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There Are No Poisonous Snakes on Long Island

Wildlife expert shares recent encounters with snakes on Eastern Long Island.

There are no poisonous snakes on Long Island. For these under-appreciated and often-maligned creatures, it is best to start with this simple fact. From 1990 through 1999, scientists and volunteers searched for the presence of various snakes throughout New York as part of the New York State Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project. Their efforts documented 11 snake species on Long Island, none of which are poisonous.

In fact, one must consult records from a much earlier time to find any reference to poisonous snakes. A 1915 entry in the scientific journal Copeia explains that timber rattlesnakes were “formerly not uncommon in swamps and pine barrens of Long Island, but [are] now doubtless very rare. A fine specimen, collected about 30 years ago, is in the collection of the Long Island Historical Society. Another specimen, upon authentic information, was killed at Centre Islip in 1903 … There are no recent records.” It is safe to say that no poisonous snakes reside on Long Island anymore. Hopefully, this point will ease your worries the next time you come upon one of these animals.

Because it doesn’t happen too often, I am always thrilled to encounter a snake. In the past few weeks I’ve had a couple of chance meetings. On April 29 at the Arshamomaque Preserve in Southold, I heard some soft shuffling among the leaf litter as I walked the trails. Ground shuffling could be evidence of any variety of small creatures nearby, from box turtle to Eastern towhee to white-footed mouse to short-tailed shrew. In this instance, with some patience I was able to catch a few quick glimpses of a small striped snake, along with some unidentified flesh-colored “thing” thrashing about among the leaves. Creeping closer to figure out what I was looking at, it became clear that a common garter snake was struggling to capture and eat an earthworm. Here was a live example of a predator-prey interaction, something I do not stumble upon too often in nature.

The majority of snake encounters on Long Island are with garter snakes. While the species can reach lengths of 2 ½ feet or more, this individual was much smaller – perhaps 15 inches long. ’s education staff has had a number of exciting experiences with small snakes as part of our Summer Field Ecology Program. My strong preference, when observing any form of wildlife, is to view them through binoculars at a distance. I simply don’t want to disturb the animals. But it is difficult to pass up the chance to allow a child to gently handle a small snake. A child’s experience of seeing a snake up close, touching its scales, and watching its tongue flick back and forth could be the spark for a life-long interest in nature. So, over the past three years, when the infrequent opportunity came along, we have allowed for the gentle handling of small snakes – Northern ringneck, Eastern milk, and common garter snakes in the Long Pond Greenbelt in Sag Harbor, and an Eastern ribbon snake at the Grace Estate in East Hampton.

My second recent encounter, on May 7 in Calverton, was with a much larger snake. At least 3 feet long and beautifully banded, this Northern water snake was intent on catching the sun’s rays from the middle of River Road. Here again, my preference is to observe wildlife from afar, but in this case the animal was clearly in harm’s way. I stopped my car and tried to coax it to the side of the road; the snake was not interested. So I attempted to herd the creature to the roadside with a stick, which merely caused it to strike at the object. When two cars from the opposite direction passed within inches of the animal, I decided to take more drastic actions. With a large branch I swept the angry reptile off the road and continued it on its way into the adjacent woods. The snake clearly wasn’t pleased with me, but at least I gave it the opportunity to continue being displeased on future days.

