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North Carolina Snakes

North Carolina venomous Snakes

North Carolina snakes are known for being venomous. There are 6 species of venomous snakes that live in North Carolina. The Copperhead, Cottonmouth, Timber rattlesnake, Pigmy rattlesnake, Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and Eastern coral snake.

They belong to the family Viperidae except for the Eastern coral snake that belongs to the family Elapidae. Besides venomous, they are all carnivorous and ovoviviparous.

North Carolina is also home to other 31 non-venomous snakes. Generally speaking, non-venomous snakes typically have a round head, no fangs, and no heat-sensory pits on their faces, while venomous snakes will have a triangular-shaped head with long, movable fangs.

From the above-mentioned group, the copperhead is the venomous snake most commonly found in the Carolinas. According to the Carolinas Poison Center, officials receive 10 times the number of calls about copperhead bites than all other snakes combined.

Quick Reference Section

1. Copperhead Snake – Agkistrodon contortrix

Copperhead Snake (Agkistrodon contortrix)
Copperhead Snake (Agkistrodon contortrix)

Quick Reference Section

  • Scientific Name: Agkistrodon contortrix
  • Family: Viperidae
  • Average Length: 135cm
  • Diet: carnivorous
  • Reproduction: ovoviviparous
  • Venom: venomous

Interesting facts about the Copperhead snake

Copperheads vibrate their tail and release foul-smelling musk from glands at the base of their tail when disturbed to dissuade their enemy before biting.

They will avoid humans that they perceive as predators but if severely threatened, they will bite to defend themselves. Fortunately, though their bite may be very painful, it is rarely fatal to humans.    

What does the Copperhead snake look like?

The copperhead is a  rather heavy-bodied snake.

It’s marked with dark brown, hourglass-shaped crossbands on a grey or light brown background.

The belly is a mix of white and black markings.

Young individuals will have yellow or green tails.

What kind of habitat do Copperhead snakes live in?

Copperheads are common in many forested areas but sometimes venture into open fields.

What does the Copperhead snake eat?

Copperheads are carnivorous. Their prey includes frogs, mice, and small birds.

How do the Copperhead snakes breed?

Copperheads are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to live young.

They mate during the spring and fall and 3 to 14 young get born during the late summer or early fall.

2. Cottonmouth snake – Agkistrodon piscivorus

Cottonmouth snake (Agkistrodon piscivorus)
Cottonmouth snake (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

Quick Reference Section

  • Scientific Name: Agkistrodon piscivorus
  • Other common names: water moccasin, swamp moccasin, black moccasin,  and simply viper.
  • Family: Viperidae
  • Average Length:189 cm
  • Diet: carnivorous
  • Reproduction: ovoviviparous
  • Venom: venomous

Interesting facts about the Cottonmouth snake

Cottonmouths get their name from the white coloration inside their mouth that they open wide as a threat towards potential enemies.

Besides opening their mouth when threatened, like Copperheads,  Cottonmouths will vibrate their tail and release a foul-smelling musk from glands at the base of their tail. They will also flatten the body to make themselves look bigger.

Though perceived as aggressive, the fact is that Cottonmouths, before striking, will try to dissuade their predator (including humans that, of course, they perceive as predators) or even escape. If a bite occurs, it can be severe as a cottonmouth’s venom is very toxic.

Cottonmouths are great swimmers and the world’s only semiaquatic viper.

What does the Cottonmouth snake look like?

Cottonmouths are very heavy-bodied, with dark crossbands on an olive to dark brown background. Sometimes, they are entirely black.

Juvenile and subadult specimens generally have a more contrasting color pattern, with dark crossbands on a lighter ground color. The ground color is tan, brown, or reddish-brown.

Like copperheads, young cottonmouths have yellow tails.

What does the Cottonmouth snake eat?

Cottonmouths feeds on rodents, frogs, fish, and other snakes, many of which are ambushed near the edge of the water. This species is most active at night.

What kind of habitat do Cottonmouth snakes live in?

Cottonmouths are the most aquatic species of the genus Agkistrodon and are usually found in aquatic environments, though they can also be found relatively far from water.

They prefer swamps and slow-moving streams and rivers.

How does the Cottonmouth snake breed?

Cottonmouth is ovoviviparous, giving birth to 1 to 16 live young late summer after mating during spring and fall.

Neonates are 22–35 cm in length (excluding runts). If weather conditions are favorable and food is readily available, growth is rapid and females may reproduce at less than three years of age and a total length of as little as 60 cm.

Males compete for access to sexually active females.

The Cottonmouth is also capable to reproduce through Parthenogenesis, which is an asexual form of reproduction in which growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization.

What predators does the Cottonmouth snake have?

