People often wonder if there are poisonous snakes in South Carolina. While snakes are creepy and terrifying, out of the 38 species of snakes in South Carolina, only 6 of them are venomous. These venomous snakes tend to be more elusive and secretive and are less frequently encountered. Even though all snakes are non-aggressive when left alone, let’s go over which snakes in South Carolina are poisonous and what to do if you run into one.
What To Do If You See a Venomous Snake in South Carolina
If you spend much time at all in the outdoors of South Carolina, you’ll at some point likely encounter a snake. Odds are it won’t be poisonous. The best thing to do is stay calm. The snake probably saw you before you saw it and wants nothing to do with you. Move away from the snake being careful not to alarm or provoke it in any way. Trying to kill or trap the snake is never smart and often leads to unnecessary injuries.
Differences Between Venomous and Nonvenomous Snakes
One of the easiest ways to tell if a snake is poisonous is by looking at its eyes. Most people prefer never to get that up close and personal with a snake but the eyes can tell you a lot. Venomous snakes typically have elliptical pupils while nonvenomous snakes have round pupils. There are some exceptions but generally, the pupils are an excellent indicator. Other signs of a venomous snake include triangular-shaped heads and fatter bodies. If you have an encounter with any snake, try snapping a quick picture of it if possible so you can identify it later. This may help your local pest control company know what they are dealing with.
Poisonous Snakes in South Carolina
While the likelihood of running into a poisonous snake in South Carolina is rare, it never hurts to be prepared. So let’s identify these 6 venomous snakes and learn a little about each one.
The copperhead is South Carolina’s most common venomous snake. Its color varies from pink to shades of coppery-tan with dark brown markings in the shape of an hourglass. They reach an average length of 2-3 feet but can get as long as 4 feet in some cases. Copperheads eat a variety of prey including rodents, frogs, lizards, and a variety of insects. These snakes live in coastal plain hardwood forests, mountain coves, and longleaf and swamp forests.
Coral snakes are dangerous but not usually deadly. There hasn’t been a human death from a coral snake bite in over 50 years in the United States. Additionally, there is rarely any pain or swelling around the bite area. They pose the biggest threat to animals and small children. That said, we highly advise you not to pick up a coral snake! Coral snakes are the only snakes exclusive to South Carolina. They have bands of red, yellow, and black. People often mistake the coral snake for the scarlet kingsnake which isn’t venomous but has a very similar color scheme and pattern. Coral snakes have thick red and black bands while the scarlet kingsnake has only thick red bands with only a thin yellow band in between.
Easter Diamondback Rattlesnake:
This snake is one of the heaviest venomous snakes in South Carolina and the largest of all rattlesnakes. They are well known for their rattle and painful venomous bite. The toxin in their venom kills red blood cells and can cause serious tissue damage. Some reach 8 feet in length and can weigh up to 10 pounds. These pit-vipers generally live in dry, desert-like habitats, pine flatwoods, and coastal scrub areas. They have a very distinct pattern of light-centered black diamonds with a yellow border. Acting as nature’s exterminators, diamondbacks feed on pests such as rats, mice, squirrels, raccoons, and birds. While feared as aggressive and deadly creatures, diamondbacks only attack in defense and have as little to do with humans as possible. Bites are extremely painful and can be fatal to humans. Luckily, antivenom is available so bites rarely result in death.
Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin):
These snakes can often appear aggressive but their displays are sent more as a warning than an actual threat. When they feel threatened or trapped, they open their jaws to show their white mouths. This is precisely where they get their name from. As a last resort, they will shake their tails and let off a pungent odor that resembles cucumbers to ward off danger. Cottonmouths only resort to biting if they feel there is no other way to protect themselves. Cottonmouth snakes are water creatures, hence their nickname “Water Moccasins”. They dominate the water while copperheads are common in most other surrounding habitats. Water snakes in South Carolina can often be mistaken for cottonmouths but pose no danger to humans at all.
This large rattlesnake is typically between 3-5 feet in length and is often also referred to as the canebrake rattlesnake. This species has two different forms in South Carolina. The mountain form is referred to as the timber rattlesnake and the piedmont-coastal form, the canebrake rattlesnake. The timber is generally yellow or black with cross bands. The canebrake is often tan or light pink with the same cross band markings. One big difference is that the canebrake snake has a reddish-brown stripe running down its back that the timber snake is missing. Both forms of snake feed mainly on rodents such as squirrels, mice, rats, birds, and chipmunks.
Pigmy rattlesnakes are a miniature version of the Eastern and Timber Rattlesnakes. Full-grown adults rarely reach a foot long and have rattles so tiny that they are difficult to see or hear. Pygmies are found throughout South Carolina with the exception of the mountainous regions. Also drawn to water, they live near swamps, marshes, lakes, and ponds and feed on small rodents, frogs, and lizards.
Black Snakes in South Carolina
There are two main species of black snakes in South Carolina. Locals are familiar with these snakes and know they’re non-venomous. However, because these species look so similar, most people don’t recognize they are different. The black rat snake, when encountered by a human, remains still and stationary and moves slowly away once it’s made up its mind to leave. The black racer is extremely fast and seems to vanish in thin air once spotted. Makes sense where the racer gets its name from. Both black snake species can be found in almost any setting in the upstate area.
Black Rat Snake:
Black rat snakes are shiny black in color with the occasional light traces of blotchy spots on their backs. Even though they move slowly, they are known for their agility when it comes to climbing walls, trees, cliffs, or outbuildings. This innate ability allows them to access their prey, such as birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other small mammals, at great heights.
The black racer is a much more dull black than the black rat snake but they do have a very defining white chin. They are known to be very active prowlers and feed on animals ranging from reptiles to a variety of insects.
Water Snakes in South Carolina
Northern Water Snake
All snakes spend time in the water but that doesn’t necessarily make them what is considered a water snake. But, in upstate South Carolina, there are only two species that can truly be considered “water snakes”. These snakes prefer permanently living near a body of water. The most common of these is the northern water snake. Reaching up to 3 feet in length, this light brown snake with dark brown and reddish bands and blotches on its back and sides is often spotted by fisherman and boat traffic. Often found in shallow waters, they hunt mainly for fish and frogs.
Remember, the northern water snake resembles the poisonous copperhead which you are far less likely to run into.
The queen snake is also often seen in South Carolina but is far fewer in numbers than the northern water snake. They feed almost exclusively on small crayfish and inhabit rivers and streams instead of ponds and reservoirs. Their very specific diet and habitat could be one reason the queen snake is more elusive. This slender snake is brownish-olive in color and has a yellow stripe on each lower side and grows to roughly 30 inches in length.
Conclusion on Snakes in South Carolina
Although snakes often get a bad rap, they’re actually a very important part of our ecosystem as they help keep other pests and rodents at bay. However, snakes tend to make homeowners uncomfortable, especially if you live in an area where venomous snakes are common. If you have snakes in your yard or around your home call animal control immediately. While we have locations in Greenville and Charleton, we don’t do snake removal. But if you need other pests or rodents removed, we can certainly help with that. We can also do rodent exclusion at your home or business to ensure snakes, mice, and squirrels don’t get into your house.