There are A LOT of snakes in North Carolina!
And what’s interesting is that they are all incredibly unique and have adapted to fill many habitats and niches.
You’ll see that the snakes that live in North Carolina are very different from each other.
For example, some species are venomous, while others use constriction to immobilize their prey. Or the fact that certain snakes are rarely seen because they spend most of their time underground, but others are comfortable living EXTREMELY close to humans.
Today, you’re going to learn about the 34 types of snakes in North Carolina!
#1. Eastern Copperhead
- Agkistrodon contortrix
- Adults reach lengths between 20 and 37 inches.
- Stout body, broad head, and elliptical pupils.
- Coloration varies from pale tan to pinkish-tan with darker, splotchy, hourglass-shaped bands, which are darker at the edges.
Look for these VENOMOUS snakes in North Carolina in deciduous forests and mixed woodlands, often near rocky outcroppings. You’re more likely to see them active during the day in the spring and fall when the weather is cooler. During the middle of summer, Eastern Copperheads are often nocturnal.
Eastern Copperhead Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
This species is an ambush hunter, meaning that it selects a suitable site and waits to surprise its prey. In addition, copperheads are considered “pit vipers,” which means they have a heat-sensing organ located between their eyes. This adaptation helps these venomous snakes find and judge the size of their prey by being able to sense infrared!
Bites from these snakes are rarely fatal in North Carolina.
The venom they produce has relatively low potency. In addition, copperheads also frequently employ false strikes, dry bites, and warning bites. Dry bites contain no venom, and warning bites have a relatively small amount of venom.
These snakes primarily feed on small rodents, frogs, birds, and large insects such as cicadas. After the initial bite, they will wait for the venom to take effect before consuming their prey whole.
#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 a distinctive rattle.
This species is the longest, heaviest VENOMOUS snake in North Carolina!
Some impressive individuals have even grown up to 8 feet long. They prefer relatively dry habitats but 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 venomous snakes 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 their prey, which includes mice, rabbits, and squirrels, with venom. Once their victim is bitten, they release it and track it to the place it has died to consume it.
As you may have guessed, Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes typically issue a warning with their rattle when threatened. If you hear this sound, back away and move along, or you risk being bitten. LISTEN BELOW!
Interestingly, young snakes don’t have a rattle; as it grows as they get older. Each time an individual sheds their skin, a new section is added (though sections do commonly break off).
#3. 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 characteristic rattle on the tail.
The Timber Rattlesnake, also known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake, is found in a wide variety of habitats in North Carolina. Look for these venomous snakes 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 snakes 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 their venom has taken effect before eating them.
These venomous snakes are potentially the most dangerous species found in North Carolina due to their large size, long fangs, and high venom yield. Luckily, Timber Rattlesnakes have a mild disposition and don’t bite often. They typically give plenty of warning by rattling and posturing.
The Timber Rattlesnake played a noteworthy role in U.S. history. Found in 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.”
#4. Northern Watersnake
- Nerodia sipedon sipedon
- Adults range from 24 to 55 inches in length.
- Coloration is pale grey to dark brown with reddish-brown to black bands.
- Large adults become darker with age and appear almost plain black or dark brown.
- Females tend to be larger than males, and coloration is most vivid in juvenile and wet individuals.
This species is the most common watersnake in North Carolina!
Northern Watersnakes prefer slow-moving or standing water like ponds, lakes, vernal pools, marshes, and slow-moving rivers and streams. They’re most often seen basking on rocks or logs in or near the water.
Northern Watersnake Range Map (Yellow area below)
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These snakes primarily feed on fish and amphibians by hunting along the water’s edge and shallow water during the day. They grab their prey and quickly swallow while it’s still alive!
When disturbed, Northern Watersnakes flee into the water to escape. However, if grabbed or captured, they’re quick to defend themselves. They will release a foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tale, flatten their body, and strike the attacker.
While non-venomous, they can deliver a painful bite!
Their saliva contains a mild anticoagulant that can cause bites to bleed, making the injury appear worse. These important defense mechanisms help water snakes survive predators such as raccoons, snapping turtles, foxes, opossums, other snakes, and birds of prey.
#5. Plain-bellied Watersnake
- Nerodia erythrogaster
- Adults have thick bodies and range from 24 to 40 inches in length.
- Solid coloration of gray, brown, olive, or black.
- As the name suggests, they have a plain unmarked underside varying from red to yellow.