Cottonmouths are preyed upon by snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), falcons, American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), horned owls (Bubo virginianus), eagles, red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus), loggerhead shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus), and large wading birds, such as herons, cranes, and egrets It is also preyed upon by ophiophagus snakes, including their own species.

Florida’s Venomous Snakes – Video

3. Timber Rattlesnake – Crotalus horridus

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Quick Reference Section

  • Scientific Name: Crotalus horridus
  • Family: Viperidae
  • Average length: 189 cm
  • Diet:carnivorous
  • Reproduction: ovoviviparous
  • Venom: venomous

Interesting facts about Timber rattlesnakes

The timber rattler is one of the species of snakes typically used by religions that practice snake handling.

Most timber rattlers are reluctant to rattle or bite, and instead, rely on their excellent camouflage for protection. However, if menaced they will eventually bite. Their venom is very toxic. In fact, deaths from their bites have been recorded.

What does the Timber rattlesnake look like?

Timber rattlesnakes are large and heavy-bodied.

They exhibit dark crossbands or chevrons on a lighter background, but there is considerable variation in the overall color of individual snakes.

In the mountains, they are usually yellow, dark gray, or sometimes almost solid black.

In Piedmont and Coastal Plains, they show a pinkish background color and often a brown or orange stripe running down the middle of the back.

Timber rattlesnakes usually have black tails.

What kind of habitat does the Timber rattlesnake’s live in?

Timber rattlesnakes are most common in the mountains and Coastal Plain. They inhabit forested areas, and in the mountains, they will often hibernate together in large numbers.

What does the timber rattlesnake eat?

Timber rattlesnakes feed primarily on rodents though do also hunt birds.

How does the Timber rattlesnake breed?

Timber rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous, giving birth to 5 to 20 live young, after mating during the late summer or fall. 

In the mountains, the females do not usually reproduce until they are 9–10 years old and then only reproduce every 3–4 years.

Consequently, many timber rattlesnake populations are likely to disappear if adult numbers are threatened.

4. Pigmy Rattlesnake – Sistrurus miliarius

Pigmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius)
Pigmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius)

Quick Reference Section

  • Scientific Name: Sistrurus miliarius
  • Family: Viperidae
  • Other common names: ground rattlers and sand rattlers
  • Subspecies: the Carolina pigmy (S. m. miliarius), the dusky pigmy (S. m. barbouri), and the western pygmy (S. m. streckeri).
  • Size: 83 cm
  • Diet: carnivorous
  • Reproduction: ovoviviparous
  • Venom: venomous

Interesting facts about the Pigmy rattlesnake

As its names indicate, the Pigmy rattlesnake is so small, that its “buzz” sounds like a small insect, oftentimes barely heard.

Because of its small size, its bite is less serious than that of their larger relatives, but you should still seek medical attention if bitten.

What does the Pigmy rattlesnake look like?

 Pigmy rattlesnakes are the smallest species of rattlesnake in the United States.

They are usually dull gray with a row of dark spots running down the center of their back and along their sides. Sometimes they will have an orange stripe running the length of their back.

Pigmies from Beaufort, Hyde, and Pamlico counties have a pinkish background color.

What kind of habitat does the Pigmy rattlesnakes live in?

The Pigmy rattlesnakes are rare to find but eventually, they will be encountered in pine Flatwoods and scrub oak habitats in the southeastern Coastal Plain and in the Sandhills of North Carolina. 

What does the Pigmy rattlesnake eat?

Pigmy rattlesnakes feed on lizards, mice, and frogs and will sometimes eat other small snakes.

How does the Pigmy rattlesnake breed?

Pigmy Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous and give birth to 3–9 young live,  in late summer or early fall.

5. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake – Crotalus adamanteus

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) (1)
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)

Quick Reference Section

  • Scientific Name: Crotalus adamanteus
  • Family: Viperidae
  • Average length: 251 cm
  • Diet: carnivorous
  • Reproduction: ovoviviparous
  • Venom: venomous
  • Conservation status: diamondbacks are protected in North Carolina.  Due to habitat destruction and the collecting and killing of adults, very few diamondback rattlesnakes survive in the state. 

Interesting facts about the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

Diamondback rattlesnakes try to remain undetected when a threat presents itself and are reluctant to bite. When unable to escape, they will rattle loudly as a warning and, just then, will strike.

Due to the snake’s large size, a bite results in heavy injection of venom which is very destructive to tissue.

What does the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake look like?

The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is a heavy-bodied snake.

Its name comes from the series of dark diamonds outlined with yellow-to-white bands running the length of their gray or yellowish backs.

The diamonds on the tail tend to form into dark bands.

Diamondbacks also show two light lines running along the sides of their heads.

Like copperheads, they have a triangular-shaped head.

What kind of habitat does the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake live in?

