- Common Name(s): Snakes
- Order: Squamata
- Family: Viperidae–Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, and Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin; Elapidae–Coral Snakes; Colubridae–Non-venomous Snakes
- Common Species:
- Agkistrodon contortrix–Copperhead
- Agkistrodon piscivorus–Cottonmouth
- Crotalus horridus–Timber/Canebrake Rattlesnake
- Crotalus adamanteus–Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
- Sistrurus miliarius–Pygmy Rattlesnake
- Micrurus fulvius–Eastern Coral Snake
- Commonly Confused With: Other Snakes
How to Identify?
The snake in the photo on the top of this page is the harmless DeKay’s Brownsnake, Storeria dekayi. However, most people are probably here to learn about the snakes that are “dangerous.” Therefore, the main snakes I am going to talk about are Georgia’s six different venomous snakes.
Copperheads are either tan or brown in color with hourglass shapes going across their body and running down the whole length of the body. Their heads are a triangle shape and their pupils have the same shape as a cat’s eye. Adolescent copperheads have a light yellow/green tail which the adults do not possess.
Cottonmouths come in a wide variety of colors. They can be patterned or one solid, dark color. They have triangular-shaped heads and their pupils have the same shape as a cat’s eye. The name cotton mouth comes from the color inside of their mouth; these snakes will show their fangs when they feel threatened.
Timber rattlesnakes are pale pink, light gray, or dark gray in color with a yellow-orange, orange, or brown colored stripe that runs along their back. They have black or dark brown colored v shapes that run down the length of their body. They also possess a rattle at the end of their dark colored tail.
Diamondback rattlesnakes are usually a dark brown or tan in color with two lighter colored stripes on their face. As their name implies, they have dark colored diamonds running down the length of their back. The interior of the diamond is a dark brown to black color with a light tan to white surrounding it. At the end of their tail, they also possess a rattle.
Pygmy rattlesnakes are usually a black, gray, pale purple, or tan color. However, some of the species in Georgia can be a burnt orange-red color. They possess dark colored spots and a red-orange band that runs down the length of their back. At the end of their tail, they also possess a small rattle. Unlike other rattlesnakes, the rattle of the pygmy rattlesnake may be too small to be heard, but their bright warning coloration (aposematic coloration) makes up for their lack of noise.
Eastern Coral snakes have a beautiful aposematic coloring of red, black, and yellow. The tip of their nose will start black and then the rest of their body will be a banded color. They will have red and black bands with yellow on either side of them. You may have heard the saying “red touches black you’re okay jack, red touches yellow you’re a dead fellow.” This saying may help you with identifying coral snakes in Georgia, but BE VERY CAREFUL because not all coral snakes have a pattern and not all coral snakes are red, black, and yellow. Albino eastern coral snakes can appear white/light pink, red, and yellow. Coral snakes are also unique because they have fixed fangs that do not move. If you ever see a snake, admire from a safe distance, but be safe and DO NOT attempt to handle it!
Where do they live?
Copperheads are found throughout most of Georgia excluding some of the more southern counties nearing Florida. They tend to prefer forests and rocky or swampy areas but they can be found living in urban areas near people. Cottonmouths are found in most of Georgia excluding some of the northeastern counties. They are most abundant in coastal Georgia as they prefer marshy areas such as swamps, deltas, and other wetlands. Timber rattlesnakes can be found all across the state of Georgia, but they are not as common in urban areas. They prefer locations like mountains, forests, swamps, floodplains, and fieldland. Diamondback rattlesnakes are most common in middle and south Georgia. They prefer pine forests, dry/sandy, or tough, dry, grassy areas. This does not mean that these snakes cannot be found near water as they are highly capable of swimming. Pygmy rattlesnakes are common throughout most of Georgia excluding a few of the northernmost counties. They range in habitat anywhere from dry/sandy, forest, grassy, to damp, marshy locations. Coral snakes are mostly found in south Georgia. They can be found in dry forested areas, damp swampy locations, and any mixture in between.
What do they eat?
Snakes are carnivores and eat a wide variety of food like frogs, lizards, rats, mice, fish, eggs, insects, other mammals, and even larger game for big snakes like the diamondback rattlesnake, which can max out around 9 feet and weigh almost 11 pounds.
What do they do?
All of the snakes that were expanded upon above are venomous and of medical significance. If you are ever outdoors, do not approach, pick up, or in any way attempt to handle any snake unless you are a trained professional! Snakes are great to have around as natural pest control, but they can become dangerous when living close to humans. Be sure to call Active if you are ever in doubt of a snake around the home. If you can, try to snap a photo from a SAFE distance away! Remember, cameras have a zoom feature; BE SURE TO USE ZOOM AND STAY AT LEAST 25-30 FEET AWAY FROM THE SNAKE.
There are too many different snakes to list just one simple fun fact, so instead, visit the following website to explore all the snakes in Georgia: https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/index.htm. I will leave you with this fun fact: garter snakes and hognose snakes are mildly venomous, but they pose no threat to humans! For more info on snake safety and what to do if bitten, visit: https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/safety/SnakeSafetyGeneral.pdf
- Andrews, K., & Willson, J. D. (n.d.). Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)-Venomous. Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/agkcon.htm
- Andrews, K., & Willson, J. D. (n.d.). Cottonmouth / Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus)-Venomous. Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/agkpis.htm
- Taylor, R., & Gibbons, J. W. (n.d.). Canebrake / Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)-Venomous. Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/crohor.htm
- King, M., & Willson, J. D. (n.d.). Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)-Venomous. Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/croada.htm
- Meadows, A., & Willson, J. D. (n.d.). Pigmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius)-Venomous. Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/sismil.htm
- Barrentine, T., & Gibbons, W. (n.d.). Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius)-Venomous. Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/micful.htm
Author: G. Wyatt West– B.S.E.S University of Georgia 2017; Board Certified Entomologist
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