When you hear of venomous snakes in the United States, you may immediately associate them with Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Texas or Nevada, right? But New Jersey? Yes, it’s true, two types of venomous snakes reside in the Garden State.
Of the 22 species of snakes found in New Jersey, 2 are venomous. The Timber Rattler (Crotalus horridus) and the Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen). There is no need to panic, because snakes don’t have an innate desire to sink their hypodermic fangs into you. They are quite intelligent and know that biting an animal many times their own size is antagonistic and dangerous.
However, they will defend themselves if they feel threatened, and you approaching them is a good reason for them to feel threatened. Generally, snakes try to avoid any interaction with people. As long as you leave them alone, they will not introduce you to their fangs. Suddenly finding a complex toxin coursing through your arm or leg is definitely something you’re sure to wish you had avoided in hindsight.
Remember, always exercise caution when encountering a snake outdoors. Don’t get too close to identify it or make any attempt to handle it. Leave that to the experts!
In this ProSurvivalStrategies.com Guide, we will inform you of the following:
- What does a Timber Rattlesnake look like?
- Where are you most likely to encounter a Timber Rattlesnake in New Jersey?
- And much more!
Now that you are aware of the two species of venomous snakes in New Jersey, let’s take a closer look at these two serpents.
TIMBER RATTLESNAKE (Crotalus horridus)
What Does A Timber Rattlesnake Look Like?
The timber rattlesnake is a member of the family Viperidae and sub-family Crotalinae or pit vipers. This means they are equipped with two facial pits found midway between the nostrils and eyes on each side of the head. These two specialized heat receptors help them locate prey. The snake can judge the distance and size of its intended victim and aim the strike at the warmest part of the target.
In addition, it has a triangular-shaped head that accommodates the venom glands located at the back of the jaw. Its head is also noticeably wider than the body portion located directly behind it. These two features are not found on any non-venomous species of snakes in New Jersey.
Another crucial characteristic of this venomous snake is its color pattern. It has three different and distinct color phases.
Light phase - the background colors vary from brilliant to pale to brownish yellow.
Intermediate phase - the snake has shades of grays, blacks and white.
Darker Phase - at this stage, timber rattlers are almost completely black, revealing their skin patterns only from a close distance.
Like all rattlesnakes, its most distinguishing characteristic is its rattle. From tip to tail, it is composed of interlocking segments of modified scales (keratinized skin). When frightened or threatened, its tail makes a very clear and distinct rapid and crisp buzzing sound. This acts as a warning to predators. Hence the expression “Don’t tread on me”.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Timber Rattlesnake was used as a symbol during the American Revolution. In 1775, it featured at the center of the “Gadsden Flag.” The flag depicts a coiled and ready-to-strike Timber Rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
Like other members of the pit viper family, the timber rattlesnake has a large heavily-bodied appearance. Adults typically reach lengths of 2.5 to 5 feet. However, there have been reports of timber rattlesnakes growing up to 7 feet (2 meters long). Timber Rattlers have been known to weigh in at nearly 10 pounds. This is the largest venomous snake in New Jersey.
Where Are You Most Likely To Encounter A Timber Rattlesnake In New Jersey?
Timber rattlesnakes are found primarily in two portions of the Garden State. In Northern New Jersey, you are most likely to encounter one in the mountainous portions of Bergen, Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren Counties.
In the Northern portion of the state, dens are located on rocky hillsides where underground crevices extend below the frostline.
In Southern New Jersey, this venomous snake is located in the Pinelands region and nearby areas of Cumberland, Ocean, Burlington and Atlantic Counties according to the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.
In the Southern portion, Timber rattlers thrive in a different habitat. Their dens are usually located along streams in white cedar swamps. They cleverly use crevices among tree roots to access underground cavities just above the groundwater line.
These venomous snakes are commonly found in lowland thickets, high areas around rivers and floodplains, agricultural areas, deciduous forests and coniferous forests. Their diet consists of amphibians, birds, chipmunks, lizards, mice, moles, shrews, small rabbits and squirrels. They strike and release their prey, waiting until the venom has taken effect before eating them.
Keep in mind, the likelihood of being bitten is quite small. This species is generally docile and typically bites as a last resort. Its instincts are to avoid any confrontation by either retreating to cover or by hiding using its camouflage to blend into its surroundings.
As stated above, and it's worth repeating, if cornered or provoked, it will respond aggressively. However, it will forewarn you by rattling its tail to let you know it is getting agitated. So heed the warning, distance yourself and leave it alone!
However, there are instances where someone inadvertently steps on one and the snake bites.
What Type Of Venom Does A Timber Rattlesnake Have?
Timber rattlesnake venom is a hemotoxin. Hemotoxic venom alters your body’s ability to coagulate blood. Generally, when you are wounded, your blood will clot itself preventing you from bleeding to death.
However, hemotoxins in a timber rattlesnake’s venom prevents coagulation. It further reduces platelet numbers, making it extremely difficult for your body to close up the wound. It keeps the bite wound from healing and in severe cases internal hemorrhage and bleeding. This toxin also causes necrosis, or cell death. This may result in the skin around the bite appearing to be blackened.
A bite from a timber rattlesnake is a medical emergency and if left untreated can lead to death. Delayed or ineffective treatment can also result in a loss of a limb. If promptly treated, the bite is generally not fatal however, you will be left to some degree of permanent scarring.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Timber Rattlesnake Bite?
If you are bitten, the amount of venom injected by a timber rattlesnake (called envenomation) cannot be easily gauged. Symptoms may occur quickly or hours may pass before the worst effects manifest. Emergency medical technicians measure envenomation in stages determined by the amount of bruising and swelling around the fang marks and how quickly the bruising and swelling progresses.
Symptoms of a bite include the following:
- Pain and swelling in the affected limb.
