A rather large snake was recently spotted in Rock Cut State Park. In related news, I won't be going to Rock Cut for another 10 years. 

It did, however, make me wonder if said snake was poisonous or not. Not that it really matters to me. I avoid anything bigger than an earthworm like the plague, but I was wondering if we needed to be worried about being killed by a snakebite anytime soon around here.

Here's the bad news. Illinois has a lot of snakes. We have garter snakes, ringneck snakes, hognose snakes (these look especially gross), king snakes (very scary looking), water snakes (goodbye lake swimming), ribbon snakes, rat snakes, milk snakes, racer snakes, green snakes, and kirtland's snakes all in Illinois. The good news is that none of these snakes are poisonous but are still pretty gross looking.

Illinois IS the natural home of 4 types of venomous snakes. The silver lining here is that 3 of these are only found in southern Illinois, the Massasuaga rattlesnake is the only one you should find around here.

Keep in mind that this list only comprises what snakes you SHOULD find around here. No telling what some nutjob snake owner (sorry if I offended any snake owners, but... come on) accidentally released into the wild.

Let's take a look at the 4 venomous snakes you might run across in Illinois.

NOTE: All facts presented here are from Wikipedia. I'm WILDLY ignorant about snakes because they're literally the worst.



Copperheads occur in the southern one-third of Illinois and in the lower Illinois River valley.  Copperheads bite more people on average than any other U.S. species of snake. These guys give no heads up that they're going to bite. They must be big Nike fans since they "Just Do It." Venom is rarely fatal or causes any permanent damage, you just have to deal with the fact that a f@*$%ing snake just bit you.

Scale from 1-10 of how scared I am of this snake:10

Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin


Can we just address for a second how these two snakes basically have the same name? I've been confused by this more than once. Probably because I see nothing more than a devil serpent regardless of species, but I've always thought that was weird.

Moving on.

The cottonmouth lives in swamps and wet bottomlands in southern Illinois. This guy can swim, which doesn't seem fair, it's like if there was a bear that could fly. They actually rarely bite people, which is actually pretty considerate.  They're going to give you a sign that they're ticked off, usually by coiling up and widely opening their mouth showing a white color that can be visually striking. Some people say visually striking, some say pants filling. A real tomato tomahto situation.

If you forgot to back off when this guy shows off his white mouth and he bites you, you have a little bit of a problem. While rarely fatal, you can get some permanent tissue and muscle damage. No thanks.

Scale from 1-10 of how scared I am of this snake: 14

Timber Rattler

Timber rattler

These guys are getting a little closer to home. They are found throughout the lower quarter of the state but will travel up the river and hang out along the Mississippi on the bluffs, kind of like people who visit Galena.

Wikipedia is making these guys out to be pretty laid back despite being the third largest venomous snake in the US.  Maybe they know that with their rattler they can make anyone run the other way. Whatever the reason they don't bite very many people. If they do bite you, you're going to have a bad day. Bite symptoms include pain and swelling, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping and diarrhea, and muscular spasms throughout the entire body.

Scale from 1-10 of how scared I am of this snake: 16

Massasauga Rattler


Here's the guy that you can actually find around here. You can find him all the way up into Ontario if you're into that sort of thing. You can find him in prairie wetlands and river floodplains.  He's also the only snake on here that I've never heard of. They must have good PR people, just putting out fires right and left.

Apparently the word "massasauga" in Ojibwa (Chippewa language) translates to "great river mouth." It probably translates to a fantastic cuss word but this is the story they're going to stick with.

Here's some good news. They're pretty small and don't have very big fangs. They can't bite you through clothing and even if they do they can't deliver too much venom. The bad news is that it's still a snake and gross. It all evens out folks.

Scale from 1-10 of how scared I am of this snake: 12 (10 + 2 points for being local)

Well there you go. All the poisonous snakes you need to worry about in Illinois. I need to go take a shower after this. Please watch the video below to make you feel a little better.

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