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Q & A
Summer Snakes
Question
Is it my imagination or are am I seeing more snakes than normal lately? I live in a semi-rural area, so it's not that unusual to come across a snake now and then in the woods. But the last couple of weeks it seems like there have been more around, especially near my house and down by the local creek.
Answer
Your observations of local snake populations are probably right on. This doesn't mean there are more snakes, it just means they are being seen in different areas and at different times.

Many species of snakes common to Pennsylvania, such as eastern garter snakes and eastern milk snakes, frequent lowlands and grassy areas. During hot, dry weather - especially in the drought conditions like much of Pennsylvania often experiences in summers - even species that typically prefer forests and rocky hillsides (timber rattlesnakes and northern ringneck snakes, for example) begin to move toward valleys and stream bottoms.

Some people think this movement is prompted by a search for water. This explanation is only partially correct, however. The snakes themselves are not necessarily looking for sources of water, but the small animals (mice, chipmunks, toads, etc.) that snakes feed on are. The "additional" snakes you are seeing are merely following their food sources. As cooler fall temperatures arrive, theses snakes will gradually move back into the areas you are more accustomed to encountering them.

Although you have noticed snakes more frequently of late, you might be surprised to learn how many more snakes are actually around but you are not seeing. To combat excessive heat, many species of snakes at this time of year limit movement to the relative cool of the nighttime and therefore are rarely seen by most of us. Eastern kingsnakes and northern brown snakes are typically most active during the day are almost exclusively nocturnal during the hottest days of summer. The eastern worm snake deals with heat in a different way;  it burrows deep into the soil to stay cool.

In addition to seeing more snakes, you might also begin to see numbers of very small snakes. Young snakes are usually born or hatch in late summer or early fall. Snakes give birth in one of two ways. Species that lay eggs, such as the black rat snake, are termed "oviparous." Other species including queen snakes and northern water snakes, give birth to live young and are termed "ovoviviparous."

All snakes are an essential component of Pennsylvania's wildlife resources. Fear or negative attitudes about snakes often stem from a lack of knowledge of their habits and role in the ecosystem. A person's attitude about snakes appears to correlate to the relative nearness of a snake at any given time. For example, some people do not think twice about snakes until they show up in their backyard, shed or house. The majority of snakes appearing in these areas are nonvenomous, harmless and usually beneficial to man. Increased awareness of snakes and their habits usually leads to a new appreciation of them and their part in our world.

Visit the "Snakes in Pennsylvania" section of our web site for more information about snakes, or our amphibians & reptiles page for links to other snake pages.

Field guides and life history books are great tools for bridging gaps in knowledge. The book Pennsylvania Amphibians & Reptiles is published by the PFBC and is available for purchase online at the Outdoor Shop.

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