- Also called Redbelly, Yellowbelly, Copperbelly, or Blotched Watersnake.
The Plain-bellied Watersnake can be found near various water sources, including rivers, floodplains, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. This species spends an unusual amount of time on land compared with other water snakes found in North Carolina. Especially during hot, humid weather, they can be found in woodlands quite far from a water source.
Plain-bellied Watersnake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
They feed on BOTH aquatic and terrestrial prey, including crayfish, fish, salamanders, frogs, and other amphibians. Another unusual feature of this species is that they will sit and wait to ambush their prey, especially on land. Almost all other water snakes actively hunt and chase their victims!
If captured, they release a foul-smelling musk and are not afraid to bite! Plain-bellied Watersnakes are eaten by largemouth bass, egrets, hawks, and sometimes other larger snakes.
#6. Queen Snake
- Adults are generally around 24 inches in length though individuals up to 36 inches have been reported.
- Coloration is drab brown or olive green with two lighter stripes down the sides.
- The underside is yellow or tan, with four dark stripes that run the length of their belly. No other similar species has this feature!
Queen Snakes prefer moving water and are generally found near streams and rivers with rocky bottoms. They have highly permeable skin, making them susceptible to evaporative water loss. As you can imagine, they are rarely spotted far from water.
Queen Snake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
Queen Snakes are considered less secretive than many other snakes in North Carolina.
They are primarily diurnal and can be spotted basking on rocks, overhanging branches, or vegetation near the water’s edge. They often take refuge under rocks along the edges of streams. If you’re lucky, you may see them swimming.
Queen Snakes are specialist predators that primarily feed on crayfish. They almost exclusively prey on newly molted crayfish, which have soft bodies and can’t use their pinchers yet. They hunt by probing under rocks and other submerged objects for crayfish.
#7. Northern Cottonmouth
- Agkistrodon piscivorus
- Adults range from 26 to 35 inches in length. Females are typically smaller than males.
- Most individuals are dark gray to black with a broad head, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, elliptical pupils, and a blunt snout.
- Some individuals have a brown, gray, tan, or blackish coloration.
- Also commonly called Water Moccasins, Black Moccasins, or Gapers.
Cottonmouths are the ONLY venomous water snake in North Carolina.
Be on the lookout for these snakes near swamps, marshes, ponds, and slow-moving streams and rivers, as well as flooded fields and drainage ditches. But they aren’t limited to just aquatic habitats. Cottonmouths can also be found in pine forests, dune areas, and prairies.
Northern Cottonmouth Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These water snakes have several defensive tactics to warn potential threats to stay away! They often vibrate their tail in the leaf litter, pull their heads up and back, and then open their mouth to hiss and expose a white interior. This particular display is what earned them the name “cottonmouth.“
Since they are venomous, please use extra caution if you come across an unknown water snake. Quite a few species look similar, especially if you just get a glance as one moves across the water.
Luckily, receiving a bite from a Northern Cottonmouth is rare. But when it does happen, it’s very serious as their venom destroys tissue. It is rare to die from their bite, but it does cause swelling and bruising and can leave scars.
#8. Southern Watersnake
- Nerodia fasciata
- Adults range from 24 to 48 inches in length.
- Coloration is typically gray, greenish-gray, or brown with darker cross bands. However, some individuals may be so dark that the bands are barely distinguishable.
- Flat heads and heavy bodies.
- Also commonly called the Banded Watersnake.
The Southern Watersnake is found in North Carolina near most freshwater sources within their range. Look for them everywhere, including lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, swamps, wetlands, and streams. They’re often spotted on branches overhanging the water, sunning themselves.
Southern Watersnake Range Map
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
These snakes are primarily nocturnal and spend much of their time hunting along the shoreline for frogs and small fish. Like other watersnakes, they quickly grab their prey and swallow it alive.
Southern Watersnakes are docile and non-venomous. But when they are captured or grabbed, they will flatten their heads, release a foul-smelling musk from glands near the tip of their tail, and may bite. Unfortunately, they are sometimes killed because they are mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth.
#9. Glossy Swampsnake
- Liodytes rigida
- Adults range from 14 to 24 inches in length.
- Coloration is a glossy brownish to olive with yellow lip scales. Sometimes two dark or black stripes run down the back.
- The underside is yellow with two rows of black half-moons or dots.
- Also commonly called the Eastern Glossy Swampsnake.
