Snakes of West Virginia


Kingdom: Animalia
   Phylum: Chordata
      Class:  Reptilia
         Order:  Squamata
            Suborder:  Serpentes


  Overview: There are 2 families of snakes found in West Virginia. Twenty-two types of snakes are currently recognized, comprising a total of 20 species.   Only two of these snakes, the Timber Rattlesnake and Northern Copperhead, are venomous and considered dangerous to humans. Their main prey consists of rodents and small mammals, which they subdue using hemotoxic venom. They are members of the Pit Viper family, for they possess heat-sensitive pits that allow them to locate warm-blooded animals. Even though these snakes aren't particularly aggressive, many are needlessly killed every year.   Despite their reputation, all of the other 18 species are completely harmless. There is a broad diversity of body forms, diet, habitat preference, color and behavior within the colubrids. Some live in streams, while others live in trees. Many are small and secretive, spending much of their time eating invertebrates while hiding under rocks or logs . Others can grow quite large, employing constriction as a means of subduing prey. All are carnivores, feeding on a wide variety of prey, including: insects, spiders, crustaceans, earthworms, amphibians, fish, rodents, birds, lizards, and smaller snakes.  Some of West Virginia's snakes are very common, such as the Eastern Gartersnake and Black Ratsnake, and can be found all over (even in backyards). Others, such as the Cornsnake and Northern Pinesnake, have only been documented a few times over the years. Always be on the lookout in case one shows up in your area. Snakes have a way of bringing about a certain intense fear in many individuals. This irrational hatred has been passed down throughout history. Hopefully, by reading about these fascinating animals, many people will be able to realize the important (and necessary) role they play in the ecosystem.