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Afraid of Snakes? A Hoosier’s Guide to the Poisonous Snakes of Indiana

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Some people have a fear of snakes. I am one of those people. Well, actually I’m not as much afraid of snakes as I am afraid of being bit by one. It’s sort of like being afraid of heights, but in reality it’s really about not wanting to fall…or maybe it’s simply a control issue. Who knows? I’m sure there are many psychological theories out there to explain why some people are afraid of snakes, heights, the dark, or whatever, but when it comes down it – who really cares why? I know that I am and if you are already cringing while you are reading this article, chances are you feel the same way.

This time of year people are starting to do more outdoor activities. In the past I’ve always approached activities like hiking, fishing, or just playing softball in the field behind the house with extreme snake caution. I don’t know why. I’ve never had a bad experience involving a snake, but I have always felt like there was an absolute risk of being attacked by one if I chose to have a little outdoor fun where those nasty suckers might be hanging out. And if I did happen to encounter one of these beasts, would it be poisonous?

So in an attempt to educate myself on the subject, and in doing so hoping to ease my fear of snakes (Ophidiophobia), I did a little research and quickly found out that I didn’t really have much to worry about.

Most of Indiana’s snakes are not poisonous. Actually there are only four venomous snakes in the state. All of them belong to the pit viper family. This means they have heat-sensing pits near the eyes to help them locate warm-blooded prey. Other snakes lack these sensory pits. So if it looks like your snake has four nostrils, it’s a pit viper. It is well advised to not get close enough to the snake to find out for sure. To be safe it is recommended never to get closer than the length of the snake.

Indiana’s poisonous snakes are all very heavy-bodied. They look “fat”. They also have broad, spade-shaped heads that are distinctly wider than their narrow necks. The heads of nonvenomous snakes are typically about the same width as their bodies. The pupils of the venomous snakes of Indiana are vertical slits rather than round. This does not hold true everywhere, but it does in Indiana.

Snakebites in Indiana are very rare. Most bites occur when people are trying to kill or handle snakes. Snakes will always flee an area rather than strike, unless they are harassed or startled. While the bite of a poisonous snake is dangerous, it is rarely fatal – more people die from bee stings and lightning strikes annually. Nevertheless, immediate medical attention should be sought in case a bite occurs.

The following information was obtained by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

The following is a list of Indiana’s four poisonous snakes:

1. The Northern Copperhead is Indiana’s most common poisonous snake. It is sometimes confused with the water snake. This nocturnal reptile lives in dry, rocky areas, but can also be found in old outbuildings and barns. The bite of this snake is extremely painful but rarely life threatening.

Close-up of a Copperhead
Getty Images/iStockphoto

2. The Timber Rattlesnake is endangered in Indiana. This grandfather of all poisonous snakes lives on dry forested hillsides and hibernates in dens. Colors and patterns vary from almost black to yellow with dark blotches.

Timber Rattlesnake
Getty Images/iStockphoto

3. The Massasauga Rattlesnake is a small-endangered pit viper found only in Northern Indiana in marshy, swampy areas and bogs. It may be found in woodlands and old fields on occasion. This “swamp rattler”, is generally mild mannered and rarely strikes unless stepped on.

rattlesnake with the X factor
Getty Images/iStockphoto

4. The Water Moccasin is not likely to be seen in Indiana. It is a distinctly southern species. One small population is known in the south central portion of the state. The water moccasin is recognized by the distinctive white mouth lining that it displays when it gets annoyed. The color patterns are easily confused with those of the northern or midland water snake.

Young Cottonmouth Ready to Strike!
Getty Images/iStockphoto

For more information on Indiana’s 31 species of snakes visit the Department of Natural Resources website:


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