When you have a close encounter of the snake-like kind, you may have only seconds to determine if the reptile in front of you is venomous or not. Here are some ways you can quickly recall and identify venomous vs. non-venomous snakes you may encounter outdoors.
At the very least, being able to quickly identify local venomous snakes can be life-saving. Here are the ones to watch out for.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake - There is a misconception that rattlesnakes are only found in the western part of the United States. We absolutely have rattlesnakes in South Carolina, of which the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is one. This snake rattles loudly and has dark diamond shapes along its back ranging from brown through black with yellow outlines around them.
Pigmy Rattlesnake - This rattler sounds more like a buzzing insect than a rattlesnake. This snake can be brown or gray with a regular pattern of darker spots or blotches along its body. While the Pigmy rattler may not sound intimidating, it's still poisonous.
Canebrake Rattlesnake - This rattler sounds like you would expect and can be quite loud as it adds to its rattle with every skin-shed. The Canebrake is an expert at camouflage, like most rattlers, so keep your ears open as you'll likely hear this snake before you see it.
Eastern Coral Snake - Shiny in appearance with black, red and yellow rings, the Eastern Coral Snake has a few imitators out there. You can tell an Eastern Coral by looking at the rings--the red and yellow rings touch on this snake and typically do not on imposters. Be wary of this snake along the banks of ponds and in pine tree-heavy wooded areas.
Water Moccasin/Eastern Cottonmouth - The Cottonmouth, one of the two most feared snakes in the south, is a water snake. The body of this snake may be brown, black or sometimes a dark olive green. When threatened or startled, the Cottonmouth rears its head back and opens its mouth, displaying the white flesh that gives it the Cottonmouth name.
Southern Copperhead - The Copperhead is the second of the two most feared snakes in the south. This snake is easily identified by its copper-colored head and the coppery hourglass-shaped pattern along its back.
Being able to definitively recognize venomous snakes is essential. However, some of the non-venomous snakes are great imposters of the venomous variety. Let's get to know some of your non-venomous snakes (though getting bitten by these guys is not a good time either).
Scarlet King Snake - The first of our venomous snake imposters is the Scarlet King Snake. Often mistaken for the Eastern Coral Snake, this snake features red, yellow and black bands on the body, however the red and yellow do not touch. This snake can also be distinguished by the orange-tipped nose.
Scarlet Snake - The Scarlet Snake does a good impersonation of the Eastern Coral Snake also, however its belly is white and bands do not go all the way around the body. The red, black and yellow ring-like markings are convincing enough to scare away prey and people too.
Corn Snake - Many people mistake the Corn Snake for the deadlier Copperhead because of its red to orange body with darker reddish blotches. The Corn Snake is a good impersonator but not venomous.
Black Racer - Adult Black Racers are typically solid black and move fast when threatened. Some more aggressive individuals have been known to chase people and animals so it's best to slowly back away and let this snake streak away from you, instead of chasing after you.
Eastern Hognose - This snake with the snout-shaped nose rarely bites though when threatened, it will inflate its body with air and produce a loud hissing sound. The Eastern Hognose will also roll over with its mouth open and play dead when startled or threatened as well.
Red Belly Water Snake - This snake is usually shy and will avoid confrontation if possible. As the name implies, this snake has a red belly and prefers the water. The rest of its body can be gray, black or brown.
Eastern Ringneck Snake - One of the more interesting looking snakes in our area, the Eastern Ringneck has a mostly black body with a gold or yellow ring around the neck and a yellow belly. These snakes like to hang out in the ground debris of wooded areas.
Eastern Chain King Snake - Also called the Common King Snake, this is the largest snake species native to our state. These intensely strong constrictors can grow to lengths of 36 inches to 60 inches long. They have a shiny black body with thin yellow bands along its back and sides that looks like a chain. King snakes got their name because they will eat other snakes, even the venomous ones.
Our list of non-venomous snakes features some of the more identifiable species in our state, as well as some pretty tricky imposters, however there are far more non-venomous species than venomous ones. The ability to quickly identify the venomous species found in our state can be life-saving--especially if you or your family (including canine family) gets bitten. Knowing the species of snake can help an emergency department administer the best possible anti-venom option. Whether venomous or not, snakes are wild animals and should only be dealt with by those who are trained to safely remove and relocate these reptiles.