In North Carolina, diamondbacks are usually found in sandy pine Flatwoods in the southeastern Coastal Plain.

What does the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake eat?

Diamondbacks are ambush predators and fee on rodents and rabbits.

How does the Eastern diamondback breed?

Eastern diamondbacks mate in August and September, and the females give birth the next fall to 7–21 live young that look like their parents.

Female eastern diamondbacks usually reproduce only every 2–3 years.

6. Eastern coral snakeMicrurus fulvius

Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius)
Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius)

Quick Reference Section

  • Scientific Name: Micrurus fulvius
  • Family: Elapidae
  • Average length: 122 cm
  • Diet: carnivorous
  • Reproduction: ovoviviparous
  • Venom: venomous
  • Conservation status: Coral snakes are extremely rare in North Carolina and are considered endangered by the state.

Interesting facts about the Eastern coral snake

Coral snakes are members of the family Elapidae, which includes the deleterious cobras and mambas.  This is the only venomous snake in the Carolinas that isn’t a pit viper.

Generally, people get bitten by coral snakes while attempting to pick them up. A bite from the eastern coral snake at first seems anticlimactic as there is little or no pain or swelling at the site of the bite.

Other symptoms can be delayed for 12 hours. However, if untreated by antivenin, the neurotoxin begins to disrupt the connections between the brain and the muscles, eventually ending in respiratory or cardiac failure.

What does the Eastern coral snake look like?

Coral snakes are easily distinguished by a body with red, yellow, and black rings.

In the United States, one can distinguish a venomous coral snake from the scarlet kingsnake and the scarlet snake -its nonvenomous mimics- because coral snakes have yellow bands adjacent to their red bands.

As long as you remember “Red touches yellow, kill a fellow” and “red touches black, venom lack”, you’ll know the difference.

How to identify coral snakes – Video

What kind of habitat does the Eastern coral snake live in?

Coral snakes live in sandy areas and stay underground most of the time.

What does the Eastern coral snake eat?

Coral snakes usually eat smaller snakes and lizards which they kill by injecting with venom.

How does the Eastern coral snake breed?

Eastern coral snakes lay an average of six or seven eggs in early summer and the young hatch in late summer or early fall.

Baby snakes emerge from their eggs 7 inches long and fully venomous.

What predators does the Eastern coral snake have?

The Eastern Coral snake falls prey to a large variety of predators that include other snakes (even other Eastern Coral snakes), birds of prey, and some mammals. Birds include eagles, hawks, buzzards, owls, and storks. Among mammals, foxes and raccoons often eat snakes.

Eastern Coral Snakes, Care & Venom Extraction – Video

Is it legal to have any venomous North Carolina snake as a pet?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates over the pets Americans can own. But individual states have their laws, too. As a general rule, venomous snakes can not be kept without permission.

It may even not be legal to keep venomous reptiles where you live. Also, some endangered species are protected by the law (such is the case of Eastern diamondback rattlesnake and Eastern coral snake).

Once you have determined that it is lawful to keep venomous snakes in your area, you should consider how to legally acquire (and eventually also transport) the snake you wish to keep.

Whether you plan to field collect it (remember to check state laws! as some ban the possibility of collecting snakes from the wild) or you purchase your snake from a reputable breeder or vendor, be aware that transportation of wildlife across state lines is regulated by federal law.

The Lacey Act makes it illegal for a person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce fish or wildlife was taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of state law, state regulation or foreign law.

The Act also makes it illegal to possess wildlife taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of state law, state regulation, foreign law, or Indian tribal law.

The Lacey Act establishes marking requirements as well, making it illegal to import, export or transport in interstate commerce a container or package containing fish or wildlife unless the container or package is plainly marked, labeled or tagged by regulations issued under the Act (among other things with the indication of whether each species is venomous).

Last but not least, the Lacey Act provides for both civil and criminal penalties. It is relatively easy to violate the Lacey Act to constitute a felony (as in, lose the right to vote, possess firearms or hold office, and potentially spend up to five years in federal prison, among other inconveniences).

By their nature, venomous reptiles always have the potential to inflict harm. Therefore, another concern is liability: you cannot afford to keep or sell venomous reptiles without insurance, and without making sure you are able not just to provide your snake the care and comfort it deserves but to maintain your snake in safe conditions concerning other people.


North Carolina is home of 6 venomous, and 31 non-venomous snakes.

Some states allow the keeping and breeding of venomous snakes – usually with permission – while others ban this possibility. Also, some species of venomous snakes are under special protection.

Besides respecting the law, venomous reptile keepers have a duty to their peers to behave responsibly.

Contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or an attorney if you have any questions or concerns regarding acquiring, picking in the wild, keeping, breeding, or shipping/receiving venomous snakes across state lines.

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