In sharing these experiences, it is hard not to gain some appreciation for snakes. They are fascinating animals that play important roles in their natural environments. And lest you forget: there are no poisonous snakes on Long Island.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Patty Payne May 18, 2011 at 03:24 PM
I've been hearing about bobcat/panther sightings in East Hampton and North Fork. Any information about that?
Sandy Martocchia May 18, 2011 at 06:47 PM
This blog made me a VERY happy person.
Rebecca Hoey May 18, 2011 at 11:28 PM
Hi Steve, we met you a couple of years back when we fed Morton's chickadees(which was incredible). First, let me say that my daughter's very happy about the above news regarding the snakes--because now we can study these little guys at a closer range without worrying. Second, and I apologize for going off topic a bit--but I have a question. After moving out East last year we've become very interested in receiving some education in wildlife and even rescue, due to the abundance of wildlife that exists out here. I looked at the great programs you offer kids-but my girl is often in a wheelchair, and that probably wouldn't be feasible right now--any other ideas for us?? Finally--Nice job saving the snake!
Bruce May 20, 2011 at 10:28 PM
Doing the Long Pond Green Belt trail quite often, for the past 40 years, I will tell you what I have come across in the woods south of Sag Harbor. The author is correct, no poisonous snakes, but several other varieties, the garter snake the most common. If I do a hike around dusk, bats come out once in a while. Foxes have been seen several times. Also I saw an otter once. More recently, a snapping turtle off the old railroad spur, the diameter of a garbage can cover, and weighing approx. 30-40 pounds. The largest I have seen in this area. They will bite, trust me, I was bit in the arm once when I was about ten. They should not be approached too closely. Then, you have your ever present deer, and in the past few years wild turkeys, which are fun to watch. Actually, while hiking south fork trails, I would be more concerned about the deer ticks, poisonous spiders, jelly fish, and patches of poison ivy, than I would ever be, of the critters I mentioned in the first paragraph. For those interested in hiking, Mike Bottini 's, Trail Guide to the South Fork, is one of the best paperback trail guides around.
Luke Ormand May 21, 2011 at 06:48 PM
Patty, I'm an Environmental Analyst for the Town of Brookhaven and previously worked for the Town of Southampton (I also run several blogs including one on this site). I can tell you that any bobcat/panther (which are two separate species of large cat) sighting on the East End is either fictitious or the result of an escaped large cat, with my gut telling me it's fictitious. Bobcats and Panthers (aka Pumas aka Cougars) were once residents on Long Island but were extirpated quite some time ago (along with wolves and bears). Bobcats can still be found in upstate New York, however the Federal Government recently ruled the Eastern Cougar extinct. See this US Fish and Wildlife press release for more information: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar/newsreleasefinal.html Note that the Florida Panther is a separate subspecies and is still alive and (somewhat) well. So, when you're walking in the woods, fear not of poisonous snakes and man eating large cats!
Peggy Richards June 01, 2011 at 12:30 AM
i saw a roadkill bobcat in mastic beach near floyd estates when i was a kid - granted that was 45 years ago....
TTTT July 12, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Yup, that's the snake I saw in my neighbor's front yard .... we're by Hands Creek, in woods ... not sure if it was more scared of me or me of him ... we both scooted away from each other fast enough!
Zoe Strassfield July 20, 2011 at 07:10 PM
Phew. I'm relieved to read this! Like a certain fictional archeologist, I'm quite uncomfortable around snakes.
Steve Schott July 21, 2011 at 05:15 PM
While it is technically true that there are no dangerous venomous snakes on Long Island, there is one local snake that is venomous. The eastern hognose snake is venomous, but the venom is contained in fangs at the back of its mouth and is injected into prey that is being swallowed. This species is generally considered nonvenomous as it is extremely unlikely that a hognose would attempt to strike at a person. They respond to threats by attempting to look like a rattlesnake and when that fails, they play dead. Even without venom, some snakes can give a nasty bite and can be very aggressive when provoked.
Jimmyboy July 21, 2011 at 06:02 PM
Great article !!
highhatsize July 21, 2011 at 06:12 PM
One of my favorite memories as a runner is ducking off Old Meeting House Road in Quogue at the water tower. I had intended to take a pit stop and had positioned myself in front of a pile of dried brush about two feet high when I looked down and realized that there was a beautiful black racer about thirty inches in length draped motionlessly over the top of the nearest brush pile. He wasn't coiled but rather haphazardly draped back and forth as if he had been dropped like a length of cord. I stopped dead and watched him closely for about two minutes. Then, trying not to disturb him, I put one foot carefully back preparing to leave. I wasn't quiet enough. He poured himself through the brush like a stream of water. It was fascinating.
ginna meara November 03, 2011 at 10:37 PM
I was walking on Peconic Bay Blvd. In Laurel,last Sunday (October 30, 2011) at 10:30 am, and an animal that I thought was a small wolf crossed the street about 10 feet in front of me. I have gone on line to look at picture of wolves and foxes but what I saw did not seem to be either one of them. I came across some pictures of something called a chupacabre that seems to fit what i saw better. Not the weird ones that are half people half animal but the ones that resemble a wolf. I distinctly remember what I saw but I don't know what it was. It did stop and look at me but luckily it trotted into a woodsy area. I t was not a pretty animal. It was the color of a grayish tree bark. Its fur was about an inch long. It had a long tail with fur. It's face was a strange angular shape. It s ears stood straight up.
Dennis May 14, 2012 at 07:13 PM
I uncovered a ringneck snake today nice pic sent on his way very excited
Lorena Rivera May 17, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Lorena Rivera I have some snakes on my back yard how I go about getting rid off them?
Ralebird May 18, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Just get a mongoose.
Donna Yarrington June 09, 2012 at 11:54 PM
I have seen bobcats on long island twice, once a few years ago in oakdale and another in yapank about 8 years ago. John j foley had to call wild life rescue because a few of them were on the property, this was about 9 years ago. There definetly bobcats on long island.
ronnie July 08, 2012 at 01:13 PM
I almost ran over a 6 foot long jet black snake in manorville, someone told me it was a rat snake or a race snake
Michael Blake October 18, 2012 at 07:00 PM
I have a snake in my basement! Not for the first time. Michael B Noyac Sag Harbor
romi sloan June 23, 2013 at 09:55 AM
I just had this same conversation with my pool guys who believe they saw a copperhead recently. My friends dog was just bit by a copperhead in North Carolina and it was a scary several hours to see if he would pull through. What do you think? Could we have copperheads?
Howard Braff April 16, 2014 at 07:57 PM
Well, guess what? I just saw a BOBCAT roaming back and forth in the woods right behind my backyard. It DEFINITELY WAS a Bobcat. So somebody better reformulate their ideas that they're extinct on Long Island! They're BACK!

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