  5. The turtle was not in contact with other reptiles or amphibians while in captivity.

Back to top

   
SALE or PURCHASE of REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS
1. Is it legal to buy/sell/own an alligator, cayman or crocodile in PA?
  The PA Fish and Boat Commission’s regulations do not regulate possession of non-native species of reptiles and amphibians. So long as these animals are not released into the wild, there are no state regulations regarding their ownership. Likewise, there is no state permit required to possess these animals. However, there may be local municipal ordinances, which regulate the ownership of “dangerous animals” and you should check with your local government before purchasing such an animal.

Back to top

   
2. I want to propagate bullfrogs. Where do I purchase a permit?
   The Department of Agriculture is responsible for issuing permits for fish propagation, which in this case also includes bullfrogs and green frogs. You can reach the Department of Agriculture at (717) 772-2852, their website is www.pda.state.pa.us.

Back to top

   
3. I want to sell reptiles and amphibians. Do I need permit from the Fish and Boat Commission?
  Our regulations require that with the exception of common snapping turtles, no reptile or amphibian may be taken from the wild in PA for sale, trade or barter. To sell a snapping turtle, you would need to have a commercial snapping turtle permit (link to permit) Also, it is unlawful to possess, import or export species listed as endangered or threatened by the Fish and Boat Commission.

Back to top

   
4. I want to catch timber rattlesnakes and copperheads and milk them so I can sell their venom. What permits do I need?
  It is unlawful to offer for sale, trade or barter reptiles and amphibians (except snapping turtles) taken from the wild in PA. This includes the animals alive or dead, whole or in parts including eggs or any lifestage. Venom is a “part.” Thus, it is unlawful to milk our native snakes and sell the venom.

Back to top

   
5. I caught a male and female hognose snake and they mated in captivity. Can I sell the offspring?
  No. See also question number 3. The purpose of our regulations regarding the sale of reptiles and amphibians is to minimize exploitation of wild populations by eliminating a profit motive. Catching gravid females and/or captive breeding of wild caught specimens to produced young for sale goes against our philosophy of not permitting the commercial use of these species.

Back to top

   
spacer
Still didn't find the infomation you're looking for?
  • Please use the search box in the upper right corner of this page
  • Complete our web form to submit a question
spacer
FAQ INDEX
spacer
Loading
Frequently asked questions
bulletAmphibians & reptiles
bulletBoating
bulletBoat reg/titling
bulletBoating safety
bulletFishing
bulletFishing licenses
bulletPond management
bulletPublic access
bulletWebsite
spacer
bulletFAQ INDEX
spacer
 
Bottom navigation bar
Copyright Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
click for Commonwealth of PA website click for list of PA state agencies click for PA online services Get your fishing license Register/title a boat Web Policies Site Map Contact Us PFBC Home Page