Believe it or not, you can find THREE types of rattlesnakes in North Carolina!
But please don’t live in fear, thinking that you are going to be bitten. In general, rattlesnakes try to avoid any contact or interaction with people. The whole reason they have a rattle is to warn you to stay away! As long as you leave them alone, you shouldn’t have any trouble.
*If you come across any of these species, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB! Rattlesnakes are dangerous animals and should be left alone. The more you agitate them, the more likely you could get bitten. DO NOT RELY ON THIS ARTICLE to correctly identify a rattlesnake that has recently bitten you. If you have recently been bitten, GO DIRECTLY to the nearest hospital to get help and determine if the snake is venomous.*
RELATED: The 34 Types of SNAKES Found in North Carolina! (ID Guide)
#1. Timber Rattlesnake
- Crotalus horridus
- Adults typically range from 30 to 60 inches in length.
- Coloration is variable and generally ranges from yellowish-brown to gray to almost black. Look for dark brown or black crossbands on their back.
- Heavy-bodied with a characteristic rattle on the tail.
The Timber Rattlesnake, also known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake, can be found in a wide variety of habitats in North Carolina. Look for them in lowland thickets, high areas around rivers and flood plains, agricultural areas, deciduous forests, and coniferous forests.
Timber Rattlesnake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These rattlesnakes are ambush predators, waiting for unsuspecting prey to come within range of their strike. They feed primarily on small mammals but may also consume frogs, birds, and other smaller snakes. Timber Rattlesnakes strike their prey and release them, waiting until the venom has taken effect before eating them.
Due to their large size, long fangs, and high venom yield, these rattlesnakes are potentially the most dangerous snake found in North America. Luckily, Timber Rattlenskaes have a mild disposition and don’t often bite. They also typically give plenty of warning by rattling and posturing.
The Timber Rattlesnake has played an interesting role in U.S. history. As it can be found in the area of the original 13 Colonies, it was used as a symbol during the American Revolution. In 1775 it was featured at the center of the “Gadsden Flag.” This yellow flag depicts a coiled and ready-to-strike Timber Rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
#2. Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
- Crotalus adamanteus
- Adults typically range from 3 to 6 feet long!
- Coloration is a mixture of browns, yellows, grays, or olive. Look for the distinctive diamonds that run down their back.
- A black band covers the eyes, which have vertical, cat-like pupils. A pit between the eye and nostril is present on each side, and adults have their distinctive rattle.
This species is the longest, heaviest rattlesnake in North Carolina!
Some impressive individuals have even grown up to 8 feet long. Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes prefer relatively dry habitats, including pine forests, palmetto flatwoods, mixed woodlands, and scrublands. However, they can also be spotted around the borders of wetlands and in wet prairies and savannas. The best time to look for these rattlesnakes is during the morning and evening, as this is when they are most active.
Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnake Range Map
These impressive rattlesnakes can strike as far as two-thirds of their body length, meaning a six-foot individual can reach prey four feet away! When attacking, they inject venom into their prey, which includes mice, rabbits, and squirrels. Once their victim is bitten, they release it and track it to the place it has died to consume.
As you may have guessed, Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes typically issue a warning with their rattle when threatened. If you hear this sound, make sure to back away and move along, or you risk being bitten.
Interestingly, young snakes don’t have a rattle as it grows as they mature. Each time an individual sheds their skin, a new section is added (though sections commonly break off).
#3. Pygmy Rattlesnake
- Sistrurus miliarius
- Adults are small and range from 12 – 18 inches in length.
- Coloration varies, as there are three subspecies of Pygmy Rattlesnake.
- Thick body, dark bands that run from the corners of the eyes to the jaw, a small rattle prone to breaking, and elliptical pupils.
This species is the smallest rattlesnake found in North Carolina!
Pygmy Rattlesnakes occupy a wide variety of habitats. Typically, they can be found in pine forests, dry upland forests, floodplains, sandhills, and near lakes, rivers, and marshes. In addition, they are often encountered in urban areas and may be seen in gardens and brush piles.
These rattlesnakes are rarely seen because they are so small and well camouflaged. When they are found, they typically remain silent and motionless and rely on blending into their environment.
It’s rare to hear them rattle. When they do, it sounds more like a faint insect and can be hard to hear unless you’re within a few feet of one.
Due to the Pygmy Rattlesnake’s small size, a bite typically isn’t fatal to healthy adults and is considered less severe than the bite of most other rattlesnakes. But make no mistake, these snakes’ cytotoxic venom can cause pain and necrosis for a few days.
Do you need additional help identifying a rattlesnake?
I recommend purchasing a Peterson Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America. These books have lots of helpful information, including pictures and range maps.
Which of these rattlesnakes have YOU seen before in North Carolina?
Leave a comment below!