Glossy Swampsnakes inhabit and rarely leave slow-moving waterways such as cypress swamps, roadside ditches, ponds, lakes, marshes, streams, and rivers. These water snakes are quite secretive and often hide under logs and debris near the water or inside crayfish burrows. Your best chance to see one might be on roadways during or after heavy rain.
Glossy Swampsnake Range Map
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
These nocturnal snakes primarily feed on crayfish. They don’t constrict their prey but use their coils to help hold it while swallowing it alive, typically tail-first. Their small, chisel-shaped teeth allow them to consume hard-shelled crayfish.
When disturbed, Glossy Swampsnakes quickly flee into the water and dive to the bottom. If cornered, they may flatten themselves and release a foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tail. If picked up, they may hiss and feign striking but rarely bite.
Due to their highly secretive nature, little is known about the population status of these water snakes in North Carolina. But their dependence on aquatic habitats and crayfish may subject them to decline due to habitat loss and degradation.
#10. Brown Watersnake
- Adults range from 30 to 60 inches in length.
- Coloration is light brown to dark brown with darker brown blotches down the center of the back and on the sides.
- Thick body with a large head that is distinct from the neck.
- It may also be called Water-pilot, False Moccasin, Great Watersnake, Pied Watersnake, Southern Watersnake, and Water Rattle.
Brown Watersnakes are found near various permanent water sources, including rivers, cypress stands, swamps, lakes, ponds, and canals. They’re rarely seen far from the water’s edge. Look for them in areas with overhanging vegetation, emergent snags, and rocky banks, which provide places for the water snakes to bask.
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
Unlike most other snakes in North Carolina, they feed almost exclusively on fish, particularly young catfish.
Brown Watersnakes are also excellent climbers and can be spotted basking on branches overhanging the water at up to 20 feet. If disturbed, they’ll quickly drop into the water and dive under the surface to flee. They have been known to fall into passing boats accidentally! 🙂
This species is relatively common throughout its range and isn’t considered threatened. However, it is protected in some states. Like other watersnakes, it faces habitat degradation and loss, along with needless killing from people who mistake them for venomous cottonmouths.
#11. Eastern Garter Snake
- Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
- Adults typically range from 18 to 26 inches in length.
- Coloration varies and can be mixtures of green, brown, or black. Look for a distinct yellow or whitish stripe down the center of their back.
- Some individuals may exhibit a checkered body pattern.
- Subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.
Eastern Garter Snakes are common and easy to locate in North Carolina!
In fact, they are typically the snake species that people come across the most. They’re well-adapted to living around people and can often be found in city parks, farmland, cemeteries, and suburban lawns and gardens. Though not required, they prefer grassy environments near freshwater sources such as ponds, lakes, ditches, and streams.
Look for these snakes in North Carolina basking in the sun in grassy areas near cover.
Eastern Garter Snakes protect themselves when they are cornered or feel threatened. For example, if you capture or continually disturb one, it will defecate and release a foul-smelling musk from its glands. It’s also common for them to bite as a last resort!
The Eastern Garter Snake most commonly preys on toads, frogs, slugs, salamanders, fish, and worms. However, they are very opportunistic and will eat other insects and small animals they can overpower. They’re active during both the day and night, depending on the temperature.
#12. Eastern Ribbon Snake
- Thamnophis saurita
- Adults typically range from 18 to 26 inches in length. A slender snake with a long tail!
- Coloration is brown to nearly black with three bright yellow to cream stripes; one down the back and one down each side.
- Snout and entire head are brownish, lips and underneath head are white.
Did you see a slender snake in North Carolina with a long tail?
If so, it was probably an Eastern Ribbon Snake!
This species is semi-aquatic and RARELY found far from a source of water. Look for them in a wide variety of habitats, including marshes, grassy floodplains, streams, ditches with grass, wet areas in meadows, and woodlands adjacent to wetlands. Ribbon snakes are even found in suburban areas that match these conditions.
You might spot these snakes basking on branches of trees, bushes, or grasses overhanging the water. They typically hunt in the water and prey on amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.
When disturbed, these snakes quickly flee into grass or brushy areas. If caught, they are not aggressive and rarely bite. But you can expect them to defecate and spray musk onto your hands. In the wild, Eastern Ribbon Snakes rely on blending into their surroundings to escape predators.
#13. Eastern Milksnake
- Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
- Adults typically range from 24 to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is tan or gray with 3 to 5 rows of reddish-brown, black-edged blotches.
