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Snake identification help needed please.

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Can anyone help me and my son identify this snake? I have a photo (used a zoom lens so it's not as clear as if I actually approached the thing to shoot it) and can send it to you if that would help. I'm sending it to the park ranger, as he was unfamiliar with it and even with a field guide we all could not locate it. Found in state of DE, on trail at side of pond, not sunning itself--it looked ready to move when we reached it. Dark color, perhaps a dark gray or light black, looked silvery with sun shining on it, bronze/copper colored triangle on head, same color repeated along body in faint diamonds along sides. What got our attention and made us freeze for a bit was the rattle sound. The snake was on the trail. We stopped, not sure if we should double back or wait, waited still and quiet, and the snake slipped into the woods. We kept an eye on it, and when it was off the trail and heading away, we quietly walked past. And as we did, it turned towards us (in a coil of sorts, only 1 turn, we didn't wait to see more) and we heard a rattle as it lifted it head and looked at us. I was sure I heard wrong, but my son whispered "it rattled", and as we were just past it we now kept going and didn't breathe a sigh of relief until we hit camp again. We saw quite a few snakes--4 in 7.5 miles--but this one was at the end of the hike and kept us moving. We'd like to know what this is, but a park ranger and two field guides and an internet search later, we still don't have a clue. Any ideas or references? TIA!

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You're just up the road from me (VA) and the only 3 poisonous snakes we have are the timber rattler, copperhead and water moccasin. If it "rattled", that pretty much narrows it down.

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Keep in mind though that lots of non-venomous snakes, such as corn and fox snakes, "rattle" their tails when threatened even though they they don't actually have rattles on-board. They depend on their vibrating tails slapping against leaves and other ground litter to make the noise. The odds are that the snake you saw was harmless and, as always, best left alone.

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It could one of several snakes but without seeing a pic and from your description it sounds like a eastern diamondback rattlesnake. The exact shape of the head would be another clue.

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Geographic Range

The Eastern Diamondback lives in the coastal lowlands, ranging from southeast North Carolina to eastern Louisiana, and throughout Florida, including the Florida Keys. (Conant and Collins 1998)

 

I think Delaware is a little too far north...

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Scoutldr

 

Oh contrare, the eastern diamondback can be and has been found as far north as Maine,as well as in my homestate of Mass. Audubon Guidebook to North American Reptiles is my source.

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How big was it? If it was a young one the colors might not be so proounnced. How many native USA snakes have a diamond pattern on its flanks? I think I must vote with AkelaT and scoutldr. There are diamondbacks on MD Eastern Shore, why not in DE?

 

YiSafe S!.

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It's unlikely that it is an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake - the diamondback has very pronounced and edged diamonds along its back - the snake described here has faint diamonds along it's side. While the diamondback may rarely be found in Delaware, it is not considered endemic to the state. The only recognized native venomous snake in Delaware is the Northern Copperhead, found mainly in western Sussex and in the piedmont area north of Wilmington (source: Delaware DNR).

 

With the bronze/coppery color described here, and the faint diamond like markings on the side, this could be a copperhead - and they are known to use their tails in ground litter to create a rattling sound if they are feeling aggressive. However, this species isn't likely to turn around and make its rattle noise if it is heading away from you unless you decide to follow it - and, like rattlesnakes, when it "rattles" a strike is imminent - you are too close and if you don't move back immediately, you are about to get struck. They don't rattle to warn if you aren't within striking distance, and neither do rattlesnakes (another strike against the diamondback, too). Copperheads also don't usually have a diamond shape mark on their head.

 

Another possibility is a Black Rat Snake. It is fairly common in younger snakes of this species to have faint markings on its side which could look like diamonds or triangles. It certainly could be a light black color, but the marking on the head would be very unusual. Young Black Rat Snakes are often confused with another candidate: Corn Snake.

 

The Corn Snake is a fairly common snake with highly variable coloring. Typical specimens of this snake have reddish blotches on a base of gray, tan, yellow or orange. These are generally a very colorful snake, which is not the snake that seems to be described here, but some individuals of this snake, especially those around highlands, can be darker with fainter markings (like a young Black Rat Snake). This species happens to have a "spearpoint" marking on its head, which could look like a diamond - the rat snake doesn't have this marking.

