Boston’s Blue Hills Reservation is a Copperhead Snake Oasis!
By Chris Williams on September 11, 2015.
We only have two poisonous snakes in New England, the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead (see Poisonous Snakes in Massachusetts & New Hampshire). Both are very rare…unless you live in or visit the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park that is within the metropolitan Boston area. The fact that this park is an isolated habitat of the Northern Copperhead is sort of a well-kept secret.
The Northern Copperhead is endangered in Massachusetts and there are only three remaining populations, two in Western Massachusetts and the third in the Blue Hills. Tom French of the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, estimates that there are only 150-200 copperheads remaining in Massachusetts and 50 of them live in Blue Hills.
Blue Hills Protects Endangered Snakes
Blue Hills Reservation is a heavily used state park that borders on several Boston suburbs. With its 7,000 acres, scenic views, 125 miles of trails, and the rocky outcroppings that snakes love, Blue Hills is a green oasis in an urban setting. In addition to housing copperheads, the park is also home to endangered timber rattlesnakes and lots of other wildlife.
The copperheads are pretty much captive in the Blue Hills. Since they are surrounded by pavement and buildings, there’s nowhere for them to go. Biologists at the state’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species division are stuck in a dilemma, too. They would like visitors to know of the snakes’ presence because they are unique and endangered, but they don’t want the snakes to be killed out of fear or “loved to death” by well-meaning visitors.
People, Cars, and Hawks Affect Snake Survival
People are the biggest threat to the survival of Blue Hills’ copperheads. “We lose four to six rattlesnakes and copperheads per year due to road mortality,” said French. “They’re killed by cars as they cross roads at night, especially on Chickatawbut Road” which crosses the Blue Hills in Quincy and Milton. Since copperheads bask in open, rocky areas, being picked off by a hawk is another very real threat to their numbers.
Copperheads use their venom to incapacitate their prey. They only bite people in self-defense. Because they are endangered in Massachusetts, both copperheads and timber rattlers are protected by law, and it is illegal to kill, possess, or harass them. Penalties include fines and jail time. University of Massachusetts herpetologist Graham Reynolds said, “As one of the most attractive species of snakes in North America, the loss of copperheads in Massachusetts would be a great loss to Bay State biodiversity…the last remaining populations of copperheads represent what little is left of our wild areas.”
For more on the Blue Hills Reservation, visit their website.
[Source: The Boston Globe, “Snakes on the rocks,” Don Lyman, July 1, 2012]
Photo credit: Michael Hodge / Foter / CC BY