- Look for a gray or tan Y- or V-shaped mark near the rear of the head.
Eastern Milksnakes get their unique name from an old myth that they milked cows since they’re commonly found in barns! Obviously, this isn’t true. Instead, their presence inside barns is likely due to the high number of mice, some of their favorite prey.
Eastern Milksnake Range Map
A member of the kingsnake family, Eastern Milksnakes occupy a wide variety of habitats in western North Carolina, including fields, woodlands, agricultural areas, and rocky outcrops. These beautiful snakes are somewhat secretive and spend much of their time beneath the ground. You may be able to find one underneath rocks, logs, boards, and other debris.
The Eastern Milksnake prefers to feed on small mammals such as mice and shrews. However, they’ll also consume various types of prey, including birds and bird eggs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, fish, earthworms, slugs, insects, and carrion.
Like other individuals in the kingsnake family, they will prey on venomous pit vipers. So how do they combat the venom? Interestingly, their blood contains venom-neutralizing properties!
#14. Eastern Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis getula
- Adults typically range from 36 to 48 inches in length.
- Coloration is shiny black with white or yellow chain-link bands, but some individuals may be entirely black.
- Stout head and small beady eyes.
- Also called the Common Kingsnake.
Eastern Kingsnakes thrive in various habitats in North Carolina!
Look for them in hardwood and pine forests, bottomlands, swamps, and wetlands, as well as farmlands and suburban areas. They are a terrestrial species but are often associated with water preferring riparian habitats along stream banks or marsh edges.
Eastern Kingsnake Range Map
A very secretive species, the Eastern Kingsnake is frequently spotted when moving logs, boards, tin, or other objects they use for cover. They’re constrictors and feed on various types of prey, including rodents, lizards, birds, and turtle eggs. Incredibly, they’re immune to venom from pit-vipers and regularly feed on smaller venomous snakes like copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes!
If disturbed, these snakes can mimic rattlesnakes by shaking their tails in dry leaves. They may also release a foul-smelling musk and bite if captured.
Unfortunately, the Eastern Kingsnake has seen dramatic declines in many areas. This is most likely due to habitat loss and degradation, imported fire ants, and disease.
#15. Scarlet Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis elapsoides
- Adults typically range from 14 to 20 inches in length.
- Coloration is alternating red, black, and yellow rings encircling the body; the yellow and red rings never touch.
- Small head, barely distinct from the neck and a red snout.
Scarlet Kingsnakes are found in pine flat woods, pine-oak forests, fields, agricultural areas, and occasionally urban environments. But they’re hard to see because they’re secretive and mostly stay underground. Look for them under logs, rocks, boards, and other debris. However, they’re also excellent climbers and are sometimes spotted on trees and buildings.
Scarlet Kingsnake Range Map
These vividly colored, non-venomous snakes are sometimes mistaken for venomous coral snakes. In fact, they were used as stand-ins for venomous snakes in the movies “Snakes on a Plane” and “The Mummy Returns.”
So how do you tell the difference between a dangerous coral snake and a harmless Scarlet Kingsnake in North Carolina?
Just remember this rhyme, and you’ll never have to worry! “If red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow; if red touches black, you’re all right, Jack.”
These snakes are generally non-aggressive. However, they may vibrate their tail if disturbed, producing a buzzing sound when in leaf litter. If grabbed, they may strike and release a foul-smelling musk.
#16. Eastern Ratsnake
- Pantherophis alleghaniensis
- Adults range from 42 to 72 inches in length. Stout body with a relatively long and narrow head.
- There are TWO color variations in North Carolina. Individuals can be plain black or yellow with black or brown stripes.
These snakes are found in many habitats in North Carolina.
Look for them in agricultural areas, forests, and swampy woodlands. Make sure you look UP, as Eastern Ratsnakes are arboreal and are often found in trees!
They’re also often seen in and around barns and old buildings because of the abundance of rodents, which they kill using constriction. Birds and eggs are also on the menu, with the latter being swallowed whole and broken once in their throat!
Eastern Ratsnakes are active during the day and night, especially just after sunset. They travel considerable distances and are often killed on roadways.
If disturbed, Eastern Ratsnakes will first try to slither away. When they feel cornered, the next step is they’ll flatten their heads and lift the front of their bodies off the ground in an S-shape to appear more threatening and increase their striking range. They may also hiss from this position and bite if grabbed.
#17. Red Cornsnake
- Pantherophis guttatus
- Adults range from 24 to 72 inches in length.
