New England is home to only two venomous snakes: the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead. The status of each varies by state. Both species are considered endangered and protected in Massachusetts, so if you encounter one, you may not kill, capture or harass the snake. Neither species is considered aggressive, so if you stay aware when walking in areas where these snakes may live, you are unlikely to be bitten.
The copperhead snake is a pit viper that averages between 24 and 36 inches in length with a triangular, copper-colored head and elliptical pupils. They have pink-brown to grey-brown bodies with chestnut brown cross bands. They generally live in forested or rocky hills and can also be found in the wetlands, especially in the summer. Their habitat ranges from Florida north to Massachusetts and west to Nebraska.
Copperheads rely on their coloring to keep them camouflaged and protected. When approached they may slither away or remain motionless and hidden. Occasionally, they will vibrate their tales. Bites generally occur when someone accidentally steps on or touches the snake. Copperheads are capable of producing and injecting venom from birth. After biting, copperheads retreat and wait for venom to take effect before consuming prey. The venom works by destroying blood cells and causing hemorrhaging; however, bites in humans are rarely fatal.
The timber rattlesnake is also a pit viper with a triangular head. The snake's body length averages between 36 and 60 inches and is marked by V-shaped cross bands on a yellow, grey, dark brown or black body with a rattle at the tip of the tail. Timber rattlesnakes prefer to live in thick forests, but will seek rocky hillsides with sun exposure in the winter months. Timber rattlesnakes live from Florida up to the southern parts of Main and west to Texas and Minnesota.
Timber Rattlesnake Venom
Timber rattlesnakes typically retreat or hide from non-prey animals, including humans. If the snake feels threatened, it will vibrate its tail in warning and bite only as a last resort. Snakes do not always inject venom if the bite is intended as a warning; however, medical treatment is still advised. The venom contains two types of toxin: hemolytic toxin and neurotoxin. Timber rattlesnake bites are painful, but rarely fatal.
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