The 6 Types of Venomous Snakes in North Carolina! (ID Guide)
“What kinds of venomous snakes can you find in North Carolina?”
This question is extremely common. Everyone wants to know if any dangerous snakes live near them and what they look like!
Believe it or not, you can find SIX types of venomous snakes in North Carolina. But please don’t live in fear, thinking that you are going to be bitten. In general, snakes try to avoid any contact or interaction with people. As long as you leave them alone, you shouldn’t have any trouble!
Did you know that snakes are considered venomous, NOT poisonous? If you eat something that makes you sick, then it’s considered “poisonous.” If an animal, like a snake, delivers its toxins when it bites, then it’s considered “venomous.”
*If you come across any of these species, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB! Venomous snakes 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 snake that has recently bitten you. If you have recently been bitten, GO DIRECTLY to the nearest hospital to get help and to determine if the snake is venomous.*
6 Venomous Snakes That Live in North Carolina:
RELATED: The 28 Types of SNAKES Found in North Carolina! (ID Guide)
#1. Eastern Copperhead
- Agkistrodon contortrix
- Adults reach lengths between 20 and 37 inches.
- Stout body and 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 and thinner towards the center of the back.
Look for these venomous snakes in North Carolina in deciduous forests and mixed woodlands, often near rocky outcroppings. However, they may also be seen in swampy areas, coniferous forests, and near river habitats. You’re most 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 locate and judge the size of their prey by being able to sense infrared!
Bites from these venomous 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.
When threatened, Eastern Copperheads use a “freeze” defense. Their excellent camouflage coloration allows them to blend into the leaf litter and soil. However, they may also vibrate their tails in the leaves when approached to produce a buzzing sound. This noise may serve to warn predators, similar to a rattlesnake, or divert a predator’s attack to their tail.
#2. 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.
Cottonmouths are the ONLY aquatic venomous snake in North Carolina.
Be on the lookout for them near bodies of water, including swamps, marshes, ponds, and slow-moving streams and rivers, as well as semi-permanent water sources like flooded fields and drainage ditches. But they aren’t limited to just aquatic habitats and can also be found in palmetto thickets, pine forests, dune areas, and prairies.
Northern Cottonmouth Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
Since they are typically near water, the bulk of their diet is made up of fish and frogs. But they are opportunistic and will also eat small mammals, birds, turtles, small alligators, and other snakes.
These venomous snakes, which are also commonly called Water Moccasins, Black Moccasins, or Gapers, have several defensive tactics. 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.”
Luckily, receiving a bite from a Northern Cottonmouth is rare. But when it does happen, it is very serious. Their venom destroys tissue and is more toxic than a copperhead but not as severe as a rattlesnake. It is rare to die from their bite, but it does cause swelling and bruising and can leave scars.
#3. 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 southeastern 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 venomous 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.“
In early summer, female Eastern Coral Snakes lay 3-12 eggs which hatch in late summer or early fall. Coral snakes are the only venomous snakes in North Carolina that lay eggs. Other species, like rattlesnakes and copperheads, are ovoviviparous, which means they give birth to live young!
#4. 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 venomous snake in North Carolina!
Some impressive individuals have even grown up to 8 feet long. They prefer relatively dry habitats, including pine forests, palmetto flatwoods, mixed woodlands, and scrublands. 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 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 they 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 get older. Each time an individual sheds their skin, a new section is added (though sections do commonly break off).
During the breeding season, males will fight for dominance. They lift their bodies and try to throw the other on the ground. And once born, these venomous snakes can live for 20 years or more!
#5. 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, which is also known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake, can be found in a wide variety of habitats in southeastern 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 venomous 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 the 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 yield of venom. Luckily, Timber Rattlenskaes have a mild disposition and don’t often bite. They 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.”
#6. 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.
Do you need additional help identifying a venomous snake?
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. View Cost - Amazon
Which of these venomous snakes have YOU seen in North Carolina?
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