- Coloration is orangish-brown with black-bordered orange, red, or brownish blotches and a spear-shaped pattern on the head and neck.
- The underside usually has a black and white checkerboard pattern which may have some orange.
Cornsnakes got their name because of their frequent presence near corn storage areas due to an abundance of rodents that also hang out at these locations. However, some sources maintain that they were named for the pattern on their underside, which sometimes looks like kernels of bi-color corn.
Red Cornsnakes occupy various habitats in North Carolina, including overgrown fields, pinelands, swamps, and agricultural areas. They are sometimes found in suburban areas near other favorable habitats. Make sure you don’t only look on the ground, as they’re known to ascend trees, cliffs, and other elevated surfaces.
Red Cornsnakes prey on rodents, lizards, frogs, and birds and their eggs. These snakes are constrictors that squeeze and asphyxiate larger prey, but small prey may be swallowed whole without constriction.
These snakes are generally quite docile and are the second most popular pet snake (behind Ball Pythons) worldwide. However, if disturbed in the wild, they may vibrate their tail and lift the front of their body into an S-shape to appear more threatening. If grabbed or pinned, it’s not out of the question for them to bite their attacker, but they typically calm down quickly when being held.
- Cemophora coccinea
- Adults range from 14 to 26 inches in length.
- Coloration is red with light gray, yellowish, or white bands with black borders.
- Small, pointed red head with a light-colored band behind the eyes and light gray or white underside.
These beautiful snakes are commonly found in North Carolina in pine flat woods, dry prairies, hardwood hammocks, sandhills, and open woodlands. They are burrowers and prefer areas with loose, sandy soil, leaf litter, logs, and other material they can easily hide beneath.
There are THREE subspecies of Scarletsnake, and they all look similar. You would need to be a trained herpetologist to tell the difference!
The Scarletsnake is non-venomous, but it’s sometimes confused with venomous coral snakes. An easy way to tell the difference between the two species is to remember the rhyme, “Red touches yellow, kill a fellow; red touches black, a friend of Jack.”
Incredibly docile, these snakes rarely bite even when picked up by humans. But even though they’re common throughout their range, it’s rare to actually see one. Scarletsnakes are very secretive and spend most of their time hidden.
#19. Rough Greensnake
- Opheodrys aestivus
- Adults typically range from 22 to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is bright green with a yellow or whitish underside.
- SLENDER bodies and large eyes.
- Also commonly called a Grass Snake.
This species is hard to mistake for any other snake in North Carolina!
Their bright green color makes for excellent camouflage against the foliage. They’re highly arboreal and spend much of their time climbing in low vegetation. Look for them coiled and sleeping in shrubs, tangles of vines, or other thick vegetation, especially if it’s near water.
When disturbed, Rough Greensnakes typically freeze and rely on their camouflage. They’re nonvenomous and generally very docile, seldom striking even if grabbed.
The Rough Greensnake is fairly common, but they do face several threats. They’re one of the most exploited pet snake species in North America. They’re also often killed on roads and face habitat loss, especially when small waterways are cleared of vegetation in developing areas.
- Pituophis melanoleucus
- Adults typically range from 48 to 90 inches in length.
- Coloration is white, yellow, or light gray with black, brown, or reddish-brown blotches, becoming darker towards the head.
- Powerful body, small head, enlarged rostral (nose) scale, and white underside with dark spots on the sides.
Pinesnakes prefer areas in North Carolina with loose, sandy soils!
The reason for this is that they need areas where it’s easy for them to dig! These snakes are excellent burrowers and spend a great deal of time underground. They use underground burrows for winter hibernation and protection from hot weather.
Pinesnakes prey on rats, mice, moles, other small mammals, and eggs, often entering or diging into animal burrows after prey. Multiple kills are common.
When disturbed, these non-venomous snakes posture aggressively. They often hiss loudly and flatten their head. It’s also common for them to make a noise that sounds remarkably like a rattlesnake. Pinesnakes accomplish this by forcing air through its windpipe, which has a piece of cartilage called an epiglottis that flaps back and forth.
#21. Southeastern Crowned Snake
- Tantilla coronata
- Adults are typically 8 to 10 inches in length.
- Coloration is solid grayish-brown or light brown. A black pointed head followed by a whitish or cream band and then a black collar.
- Slender snake with a solid pink, yellow, or white underside.
