PHOTO GALLERY: South Carolina venomous snake guide
Warmer weather in South Carolina means more people are active outdoors. It also means certain animals are more active, including snakes.
Thus, chances are greater of human and snake encounters, often leading to questions about whether or not a snake is dangerous to people or pets.
Most times, they're not, according to Will Dillman, herpetologist for the S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources.
Of the 38 snake species that call South Carolina home, only six are venomous, according to Dillman.
"In general encountering snakes is rare, and encountering a venomous snake is even more rare," Dillman says.
And being bitten by one of those venomous snakes is extremely rare, according to Dillman.
"A lot of bites occur once people have seen a snake, and choose to engage with it further by moving it somewhere, for example," says Dillman.
Dillman warns people who see snakes not to disturb them.
"If you don't interact with it, your chances of getting bitten are extremely low," Dillman says.
As a means of protecting yourself and your property this time of year while outdoors, Dillman says it's best to keep yards and shrubbery mowed and trimmed short, and to wear gloves, boots, and long pants when working outside.
SOUTH CAROLINA'S VENOMOUS SNAKES
Five of the six venomous snake species in South Carolina are pit vipers, which means they have distinct triangle-shaped heads, and the pupils in their eyes are vertical like a cat's eye.
Find information below from SCDNR and the University of Georgia about each species, including their appearance and size, their habitat and range, and more.
- Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are South Carolina’s largest venomous snake. Adults are typically 3-5 feet long, but sometimes grow to more than 6 feet, and can weigh up to 10 pounds. The largest ever recorded was 8 feet long.
Diamondbacks are named for the dark brown-to-black “diamond” pattern that runs along the snakes' backs. They also have distinctive "masks" of black coloring around their eyes. Their overall body color varies from light tan to dark olive.
The snakes are typically found only in the outer coastal plain region of the state.
Allendale, Bamberg, Orangeburg, Manning, Florence and other places along U.S. Hwy. 301 are good geographic reference points for where the snakes' range ends, but they are found less frequently farther inland.
Diamondbacks typically live in pine forests in the inland part of their range. Closer to the coast, they dwell in maritime forests, in grassy sand dunes and along the edges of marsh and swamp. They are most abundant in coastal areas.
Eastern diamondbacks aren't listed as endangered or threatened, but are in major decline across much of their traditional range. They are thought to have been completely eradicated in North Carolina, where there has not been an official sighting since the early 1990s.
LISTEN | Sound of rattlesnake "rattling"
- Canebrake Rattlesnake (Timber Rattlesnake)
Another large species of rattlesnake, canebrakes typically reach 3-5 feet long, with the largest ever recorded being more than 6 feet.
Canebrake rattlers come in a variety of colors, including pale shades of pink, orange and yellow, as well as tan. They have distinctive black, zig-zagging "chevron" bands running across the length of their bodies, and a rust or dark brown colored stripe running down their backs. Their tails are black.
Timber rattlesnakes are considered the same species as canebrakes, but are distinctive in that they're only found in the mountains, and have darker coloring, sometimes ranging from gray to almost black. They do not have the stripe running down their backs.
Canebrake and timber rattlers are found throughout the state in a variety of habitats, including wetlands. They are most common in rural areas.
- Pigmy Rattlesnake
As evidenced by its name, the pigmy rattlesnake is a small rattlesnake species that rarely reaches a foot in length, with two feet being its maximum size. Because they are so small, sometimes people cannot hear them rattle.
Two subspecies, the Carolina pigmy and the dusky pigmy, are found throughout South Carolina, except in the mountains.
The Carolina pigmy rattler can be gray, tan, or lavender, while the dusky pigmy ranges from bluish gray to nearly black. Both subspecies have a row of well-defined black spots running along their backs down the length of their bodies.
Pigmy rattlers are found in numerous habitats, both near water and in dry areas.
Copperheads are medium-sized pit vipers, usually ranging from 2-3.5 feet long. Their bodies are often gray or tan in color, sometimes varying between pale shades of orange and brown.
These snakes are identifiable by the rows of hourglass shaped bands across their backs. The bands range from black to brown to a deep rust color.
Copperheads thrive in a variety of habitats from the mountains to the coast, and are even common in suburban and urban settings.
Copperhead venom is not very potent and deaths from copperhead bites are exceedingly rare.
If people see a venomous snake in an an urban or suburban area, it's most likely going to be a copperhead, says Dillman.
- Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin)
Cottonmouths, which are also known as water moccasins, are typically 3-4 feet long, but have been known to grow to more than 5 feet.
The water moccasin comes in a variety of colors, ranging from dingy pale yellow to olive drab on the lighter side, to deep brown, olive, or nearly black on the darker side. They have irregular dark bands across their backs running down the length of their body.
Cottonmouths get their name from the white color of the flesh inside their mouths. The snakes are known for gaping their mouths open as a threat display.
Cottonmouths have a reputation as being more aggressive than other venomous snakes. However, Dillman says the snakes' boisterous displays and tendency to stand their ground when feeling threatened are often misinterpreted as outright aggression.
The name water moccasin has to do with the fact that these snakes are semi-aquatic, spending much of their time in or very near water. They are primarily found in swamps and along rivers and streams from the coast into the midlands.
- Coral Snake
The coral snake is the only venomous South Carolina snake that is not a pit viper, so it can't be identified as venomous by its head or eye pupil shape.
Instead, coral snakes can be identified by the vivid red, yellow and black color bands on their bodies.
Other non-venomous snakes, such as the scarlet kingsnake, have similar patterns, but coral snakes can be differentiated by how the colors are arranged.
With coral snakes, the red bands will always have smaller yellow bands on either side, and the red bands will never be connected to black bands.
As the old saying goes: "Red touching yellow will kill a fellow / Red touching black is safe to Jack."
Coral snakes are very uncommon, Dillman says, but can be found from the coast to the midlands in habitats with sandy soils. They spend much of their time underground, and are secretive.
Dillman adds that coral snakes when encountered usually will try quickly to escape.
"It's very difficult to get bitten by a coral snake unless you're handling it," Dillman says.