 

Both the rat snake and the corn snake are known to use their tails to rattle ground litter and vegetation to scare off perceived threats - and, unlike rattlesnakes and copperheads, they will crawl off a trail for a bit, then turn and rattle - their goal is to make you think they're a rattlesnake.

 

One key here is that searches through field guides didn't come up with an obvious suspect. Had it been an Eastern Diamondback, or a Northern Copperhead, you would probably have had an "A-ha" moment as soon as you saw the picture. The same would go with a typical specimen of Corn Snake or Black Rat Snake.

 

Might I suggest another possibility: Corn and rat snakes are known to interbreed - what you may have found is a young corn/rat snake crossbreed with faint markings similar to a corn snake, including the spearpoint on the head on the black base of a rat snake.

 

I make these suggestions based purely on the description described - the picture might help (or might not) so take what you will from it.

 

CalicoPenn

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I have a plastic tub that the boys refer to as the book box. It if full of Field Books of all sorts, story books, Song books. I hit the Half/priced book stores and pick them up. They go everywhere with us. They are all in a container and the boys have access to them. There isn't a camping trip we have been on that they didn't get them out.

 

 

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I forgot. One way to identify poision snakes is to look at its head. Rattlers, Copperheads, and Moccasins all have heads that will look much like an arrowhead. Very triangular with almost pouches

just behind the eyes. The only other poisionous snake in the USA with out this is the Coral that they don't go that far north.

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bbng

 

Would love to see your picture...first comment-statistically speaking (without seeing the snake) -it's most likely some darker 'color phase' of a perfectly "harmless" (i.e. non poisonous)snake...(just more non poisonous snakes than poisonous)likely culprits have been already named but two of my favorite "mis-Identified" snakes are the Northern Brown water snake...(not always brown...has bpatterns and can be near black)particularly since it was near a pond, and the hog nose snake...in fact more poor brown water snakes have probably been killed as mis-identified "poisonous" snakes than any I can think of...not to say if you try to pick one up it won't really make you regret the decision...

Snakes are important to the ecology and really need to be left alone...give them a chance and they'll go away ('cept for a few bad attitude customers)...and you just look for a different route around them...As to the rattle...as said above- many snakes have learned to vibrate their tails to creat a rattle sound in the "ground litter" and leaves...then again just could have been a canebrake rattler (a sub species?) of eastern diamondback or a dark phase copperhead)

pic would help....

Anarchist

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The snake doesn't appear to be a rattler in spite of making the rattling sound. Both my son and I are stumped, but we ruled out Copperhead because this snake was long (about 3') but rather slim compared to the descriptions and photos we've seen, and also because the head had colorings compared to the Copperhead which is solid in color. As for the rattlers, they are simply too vivid in color and have a very pronounced head and eye shape compared to this one. The ranger got back to me but wasn't much help, saying it was most likely simply a black snake that rattled. I don't have a field guide for just snakes, so it may time to have and carry one (our backpacks are loaded already with wildflower, animal tracks, mammals, butterfly, and bird field guides--what's one more :)) Even if this was completely harmless, I still think it best that we stayed back and waited on it to move. The problem on the trail was that if we went right, we'd be in the pond; if we went left, it was a incline and full of poison ivy; going back was an option but it would mean over 7 miles of backtracking OR taking a chance of finding a new route that wasn't on the map; so we waited it out hanging back. My son tried to push past me when I froze when I spotted the snake several feet ahead; I put my arm out and he looked annoyed then spotted it. We'd like to go back there, but the next time, we'll review the trail map with the ranger to find out how we can step off it if we need to (there's really no place to go according to the map). We also know there is a section of trail that had 3 snakes; in 7.5 miles, 3 of 4 were seen in one small stretch of that trail. In checking the area out before going camping, I looked for snake and bear and other animal info; there wasn't any that made me think we needed to look out for anything venemous in the way of snakes. According to the ranger: it could be an old snake and therefore faded; it could be just prior to molting when colors are less distinct; it could have been transplanted in some way; regardless, it's best to leave it be.

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From the habitat you describe, and the description of the snake, it sounds like it could be your local sub-species of common water snake, they are dark with the vague kind of markings you describe. All snakes rattle their tails when disturbed, since they are frequently partially hidden in dry leaves etc, they will all make a rattling sound. All water snakes except the water moccasin are perfectly harmless.

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