These tiny snakes occupy damp or dry woodland habitats in North Carolina.
They prefer areas with sandy, loose soils and plentiful organic matter and are skilled borrowers. In fact, they are rarely seen because they spend most of the day beneath the soil, rocks, logs, or organic debris! However, you may see them traveling on the surface at night.
Southeastern Crowned Snakes feed on small prey, including termites, worms, centipedes, spiders, and earth-dwelling insect larvae.
Interestingly, these snakes have small, chiseled fangs in the back of their jaw, which they use to inject venom into their prey. Luckily, the amount of venom is so small they are considered non-venomous when it comes to humans! And even when they are picked up, they generally don’t bite.
#22. Red-bellied Mudsnake
- Adults range from 40 to 54 inches in length.
- Coloration is smooth, glossy black with a red and black checkered underside with the red extending up the sides, creating a triangle pattern.
- The chin is heavily marked with black and usually yellow, creating a “zipper-like” appearance.
These semi-aquatic snakes are usually found in eastern North Carolina near stagnant muddy waters of shallow streams, rivers, drainage ditches, canals, lakes, marshes, and swamps. They’re often spotted under water-soaked logs or other wet, organic debris and prefer habitats with dense vegetation and muddy bottoms and banks.
Red-bellied Mudsnakes are specialized hunters! Adult snakes feed almost exclusively on fully aquatic salamanders. They prey primarily on only two species, the Three-toed Amphiuma and the Lesser Siren.
These docile snakes don’t strike when disturbed or captured. Instead, if grabbed, they may press their harmless, blunt tail tip against their attacker, a behavior which has earned them the nicknames “horn snakes” and “stinging snakes” If continually handled, Red-bellied Mudsnakes may release a foul-smelling musk and go limp or play dead.
This species is incredibly secretive, and its status is poorly known in many areas.
#23. Rainbow Snake
- Farancia erytrogramma
- Adults typically range from 27 to 48 inches in length.
- Coloration is smooth, glossy, iridescent bluish-black with three red stripes and yellow or pink lower sides.
- A short tail that ends in a pointed, horny scale.
These beautiful snakes are highly aquatic and spend most of their lives in water. These powerful swimmers are commonly found in cypress swamps, marshes, blackwater creeks, lakes, slow-moving streams, tidal mudflats, and sandy coastal plains.
Rainbow Snakes are nocturnal and primarily prey on eels, earning them the nickname “Eel Moccasin.” However, they may also eat frogs, tadpoles, and salamanders, and juveniles in particular feed on earthworms and tadpoles. Prey is eaten alive, typically swallowed headfirst.
If disturbed, these docile snakes may freeze or attempt to crawl away slowly. If grabbed, they don’t bite but may press the tip of their tail into the attacker and release foul-smelling musk from a pair of glands near the base of their tail.
The Rainbow Snake is considered a species of least concern. However, their secretive nature can make their populations hard to count. Degradation of aquatic habitats and any decline of eel populations could negatively impact them.
#24. Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
- Heterodon platirhinos
- Adults typically range from 20 to 30 inches in length.
- Coloration can be yellow, gray, brown, black, olive, or orange, often with darker blotches or spots down its side and back, though solid gray and black individuals are fairly common.
- Thick-bodied, broad, triangle-shaped heads, and an upturned snout.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes prefer areas in North Carolina with sandy soil.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes primarily prey on toads and use their upturned snout to dig for them in their burrows. They also have enlarged teeth at the rear of the upper jaw that they use to puncture and deflate toads that puff up when threatened. These snakes also have large adrenal glands, which secrete large amounts of hormones to counteract the toad’s potent skin poison!
When disturbed, Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes lift their head off the ground and flatten their neck like a cobra! They may also hiss and false strike with a closed mouth.
If this display fails to scare off a predator, then the snake will play dead. They’ll roll onto their back, let their tongue hang out, and emit musk from glands near the base of their tail. Interestingly, when the threat has left, the snake will right itself and continue as normal. 🙂
#25. Dekay’s Brownsnake
- Storeria dekayi
- Adults typically range from 6 to 13 inches in length.
- Coloration is light brown or gray to dark brown or black with two rows of dark spots down the back, which are sometimes linked.
- A dark streak down the head and may have a light stripe down the center of the back.
Dekay’s Brownsnakes occupy various terrestrial habitats as long as there’s plenty of cover available such as rocks, logs, boards, and all sorts of trash and organic debris. They’re often found in backyards and gardens under objects.
