Snakes are almost always described as larger than they really are. Stories about New England water snakes eight and ten feet long are simply not true. Northern water snakes rarely exceed three and a half feet in length, with the largest stretching only four and a half feet. While the black rat snake, our largest native snake, can reach lengths of just over eight feet, most New England snakes are less than three feet long.
The regularity with which people kill a snake first and ask questions later might lead you to believe that the world is overrun with venomous snakes. In fact, venomous snakes only make up about 10 percent of snake species worldwide, and in Massachusetts only two of the state's fourteen species of snakes are venomous (timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead). Both are rare, reclusive and generally confined to isolated areas.
Folk tales about snakes are handed down from generation to generation and include such things as snakes that charm prey, swallow their young for protection, poison people with their breath, roll like hoops, and suck milk from cows. These folk tales could be just interesting and amusing stories except that many people still believe them. As we learn more about the true nature of snakes, we can begin to base our perceptions of them on fact rather than fiction.