Massasauga Rattlesnakes are federally protected snakes
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Here's Where It's Illegal to Kill Snakes Across the U.S.

Snakes are often the stuff of people's nightmares. A whopping half of the human population feels anxious around snakes, while 3% actually meet the diagnostic criteria for a snake-phobia, making ophidiophobia one of the most common phobias in the United States. Venomous snakes in particular can be terrifying, and copperheads, timber rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, or water moccasins cause more jump-scares yearly than horror movies. (Unofficial statistic.)

While some people say the only good snake is a dead snake, most snakes in North America are actually harmless, and even venomous snakes will go out of the way to avoid humans. Rattlesnakes, in particular, rely on camouflage to keep hidden from predators, and use their rattle to warn off attackers. Biting an animal or human is their last line of defense.

READ MORE: How to Kill a Rattlesnake the Ethical Way

Many endangered and threatened snakes are also protected by state and federal laws, and killing them could lead to fines or even jail-time. On the other hand, some states also allow the hunting of snakes, just like other small game, and people enjoy hunting them for the skins, their meat, or to keep invasive snake specie populations low.

The rules and regulations vary widely from state to state, so here is a complete breakdown of what snake species are illegal to kill in the United States. Keeping this in mind will help you avoid an uncomfortable encounter with your local wildlife agency officer.

Note: Some Snakes are Federally Protected

what states is it illegal to kill snakes

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For simplicity's snake sake, below is a list of every species of snake in the United States currently protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This list came directly from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and unless otherwise noted, every species on this list is federally protected everywhere, regardless of what state law says about snakes. Killing these snake species can potentially result in fines of $25,000 per violation and prison time, so you'll want to leave these guys alone.

The list includes both venomous and non-venomous snakes, as well as a few species in U.S. Territories like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

  • Mona Island boa
  • Puerto Rican boa
  • Narrow-headed garter snake
  • Northern Mexican garter snake
  • Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake
  • New Mexican ridge-nosed rattlesnake
  • Atlantic salt marsh snake
  • Black pine snake
  • Copper-belly water snake 
  • Eastern indigo snake
  • Giant garter snake
  • San Francisco garter snake
  • Alameda whip snake (aka: "striped racer")

We recommend giving these species a wide berth to avoid any trouble. If you have one of species in your yard and are concerned about it, call a professional to relocate it, especially if it's a venomous species. Most snake bites happen when people who are not trained in snake handling attempt to move or kill a snake themselves.

READ MORE: 5 Quick Ways to ID a Snake and Know If It's Harmless