These secretive, nocturnal snakes hunt during the evening and night, feeding primarily on slugs and earthworms. However, they’ve also been known to consume snails, insects, insect larvae, small tree frogs, tadpoles, frog eggs, spiders, and fish. Prey is typically grabbed and quickly swallowed alive.
These docile snakes usually don’t bite in defense. Instead, if captured, they often squirm vigorously or flatten their bodies and may release foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tail.
This species is considered common in most of its range and is not a major conservation concern. It adapts well to human development and has a reputation as a “city snake.” However, pesticide usage and clean-up of cover objects may reduce their populations in urban areas by reducing their habitat and food source.
#26. Eastern Coral Snake
- Micrurus fulvius
- Generally less than 30 inches in length.
- Slender body with wide red and black bands separated by narrow yellow stripes.
- Black head. Look for black specks in the red bands.
Sometimes called the Common Coral Snake, Coral Adder, or the American Cobra, this species is a highly venomous snake found in southeast North Carolina. They primarily feed on frogs, lizards, and other smaller snakes. A potent neurotoxin, their venom causes rapid paralysis and respiratory failure for their prey.
Rarely seen by humans, these snakes spend most of their time underground. Because of this fact, Eastern Coral Snakes rarely bite humans. When they do bite, the venom is seldom deadly when medical treatment is immediately sought.
Eastern Coral Snakes are sometimes confused with Scarlet Snakes and Scarlet King Snakes, both of which are entirely harmless. To help distinguish these species, you may use the following rhyme, “Red next to black, safe from attack; red next to yellow, you’re a dead fellow.“
#27. Carolina Pygmy Rattlesnake
- Sistrurus miliarius miliarius
- Adults are small and range from 1 to 1.5 feet in length.
- Coloration varies. Brown, light gray, or reddish.
- 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 venomous snake found in North Carolina!
Carolina Pygmy Rattlesnakes occupy a wide variety of habitats. Naturally, they can be found in pine forests, dry upland forests, floodplains, sandhills, and near lakes, rivers, and marshes. They are often encountered in urban areas and may be seen in gardens and brush piles.
These venomous snakes are not often seen in North Carolina 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 their small size, a bite typically isn’t fatal to healthy adults and is considered less severe than the bite of most other venomous snakes. But make no mistake, these snakes’ cytotoxic venom can cause pain and necrosis for a few days.
#28. Black Swampsnake
- Liodytes pygaea
- Small, thin water snakes that are only 10 – 15 inches in length.
- Shiny black.
- Bright orange or red belly with black marks.
Black Swampsnakes are the smallest water snakes found in North Carolina!
Unfortunately, they can be hard to find. Not only are they small and black, but they live in wet areas with dense vegetation.
Black Swampsnake Range Map
In addition, they are almost entirely aquatic. These snakes don’t even come to dry land to give birth. Females deliver 11-13 LIVE babies directly in shallow water!
Since they are so small, Black Swampsnakes feed mostly on tiny fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, leeches, and earthworms.
#29. Red-bellied Snake
- Storeria occipitomaculata
- A small woodland species that grows between 10 to 25 cm (4-10 in) long.
- Colors vary from orange, gray, black, and brown.
- Their bright red or orange belly stands out from other species.
This species is probably the “cutest” snake in North Carolina!
Red-bellied Snakes are small, docile, and have a bright red belly, which makes them VERY easy to identify.
Look for them under logs and leaf litter. They are also commonly found burrowed inside abandoned ant mounds. They are typically diurnal but can be hard to find due to their secretive nature.
Red-belled Snake Range Map
The colors represent the different subspecies of Storeria occipitomaculata.
Red-bellied Snakes have a unique behavior called “lip-curling,” where they curl their lips upward and flick their tongue when eating or feeling threatened. This behavior helps them catch their prey and also scares off potential predators.
Unfortunately, people often kill this species out of fear. This is incredibly sad because these snakes are harmless and valuable to the ecosystem. In addition to this senseless slaughter, many are killed while crossing roads.
#30. North American Racer
- Coluber constrictor
- Adults typically range from 50 to 152 cm (20 to 60 in) in total length
- The patterns and texture of their skin vary widely among subspecies. However, most are solid-colored and have a lighter-colored underbelly.
True to their name, North American Racers are one of the FASTEST snakes in North Carolina!
