Environment

Venomous Snakes Of North Carolina

Six species of venomous snakes, including the cottonmouth, copperhead, and timber rattlesnake, live in North Carolina.

6. Eastern Coral Snake -

#6 Eastern Coral Snake -

The Eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) is one of the six venomous species of snakes of North Carolina. The snake has a bright color consisting of yellow, black, and red rings. Wide black rings in the tail are separated by narrow yellow rings. The snake is medium sized with a slender body. People often tend to wrongly identify the Scarlet Kingsnake or the Scarlet Snake (both non-venomous snakes) as the Eastern coral snake due to the similarity in appearance. However, the easiest way to distinguish the venomous coral snake from the others is that the red bands in the coral snake are in contact with the yellow bands while in the case of the scarlet snakes, the red and yellow bands are separated by the black bands.

The Eastern coral snake inhabits sandy woods of scrub oaks and pine. Sightings of this snake are rare in North Carolina as it is the northernmost limit of the snake’s range and it has an Endangered status in the state. The snake is found only in the Sandhills and Coastal Plains of North Carolina. The snake consumes small snakes and lizards as it primary prey. The venom of these snakes is extremely neurotoxic in nature which produces paralysis and respiratory failure. However, the snake does not bite unless threatened or mishandled. There are no known cases of fatal coral snake bites in North Carolina.

5. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake -

#5 Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake -

The Eastern diamond rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) is a large snake with a brownish or grayish body and can be identified by the diamond-shaped, yellow-margined and light centered patterns on its body. The sides of the head contain two diagonal lines with a dark stripe within that extends from the mouth to the jaw. The snake possesses a large rattle at the end of its tail.

The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is considered to be the deadliest snake in the US. It is also one of the venomous snakes in North Carolina. The US state serves as the northernmost limit for this snake, and it is found in low numbers in this state. Its habitat here is primarily restricted to the Coastal Plain region. Rabbits and mice are the favorite prey of this snake. Though not aggressive by nature, the Eastern diamondback is a large and powerful predator. It has the longest fangs among all rattlesnakes and delivers a deadly cytotoxic poison resulting in a fatality rate of 105 to 20%.

4. Timber Rattlesnake -

#4 Timber Rattlesnake -

Like the Eastern diamondback, the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is a large, stout creature with a distinct rattle at the tip of the tail. The body of the snake is blackish to pinkish in color, and the adult has a black tail. Dark, light-centered crossbands and blotches are present on its body.


Though the timber rattlesnake ranged throughout the state of North Carolina in the past, currently its range is largely restricted to forested tracts in the Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and mountains. Those found in the former two locations are more vividly patterned than those found in the mountains. These rattlesnakes, one of the most poisonous snakes in North Carolina, are found in rocky mountainsides as high at 5,000 feet or higher. Small mammals like rabbits and squirrels are the primary prey base of the timber rattlesnake. Like the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, this venomous snake of North Carolina has long fangs and high venom yield making it one of the deadliest snakes in the US.

3. Carolina Pygmy Rattlesnake -

#3 Carolina Pygmy Rattlesnake -

The moderately slender pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) has a reddish, grayish or brownish body with dark brown blotches with light margins. One side of the head adorns a red-brown stripe bordered by a narrow line running from the eye to the jaw angle. The head also bears symmetrical plates. The tail tip has a small rattle. Wavy brown bands run between the top of the head and the neck. A reddish mid-dorsal stripe that runs along the length of the body is also often present.

In North Carolina, the Carolina pygmy rattlesnake is found in the lower Coastal Plain and Sandhills region. The snakes have also been spotted in some parts of the Piedmont and the interior Coastal Plain. The color of this species varies greatly across its range in North Carolina where it is bright pinkish, reddish or orange in color in its northern range; gray-brown or garish in southern parts of the state; and gray to red in color in the intermediate parts of its range. The pygmy rattlesnake produces a cytotoxic venom that is hemorrhagic in nature. However, the venom is produced in low volumes and hence the snakebite is not fatal for adult humans.

2. Cottonmouth -

#2 Cottonmouth  -

The heavy-bodied, semi-aquatic cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) snake has a black, olive or brown colored body with crossbands that have a dark margin and light-colored centers. A dark bar in the head extends from the eye to the jaw angle. The tail in adult cottonmouths is black in color. The juvenile is more colorful that the adult and has a greenish yellow tail tip.

Cottonmouths are found near waterbodies like rivers, streams, swamps, roadside ditches and canals, marshes news estuaries and sounds. In North Carolina, the cottonmouth occurs in abundance and is found in the coastal plains and the lower Piedmont region in large numbers. The snakes feed on birds, amphibians, small mammals, fishes, and reptiles. The venom of the cottonmouth is more toxic than that of the copperhead. It is a powerful cytotoxin and can destroy tissue. When approached or threatened, the cottonmouth displays a distinct behavior that helps to distinguish it from similar-looking nonvenomous snakes. The snake quickly retreats or coils, opening mouth in a threatening manner, and vibrates its tail.

1. Copperhead -

#1 Copperhead -

The stout-bodied copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) is distinguished by the presence of chestnut or brown colored hourglass-shaped markings on its body which has a tan, brown or pinkish background. The size of the snake ranges between 24-46 inches. The copperheads are found in a wide variety of habitats encompassing rocky mountainsides as well as coastal flat-woods. In North Carolina, the snake has a statewide range with the exception of the Outer Banks region. Two subspecies of these snakes of North Carolina are the A. c. contortrix which is found in the coastal plains of the state and A. c. mokasen found in the mountains and Piedmont.

The copperhead feeds on small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and birds. Copperheads bite only when threatened and often deliver dry bites while defending itself. This pit viper species delivers potent cytotoxic venom which can damage muscle and bone tissue. The venom of the copperhead has also been to have pharmaceutical properties and has been found to destroy cancer cells in mouse models. 90% of all venomous snakebites in North Carolina are inflicted by the copperhead. However, reports of human fatalities are extremely rare.

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