Snakes! What to Know About Connecticut’s 14 Species

Timber Rattlesnake
Print icon

Nothing quite inspires instantaneous rage, extreme fear or bizarre curiosity like the sudden appearance of a snake. For too many people, the initial impulse is kill or cradle.

The correct response, of course, is none of the above. Do not mess with snakes. They’re not looking for a fight. You are not the target of a crazed reptilian jihad. And they don’t want your love. Unless startled, provoked or attacked, snakes customarily leave humans and their ophidiophobia alone.

But sometimes people get bit by snakes. In Connecticut, home to 14 species, only the timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead are venomous. The copperhead is found across a large swath of the state’s southern region. The timber rattlesnake’s turf bisects the center of the state.

The copperhead, reddish or gold with waves of hourglass bands in alternating colors, can range up to 3 feet long. It eats mice and other rodents, frogs, insects and small birds.

The timber rattlesnake, a state endangered species, is even bigger than the copperhead, up to 54 inches long with a distinctive rattle at the end of its tail.  (See the featured photograph of a coiled timber rattler spotted last week on the Blue Hills Trail in Glastonbury.) Its diet is similar to the copperhead’s. Neither, it should be noted, dines on humans.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates about 8,000 snakebites each year. In Connecticut, a snakebite is rare.

“Very,” says Dr. Colin Stack, the new medical director of Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care.

Hollywood’s portrayal (“Snakes on a Plane”) and vast interest human in snake encounters has stoked the national fear factor. In the past month, for instance, a Texas man spotted a rattlesnake while doing yard work. Instead of retreating, slowly and calmly, he hacked off the snake’s head with a shovel. It killed the snake, but the man was still bitten by the severed head. (Why didn’t you think of that, Hollywood?) The man experienced seizures, lost vision and internal bleeding. He required 26 doses of antivenom — snakebite victims usually require between two and four doses.

A kayaker in South Carolina, meanwhile, pulled a rattlesnake from the water with this astounding rationale: He thought it was an alligator! Either way, wrong move. The snake bit him three times, sending the man to intensive care.

Most snakes in Connecticut are harmless. The gartersnake, frequently found in backyards throughout the state, eats earthworms, toads, frogs and salamanders. The smooth greensnake, also found statewide in fields and pastures and along the fringes of wetlands, eats spiders and insects. The easter wormsnake, found  everywhere in the Connecticut except a small pocket in the northwest corner, actually looks like a worm — the perfect disguise for this reptile that eats earthworms.

The bite of a copperhead or timber rattlesnake — they’re classified as pit vipers, venomous snakes that have a heat-sensitive pit near each  nostril that helps find warm-blooded prey — doesn’t always release venom. Those types are called dry bites.

But if bitten, depending on the type of snake, you might experience:

  • Instant pain.
  • Two puncture marks at the wound.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Change in skin tone.
  • Nausea, vomiting.
  • Swelling in the mouth.
  • Numbness in mouth, arms and legs.
  • An odd, metallic taste in your mouth.
  • If you or someone with you is bitten by the snake, the CDC says:

Note the snake’s color and shape. This can help when a medical professional treats the bite.

  • Remaining still and calm can slow the spread of a venom.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible. Call 911.
  • If you can’t reach a hospital, lay or sit down so the bite is below the level of your heart.

Do not:

  • Pick up, antagonize, startle or try to capture a snake.
  • If bitten, do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply ice or soak in water.
  • Do not use alcohol as a pain reliever.
  • Do no drink any beverage containing caffeine.

In Connecticut, at least, the diminutive deer tick is much more likely to bite you and cause health problems. Would you rather be bitten by a snake or tick? It’s sometimes too much to contemplate.

“No comment,” says Dr. Stack.

Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care centers are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To make an appointment, check wait times or to find other GoHealth locations, click here.

 


What's New

After Cancer Treatment

How Physical Rehab Can Help Recovery From Lung Cancer      

By Ruth H. Satterberg Occupational Therapist, Certified Lymphedema Therapist Hospital of Central CT Cancer Institute A lung cancer diagnosis can be extremely challenging. Lung cancer, different from breast cancer, often has more complications and challenges to overcome. Evidence shows that physical and occupational therapy can be very helpful at all stages...

Senior man giving wife a kiss

The Long-Term Effects of Cancer Therapy on Your Body

Treatment of lung cancer has developed rapidly in the past 10 years. With earlier detection and improved therapies, patient outcomes have improved significantly. The therapies used for treatment of lung cancer — chemotherapy, radiation and surgery — certainly cause many acute side effects.  But this article will focus on the...

Heat wave and exercise

Having a Heatwave? When Exercising, Know Your Body’s Limits

Brace yourself for a weekend heatwave with temperatures in some Connecticut towns reaching 100 degrees. More ominously, heat-index values that combine temperature and dew point are expected to reach as high as 115. That probably won’t stop the diehard exercisers among us, but experts advise caution during such extreme weather....

Hoarding Study

Institute of Living Study: What Motivates a Hoarder?

To understand hoarding and cultivate a healthy mindset beyond the large-scale purging of piles and boxes of belongings, behavioral health clinicians must first understand what motivates the hoarder. Researchers with the Hartford HealthCare Institute of Living in Hartford will probe that motivation more closely as part of the new study “Emotional...

Insulin Pump and Exercise

Exercise and an Insulin Pump: Here’s How to Do It

How can you exercise with an insulin pump? Healthwise content is included in this report. Hartford Healthcare Rehabilitation Network, a not-for-profit member of Hartford HealthCare, offers physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, sports medicine and health & wellness programs.  Please call 860.696.2500 or click here for more information.