Animals -> Reptiles -> Snakes


Snakes are long, limb-less reptiles and because snakes are generally cryptic, but also often venomous, they are rarely used and only by few cultures.

Venomous Snakes

Various tribes of the Onondaga Iroquois were reported to eat rattlesnakes, cooked in a manner similar to fish [1, 2]. Although the species was not specified, timber rattlesnakes are likely to have been the rattlesnake most often encountered by this culture.

Non-venomous Snakes

The Manhousat consumed common garter snakes, which were only seen in summer. Either the end of the tail was cut off and eaten, or the snake was cut open and the fat was sucked out [3].


1.         Waugh FW: Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation, vol. No. 12; Anthropological Series. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau; 1916.

2.         Waugh FW. In: Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation. edn. Ottawa: Department of Mines. Government Printing Bureau; 1973.

3.         Ellis DW, Swan L: Teachings of The Tides: Uses of Marine Invertebrates By The Manhousat People, vol. 1st edition. Nanaimo, B.C.: Theytus Books Ltd.; 1981.

Snakes include around 2,500 species of long, limb-less reptiles that are in the same large groups as lizards. Only around one hundred snake species occur in North America, including both venomous and non-venomous species.

Venomous Snakes

The timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is a venomous snake formerly occurring from south-eastern Ontario and north-eastern states up to Florida and Texas. They are a member of the only North American family of venomous snakes, called pit vipers, because of the characteristic hole between each eye and nostril. These pits are very sensitive to changes in temperature and serve to detect warm-blooded preys. Timber rattlesnakes can reach close to 2 m long and their body colour varies from yellow to dark brown or gray with many V-shaped body band, but their tail is dark and unpatterned with a rattling tip. In northern parts of their range, they spend most of the year hibernating, and were known to congregate in large numbers in suitable overwintering sites, but at most of those sites, numbers have been greatly reduced or even extirpated.

Non-venomous Snakes

The common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is a non-venomous snake with the northermost distribution of all North American snakes, reaching as far North as the southern Hudson Bay and Northwest Territories. They are widespread and occur commonly from coast to coast, across southern Canada and down to Florida and California. They can reach close to 1.4 m long, but most rarely grow longer than 90 cm. They vary greatly in body colouration, but will always have two paler lateral stripes running along their darker coloured body.


Ernst C, Ernst E: Snakes of the United States and Canada. Washington; London: Smithsonian Books; 2003.


Images provided below were obtained from: Encyclopedia of Life. Available from
Timber rattlesnake
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© 2011 Todd Pierson
Supplier: CalPhotos
This map is based on occurrence records available through the GBIF network
Common garter snake
© Tigran Tadevosyan, licensed under a Attribution License license:
This map is based on occurrence records available through the GBIF network
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