When they get moving, they can speed away at up to 3.5 miles per hour (5.6 kph). These active snakes are curious and have excellent vision. In fact, they are known to raise their heads above the height of the grass to view their surroundings.
Despite their scientific name (constrictor), North American Racers do not squeeze their prey to death. Instead, they subdue their victim by holding it down with their body. Smaller prey is simply swallowed alive.
North American Racer Range Map
These nonvenomous snakes fight back incredibly hard if they feel threatened or become trapped. You can expect them to bite, thrash, defecate, and release a foul-smelling musk, especially if you try holding one. In addition, racers will try to impersonate rattlesnakes by shaking their tails in dry leaves.
North American Racers are still abundant in many places. But they face threats as they are losing habitat to urbanization and development. Unfortunately, many people also kill them out of fear, even though they are completely harmless, especially if you leave them alone.
#31. Ring-necked Snake
- Diadophis punctatus
- These snakes are usually solid olive, brown, bluish-gray, or smoky colored. Look for a distinctive yellow or red neckband.
- The snake’s head color is usually slightly darker than the rest of the body, tending towards black rather than gray or olive.
- Adults are usually between 25-38 cm (10-15 in) long.
It can be hard to find these snakes in North Carolina!
That’s because Ring-necked Snakes are VERY secretive and spend most of their time hiding in areas with lots of cover. In addition, they are nocturnal and rarely seen during the day.
Ring-necked Snake Range Map
The colors represent the different subspecies of Diadophis punctatus.
If you come across one, you may see its unique defense posture. Red-bellied Snakes will curl their tails and expose their bright red-orange bellies when they feel threatened in hopes of scaring you away.
Ring-necked Snakes mostly eat small salamanders, earthworms, and slugs. Not much is known about their population status because they are so hard to find!
#32. Eastern Worm Snake
- Carphophis amoenus
- Small snakes that measure 19-28 cm (7.5–11.0 in) in total length.
- Their bodies are brown, and their bellies are pink.
- Females are typically longer than males.
Consider yourself lucky if you ever see an Eastern Worm Snake in North Carolina!
These small snakes spend most of the year underground or in rotting logs. They are usually found in forests with lots of leaf litter and canopy cover, which helps them avoid heat and dehydration.
Eastern Worm Snake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
Eastern Worm Snakes prefer moist soil inhabited by earthworms, which are their main prey. Their skin naturally evaporates water, so the soil needs to be moist enough to offset this. The best chance to spot a worm snake is after heavy rains, which force them out from underground.
Eastern Worm Snakes are completely harmless to humans. The worst thing they can do is release a foul-smelling liquid when they are handled.
- Masticophis flagellum
Also known as the Whip Snake.
- Thin snakes with small heads and big eyes.
- Adults are usually between 50-72 inches (127–183 cm) long.
- They can be of different colors but mostly reflect a proper camouflage for their natural habitat.
- Coachwhip scales are patterned in a way that makes the snake look braided.
Coachwhips are often found in open areas with sandy soil, including open pine forests, fields, and prairies. They are active during the day and feed on lizards, birds, and rodents. Constriction is not used to kill their prey, instead using their jaws to hold and subdue their victim.
Coachwhips are REALLY fast and can slither up to 4 miles per hour (6.4 kph). When threatened, these nonvenomous snakes first try to use their speed to run away from danger. If they can’t escape, they will not hesitate to bite their attacker. While the bites can be painful, they are not dangerous to humans.
They have great eyesight and are naturally very curious. One interesting behavior you might observe is them raising their heads above the grass so they can see what is around them!
#34. Rough Earthsnake
- Haldea striatula
- A slender snake that measures 7-10 inches (18-25 cm) in total length.
- The color on their back is brown, gray, or reddish and usually has no pattern.
These small snakes in North Carolina are completely harmless!
Rough Earthsnakes are rarely seen. They are very secretive and live most of their lives hiding in burrows or under logs, rocks, and leaf litter. They are even common in urban areas near compost piles and gardens, but most people have no idea they are there!
Rough Earthsnake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
You should have no fear if you come across a Rough Earthsnake. They are not aggressive toward humans, and they won’t bite you. If it feels bothered, it will stay still or try to run away. The worst thing these small reptiles can do is release a foul-smelling musk.
If you need to relocate one you find in your yard, you can do so safely by picking it up with your hands.
Do you need additional help identifying snakes in North Carolina?
Try this field guide!
Which of these SNAKES have you seen before in North Carolina?
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Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other North Carolina guides!