Don’t be rattled

Now we come to the ones you’ve been waiting for, the nasty ones, the poisonous snakes of Indiana.

Now there are only four located in the state, and one of them decided to swim the Ohio and take up residence there. It should be noted that just because I give a range for these snakes, it’s not as if you can’t step outside without spotting one. The range is a historical record of where they have been found.

For example, take the Timber Rattlesnake. Even though its range is the southeastern fourth of the state, it hasn’t been spotted much outside of Brown County.

To identify a poisonous snake, if you really want to, the first thing is you look at the head. There will be a sensory pit between the nostrils and the eyes. Nostrils will be on both sides of the head, and the pupils are vertical.

Northern Copperhead

This snake is the most common you’ll find in Indiana. It can get up to 36 inches long and has a tan body with the head being reddish-brown. This one you’ll find in dry rocky terrain, closer to the ridges. They will nearly always remain quiet or seek to escape. A severe poisoning is unusual, and it has a very diverse diet.

It ranges south of a line from Warren County in the west down to southern Shelby County then east to Union County.

Timber Rattlesnake

This one is the largest rattlesnake species and can grow up to 6 feet long. Its color is variable from sulfur yellow to a dark gray. This one also lives on high dry ridges, mostly in oak-hickory forest with open areas. These snakes are very prompt to rattle, but they threaten much before striking. As in some other species, the adult females are more irritable. They eat mostly mammals with chipmunks being their favorite. They are an endangered species.

This snake has a range in central and eastern Indiana, mostly south of a line from Clay County heading east to southern Shelby and on to Union County. The western boundary is a line from Clay County south to Spencer County.

Massasauga Rattlesnake

While rarely growing more than 30 inches long, it is one of the nastier ones. It is the only other snake in Indiana that has rattles.

Color is gray to grayish-brown. While some people report that it is a sluggish and inoffensive snake, others report that it is alert, bad-tempered and quicker to strike than others. It also accounts for more snake bites. To top it off, its venom is more lethal than other rattlesnakes. Eighty-five percent of its diet is mice. It is considered an endangered species.

It ranges from the northern border south to a line from Vermillion County straight east to Randolph County.


This is the one people think they see swimming in the water. The important point to remember is that this is a southern snake. It can grow up to about 43 inches, likes to live in swamps, sluggish streams and shallow lakes. It will eat any vertebrate it can plus carrion. Cottonmouths tend to stand their ground more than other snakes. It is an endangered species.

These guys can be found in only a couple of places in Indiana along the Ohio River in Harrison County and up near Jasper. These are very small colonies.

Just in case you’re curious, just where are no poisonous snakes found, besides Hancock County? All, if not most of Marion, Henry, Rush, Wayne, Vigo, Sullivan, Knox , Gibson, Clay and Daviess counties and all but the extreme southern parts of Johnson, Shelby, Fayette and Union counties.

So go outdoors, and have fun, and don’t worry about the snakes. While you might not be watching for them, they are watching for you.

Joe Whitfield is a naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department.