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How to correctly spot and identify the six poisonous snakes of North Carolina


On top of the warmer weather of spring and summer, North Carolinians know every time they’re outside to keep an eye out for things that are slipping.

For many, the sight of a snake will make your heart beat faster. But of North Carolina’s 38 snake species, the majority are non-venomous and non-aggressive towards people unless threatened.

Especially in the spring when snakes become more active and are more likely to cross our paths, it is good to know about poisonous (sometimes mistakenly called poisonous) harmless snakes, which are beneficial to keep.

How to tell if a snake is poisonous

What is the shape of the head? A good rule of thumb is that most poisonous snakes have a triangular or diamond-shaped head, while non-poisonous snakes have a tapering head.

Can you see his eyes? If you are close enough to see the snake’s pupils, be aware that poisonous snakes have oblong pupils that look like a slit in the center of the eye. Non-venomous snakes usually have a round pupil.

The poisonous snakes of North Carolina

There are six poisonous snakes found in North Carolina: the Copperhead, the Cottonmouth (also called water moccasin), the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake, the pygmy rattlesnake and the Oriental coral snake.

The coral snake is extremely rare, but has a very serious bite.

Scroll down to the bottom of this story for tips on how to deal with snakebites and to see more snake photos.

Here’s a quick look at the six poisonous snakes of North Carolina.

Copperhead

A Copperhead watches visitors to its habitat at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, North Carolina on Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

Copperhead snakes are the most common poisonous snakes in North Carolina.

They are brownish in color with an hourglass pattern, which resembles a Hershey Kiss.

Charlotte’s Carolinas Poison Center says it receives about 10 times more calls about Copperhead bites than all other snakes combined. Copperhead bites can be serious, but about half of Copperhead bites only cause slight swelling and pain.

Adult Copperheads grow to about 3 feet in length and are found all over North Carolina.

Scroll down to the slideshow at the bottom of this story for more photos.

(Source: Carolinas Poison Control Center).

Cottonmouth (water moccasin)

Cottonmouth snakes have dark bands on dark or olive skin, but are best known for the cotton-like white inside of their mouths.

Young Cottonmouths may be lighter in color and resemble Copperheads.

Juvenile Cottonmouths have bright yellow or greenish tail tips, and the details of the cross band pattern are more evident in this age group. Older cotton-mouthed snakes are often completely dark and without a pattern.

Cottonmouths are found primarily in the eastern part of North Carolina and prefer freshwater environments (but can also be found on land).

The severity of the bite of a cotton-mouth is similar to that of a copper head.

Adult Cottonmouths reach around 3 to 4 feet in length, but are known to grow to 6 feet.

Scroll down to the slideshow at the bottom of this story for more photos.

(Source: Carolinas Poison Center, NC Wildlife)

How to correctly spot and identify the six poisonous snakes of North Carolina

A cotton-mouthed snake curls up on the surface of a pond.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

How to correctly spot and identify the six poisonous snakes of North Carolina

An Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake in a defensive posture ready to strike with its rattle next to its head.

The Oriental Diamondback Rattlesnake has gray or yellowish skin with a dark diamond pattern surrounded by black. They have large broad heads with two clear lines on the face.

These snakes are known for the creepy rattle sound they make.

Rattlesnake bites are more serious than bites from copper heads or cotton mouths and are considered a medical emergency.

The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is the heaviest, but not the longest, poisonous snake in the Americas, and it is the largest rattlesnake in the world. These snakes can weigh up to four or five pounds and typically grow to around 4 to 5 feet in length (the largest on record was 8 feet long).

They are found in the southeastern parts of North Carolina, preferring sandy coastal areas.

Scroll down to the slideshow at the bottom of this story for more photos.

(Source: Carolinas Poison Center, Savannah River Ecology Lab)

Pygmy rattlesnake

How to correctly spot and identify the six poisonous snakes of North Carolina

Two pygmy rattlesnakes glide through their habitat at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, North Carolina on Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

Pygmy rattlesnakes have gray, pinkish, or red skin with a dark, mottled pattern.

Pygmy rattlesnakes make noise, but the rattle is more like a hum.

Rattlesnake bites are more serious than copper heads or cotton mouths and are considered a medical emergency.

They grow only about 1 to 2 feet in length and are found in the southeastern part of North Carolina, especially in forests.

Scroll down to the slideshow at the bottom of this story for more photos.

(Source: Carolinas Poison Center)

Timber rattlesnake

How to correctly spot and identify the six poisonous snakes of North Carolina

A wood rattlesnake

The Timber Rattlesnake can vary in color, but has dark bands on lighter skin with a rattle at the end of its tail. Coastal varieties have what looks like a brown or orange “racing stripe” down the middle of the back.

Rattlesnake bites are more serious than copper heads or cotton mouths and are considered a medical emergency.

Timber rattlesnakes, which reach about 4 feet in length, can be found throughout North Carolina, preferring forests.

Scroll down to the slideshow at the bottom of this story for more photos.

(Source: Carolinas Poison Center)

Oriental coral snake

How to correctly spot and identify the six poisonous snakes of North Carolina

This adult female eastern coral snake was found in Carolina Beach National Park in May 2013.

Coral snakes are actually extremely rare in North Carolina and are considered endangered, but they are quite poisonous.

They are thin with red, yellow and black rings. The Coral Snake looks a lot like the Royal Scarlet Snake (which is harmless), but there is an easy way to tell them apart. Just remember that rhyme: “Red touches black, friend of Jack; red touches yellow, kills a comrade.

Another way to distinguish a royal scarlet snake from a coral snake is the color of its muzzle. A scarlet royal snake has a red snout and a coral snake has a black snout.

The muzzle of a coral snake is also blunt in shape, especially compared to most snakes.

Coral snakes live in sandy areas near the South Carolina border and stay underground most of the time.

Coral snake venom attacks the central nervous system and death, if it occurs, is usually the result of respiratory failure.

Scroll down to the slideshow at the bottom of this story for more photos.

(Source: Herps of NC)

If you have been bitten by a snake you SHOULD:

Sit down and stay calm.

Gently wash the bite area with warm, soapy water.

Remove any jewelry or tight clothing near the bite site.

Keep the bitten area still, if possible, and elevate it to heart level.

Call the Carolinas Poison Center: 1-800-222-1222.

To note: If a snakebite victim has chest pain, difficulty breathing, facial swelling, or is unconscious, call 911 immediately.

If you are bitten by a snake, you SHOULD NOT:

Cut off the bitten area to try to drain the venom. This can make the injury worse.

Ice the area. Icing causes additional tissue damage.

Apply a tourniquet or tight bandage. It is actually better for the venom to circulate around the body rather than stay in an area.

Suck on the bite or use a suction device to try to remove the venom.

Try to catch or kill the snake.

Call the Carolinas Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for questions about a snakebite or for more information.

(Source: Carolinas Poison Center)



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