- Bruising or discoloration around the bite.
- Numbness in the affected limb or face.
- Lip tingling.
- Lightheadedness or weakness.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Blurred vision.
- Difficulty breathing.
Quick medical attention is critical, and typical treatment requires immediate antivenom / antivenin to block and prevent further tissue destruction, nerve degeneration and blood clotting disorders associated with timber rattlesnake venom.
The Timber Rattlesnake is a venomous species you definitely want to be cognizant of when outdoors. They are so perfectly camouflaged and blend in with their surrounding environment. This serpent packs a nasty bite with venom that destroys tissue.
Now it's time to introduce you to New Jersey’s second venomous snake.
NORTHERN COPPERHEAD (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen)
What Does A Northern Copperhead Look Like?
Similar to the Timber Rattlesnake, the Copperhead is a member of the family Viperidae and sub-family Crotalinae or pit vipers. They have heat-sensing organs (or “pits”) located on the face and between the eyes and nostrils. These heat-sensing receptors enhance their ability to locate and detect prey. Once its victim is within range, the snake can judge its distance and size, even in low-light conditions. It strikes with precision aiming for the warmest part of the target.
This viper also has a triangular-shaped head that accommodates the venom glands located at the back of the jaw. Its head is also noticeably wider than the body portion located directly behind it.
DID YOU KNOW?
Agkistrodon is derived from the Greek word ancistron which means ”Fishhook”. This is in reference to the Cottonmouth’s recurved fangs.
Unlike the Timber Rattlesnake that has three different and distinct color phases, the Northern Copperhead is two shades of copper or reddish brown. Its triangular-shaped head is a solid copper color (hence its name Copperhead). They have an overall brownish coloration and a pattern of alternating light and dark bands or splotches. The bands on its body have a unique hourglass shape. This pattern provides the Copperhead with the perfect camouflage to conceal itself when it lies in leaf litter or up against rock.
When threatened, a Copperhead gives no warning signs and strikes almost immediately. In extremely rare occasions, it may violently vibrate its tail against vegetation that may sound like a rattle. However, this viper doesn’t have a true rattle like the above-mentioned Timber Rattlesnake.
Like many members of the viper family, the Northern Copperhead is thick and heavily-bodied. Adults typically reach a length of 2-3 feet long.
Where Are You Most Likely To Encounter A Northern Copperhead In New Jersey?
In New Jersey, Northern Copperheads are primarily located in the northern portion of the state, from the Sourlands of Hunterdon, Mercer, Somerset Counties in the south to the New Jersey / New York border in the north and within the Palisades in Bergen county according to the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.
Copperhead dens are typically associated with hilly and rocky terrain. However, they will venture into surrounding rocky wooded hillsides, rocky fields, berry thickets, wooded wetlands, farmlands and discarded mulch piles. They are not aggressive and prefer to remain concealed within leaf litter or other vegetation, rock formations and wooded debris.
Similar to timber rattlesnakes, their diet consists of small mammals such as amphibians, small rodents (such as mice) and other reptiles. Hidden by their unique camouflage, they sit and wait for their prey, lying motionless before delivering a venomous bite.
Keep in mind that your chances of being bitten are extremely rare. This is a very docile snake and delivers a bite as a last resort. It sits motionless using its camouflage simply waiting for you to pass on by.
If you are camping, hiking or hunting, in an environment known to harbor Northern Copperheads, stay vigilant and keep your distance if you encounter one. Remember reckless and unreasonable behavior can cause the snake to bite!
What Type Of Venom Does A Northern Copperhead Have?
Northern Copperheads have hemotoxic venom. The venom is a complex cocktail of proteins and enzymes that breaks down red blood cells. It prevents coagulation, reduces platelet numbers and makes it extremely difficult for your body to close the wound. This often results in tissue damage in the immediate area of the bite. In severe cases, this toxin causes necrosis, or cell death. This may result in the skin around the bite to be blackened.
Although their bite is rarely fatal, children, the elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems may have a strong reaction to the venom. A bite from a Northern Copperhead is a medical emergency. If left untreated, it can lead to death. Furthermore, delayed or ineffective treatment may result in a loss of a limb.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Northern Copperhead Bite?
Similar to the Timber Rattlesnake, if you are bitten by a Northern Copperhead, the amount of venom entering your body cannot be easily assessed. Symptoms manifest quickly or take a few hours to reveal themselves. The stages of envenomation are determined by the amount of bruising and swelling and is immediately apparent around the fang marks.
Symptoms of a bite include the following:
- Pain and swelling at the bite mark.
- Tissue damage and discoloration.
- Numbness and tingling in the affected limb.
- Thirst, tiredness and weakness.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Low blood pressure.
- Weak pulse.
Immediate medical attention is critical and typical treatment requires antivenom / antivenin to block and prevent further tissue destruction, nerve degeneration and clotting disorders associated with Northern Copperhead venom.
The Northern Copperhead is another venomous species you want to be aware of during your outdoor adventures. Perfectly camouflaged, it's extremely difficult to spot. Packing a hemotoxic bite, it’s a serpent that demands your respect.
If you come across any one of these two venomous species, exercise common sense and leave them alone. As long as you don’t disturb them, they will not introduce their fangs into one of your limbs. Remember, the more you agitate them, the greater the likelihood of receiving a pain and life-threatening bite.
We can all agree that suddenly finding a toxin coursing through your limb places you in a very precarious dilemma. Ultimately, it will be something you wished you had avoided in hindsight.
This article is solely published as an informative piece to make you aware of New Jersey’s venomous snakes. In the event you are bitten, seek medical assistance immediately!
No matter where your outdoor adventures take you, always stay vigilant and safe. Wishing you and your families nothing but the best.