Everything You Need to Know About Venomous Snakes in the Bergen County-North Jersey Area: As Bergen County residents take to the trails for nature hikes or spend time doing yard work during the warmer months of April-October, there’s always the chance they might encounter one of the 22 species of snakes found in New Jersey. The good news is that Bergen County area residents are much more likely to encounter one of the region’s non-venomous species, such as the common eastern garter snake or the black racer, than they are to ever run into a poisonous snake.
Enjoy Nature But Use Common Sense
When enjoying the great outdoors, it is important to use common sense and to be aware of your surroundings. This is particularly important in places such as the Ramapo Valley County Reservation area, heavily wooded park areas in the Highlands Region, along the Palisades and in neighboring communities. If you’ll be spending time outdoors in these areas, you should also familiarize yourself with the appearance, habitats and habits of the area’s venomous snakes. Always watch where you’re stepping when walking on nature trails and keep dogs leashed. Should you encounter a snake of any kind, keep your distance and leave it alone! Should you find a snake on your property and you have reason to believe it may be venomous, contact your local police department.
Under New Jersey’s Endangered and Non-game Species Conservation Act, it is illegal to kill, harm, harass or collect any native, non-game wildlife including snakes.
Two Venomous Snakes in the Bergen County-North Jersey Area
We have two venomous snakes that can be found in Bergen County. Both the northern copperhead and the timber rattlesnake are reclusive and shy, but each will defend itself if threatened. Fortunately, you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than of ever being bitten by one of these venomous snakes.
The Northern Copperhead
The northern copperhead is a venomous snake with a broad triangular head, vertically elliptical pupils and a heat sensitive pit between each eye and nostril. The body is pinkish to grayish brown with brown or reddish-brown crossbands that are narrow on the back and widest on the sides. Small dark spots commonly occur between crossbands on the back. The unpatterned head is dull orange, copper or rusty-red. Body scales are keeled and the belly is pink or light brown with dark blotches along the sides. When young, a copperhead has a yellow-tipped tail. View images of northern copperheads.
Copperheads prefer rocky, forested hillsides and wetlands for habitat. Wet areas are particularly sought out in the hot summer months. Sightings have been reported in recent years along the Palisades in the Tenafly area, as well as in the Ramapo Valley County Reservation area near the Mahwah/Oakland border.
When approached, copperheads will either move away quietly or lay motionless, relying on camouflage to protect them. Occasionally, they will vibrate their tails. Bites usually occur when people unknowingly step on or touch unseen snakes. Despite the venomous nature of copperhead bites, they are rarely fatal. In New Jersey, copperheads are so rare and reclusive that people seldom encounter them.
The copperhead is one of northern New Jersey’s least common snakes, and is frequently confused with the northern water snake and the eastern milk snake.
You should never disturb this snake.
The Timber Rattlesnake
The timber rattlesnake is a heavy-bodied snake with a broad head that is distinct from its narrow neck. The top of the head is unmarked and usually yellow to light gold in color. Adult timber rattlers average 35 to 50 inches in total length. They have a yellow, brown, rust-orange, or in rare cases gray ground color with black or dark brown crossbands extending along the back. There is a dark brown stripe behind each eye, and there may be a rust-colored middorsal stripe from the neck to the tail. The tail is short and thick, all black, and tipped with a tan rattle. Juvenile timber rattlers are marked like the adults. View images of timber rattlesnakes.
The timber rattlesnake inhabits three distinct areas – the Kittatinny Ridge and the northernmost portion of the Highlands as well as the sprawling Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. Multiple sightings are reported each year in the Ramapo Valley County Reservation area and in nearby Passaic County communities. Timber rattlesnakes can typically be found in bluff areas, rocky ledges, fields and oak woodlands in relatively remote areas. They prefer rocky outcrops and open grassy areas with southerly exposures in the spring and fall. During the summer, they inhabit forests and open valleys.
Timber rattlesnakes are not a major threat to humans. This snake has a secretive nature and prefers those areas that are mostly unused by humans. Timber rattlers prefer to remain quiet, relying on their cryptic coloration to go unnoticed. They often are reluctant to rattle, preferring not to call attention to themselves. The timber rattlesnake is quite docile unless provoked. They can be defensive if disturbed and will bite. While the timber rattlesnake has its rattle to distinguish it from other snakes, many other snakes in the Bergen County area, including black rat snakes, black racers and northern water snakes, mimic the rattlesnake by shaking their tails on dry leaves other objects.