Snake Identification

Asked July 13, 2018, 8:43 PM EDT

Can anyone identify the snake in the picture? The photo is limited as it was hiding at the edge of our front grass lawn and the street curb in Delmont, PA. It was a very juvenile snake only about 9" long. The tail appeared smooth without rattles, although I'm not sure when these develop. The head did not appear to be very triangulated. Again, not sure when these characters develop. Our back yard drops to a creek which flows into a very marshy area 1/8" of a mile down. I suspect we're wrong but its marking so resemble an eastern massasauga rattle snake. Thank you for your help!

Westmoreland County Pennsylvania

1 Response

Thank you for your question. I really need to see more of the snake to be able to positively identify it. Its markings do resemble a massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus), but you mentioned it did not have a rattle. Even juveniles at least have a button (one rattle segment). Also, juvenile pit vipers are generally more thick-bodied snakes compared to most juvenile non-venomous species. Finally, according to PA Herps (, the massasauga's distribution range does not occur in your county. This doesn't mean that it couldn't be this species, because snakes generally don't pay any attention to county boundaries, but it just makes it less likely, along with the other factors, that it's a massasauga.

A non-venomous species that is sometimes confused with the massasuga is the juvenile black ratsnake (Pantherophis obsoletus). The juveniles have a light gray background with dark gray or black rectangular-shaped blotches down their back. As they get older, they become darker and darker, until they are almost solid black on their back and sides.

Here's a link to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission where you can find information about species of reptiles and amphibians in Pennsylvania:

I'm sorry I can't give you a more definitive answer. Thank you for contacting Ask an Expert.