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brown and beige striped snake on a forest floor
Eastern Garter Snake Photo: Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0.  Click photo to see enlarged version.

There are 17 species of snakes that call New York home, 3 of which are venomous (but with limited distribution). They track down food such as birds, mice, frogs, and bugs. Depending on the snake species, they may feed on small invertebrates like spiders and caterpillars or specialize in larger prey like mice and squirrels. When not eating, snakes rest in spots that allow them to maintain just the right body temperature. If it’s hot out, they’ll be where it’s cool; if it’s cool, they’ll be basking in the sun.

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What Do Snakes Look Like?

biege, orange, and black striped snake
Eastern milk snake Photo: Laurie Dirk.  Click photo to see enlarged version.

Legless and long, and depending on kind, coloring may be in a variety of browns, greens, reds, and yellows. As they get older they get longer. You’ll likely find their shed skins (papery, with no color) in favorite areas such as near the holes they travel through. The most commonly encountered species in much of New York State are garter snakes and the eastern milk snake.

Venomous snakes in New York State have a pit between the nostril and eye, but if you can see that, you’re too close. They also tend to have triangular heads, but be aware that nonvenomous species can flatten and widen their head when threatened.

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Should I Worry About Snakes?

gray snake with yellow belly and ring around neck wrapped around a hand
Ring-necked snakes are relatively harmless. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

The majority are doing no harm, eating bugs or mice that could be pests. Venomous species are a concern but are localized within New York State.

Snakes don’t create holes, so if you’ve got a snake inside, you may have other critters too.

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Why Do I Have Snakes?

Home base for snakes is usually a damp, dark, cool area. Woodpiles, stone walls, and under tarps are favorite hangouts. Snakes inside buildings are usually the result of seeking locations for winter hibernation or pursuing prey, such as mice. But they can’t get in unless there’s a hole for them to enter through!

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How Do I Manage Snakes?

If they’re inside, figure out how they’re getting in and exclude them. Make sure your foundation is crack-free and repair any holes in your siding. This will solve other pest problems too. Outside, tolerate them as much as you can. All snake species are legally protected within the state.

If you don’t want them doing good deeds in your yard, alter the habitat. For example, keep woodpiles distant from the house and plant things (trees come to mind) that don’t provide ground-level shelter.

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