Wisconsin Snakes & Your Pets

A dog’s chance encounter with an Eastern Hognose

Some dogs are particularly intrigued by snakes’ movements and easily startled to their presence, not to mention the snake’s inability to notice a dog’s territorial markings. It is important to know that snakes are quite afraid of humans and pets alike, as they are viewed as predators to them. Snakes don’t always back down when it comes to a predator threatening their life. Knowing a bit about wild snakes can help you should you find your pup in a pickle with one!

Did you know that there are two venomous snakes out of 21 different kinds found in the wild in Wisconsin alone? Generally, these venomous snakes are found on the west side of Wisconsin. The two venomous snakes found in Wisconsin are both protected species; the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake and the Timber Rattlesnake. The Timber Rattlesnake is commonly found in the rugged bluffs of south west and western Wisconsin. The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is often found in river bottom lowland forests associated with wetlands. Both of these snakes primarily feed on a variety of rodents, while the Massasauga can be found also choosing to feed on amphibians as well.

Some of the definitive characteristics of a venomous snake are an elliptical pupil (a slit looking pupil) like a cat’s eye, a rattle on the tail, a triangular shaped head, and live in western Wisconsin. Be aware that not all rattlesnakes will rattle their tail before they strike, so keep a safe distance between you and the snake should you see one. Keeping your pet on a short leash and away from brush and rocks is one way to avoid an encounter with these snakes – and prevent a potential emergency for your pet. If you do come in contact with one keep your actions slow as you retreat away from the snake, as fast motion can be interpreted by the snake as a threat.

There are multiple species found throughout Wisconsin that resemble venomous snakes, and are very convincing that they are! Non-venomous common Milk snakes are known for imitating a venomous snake by “rattling” their tails to make you think that they are venomous. Another commonly found non-venomous snake in Wisconsin is called the Eastern Hognose snake. The Hognose snakes are masters of strange behavior. They have been known to vomit and play dead to make you believe that you should leave alone this “sick and dying” snake. Probably a good idea to leave them be too!

Northern Watersnakes are also commonly found in Wisconsin lakes and other waterways, and they look like water moccasins (a non-native venomous species). Watersnakes prefer to feed on crayfish, amphibians, and slow-moving fish. There are no water moccasins in Wisconsin; however the Northern Watersnake is known for their aggressive behaviors when provoked so steer clear should you come across one.

Unfortunately, the exotic pet trade often leads to the release of non-native snakes into the wild, as re-homing exotic and/or illegal pets can be difficult. Native Wisconsin snakes are an important part of the ecosystem, and many of them are important in helping control rodent populations and also eating many other small pests. Some snakes, like the common Garter snake, actually eat primarily earthworms but also eat insects, fish, and amphibians.

Due to snakes having cold-blooded (ectothermic) bodies, they are unable to move as quickly during colder temperatures. Without warmer temperatures, snakes and other reptiles and amphibians are particularly vulnerable. Their body temperatures are completely dependent on external sources like sunlight or a heated rock surface. Due to this reason, it’s not uncommon to come across multiple reptiles found “basking” in the sun to warm up, sometimes even using roadways we commonly drive on.

Like all wild animals, snakes can and will bite if they feel that their life is being threatened. It always best to leave them alone – you’ll help to keep wildlife wild and your pets safe.

For more information, visit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website at www.dnr.wi.gov.