Copperhead

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Identifying a venomous snake in North Carolina can troublesome to the untrained eye.  Of the thirty seven different species in the state, only six are venomous.  We prefer the term “venomous” as opposed to “poisonous” because it better reflects both the nature and the purpose of the toxin.  The venom is simply an apparatus intended to help the snake immobilize and digest its prey.  It is injected into the host via specialized hollowed out enlarged teeth, known as fangs.  A “poison” suggests that ingestion is required for the toxin to do its damage; thus a toxic mushroom would be thought of as “poisonous.”  Animals such as snakes, scorpions, and spiders would be said to be “venomous.”

There are several ways to identify a venomous snake, but the most effective is a simple recognition of its pattern.  Each snake species, venomous and non-venomous, has its own unique pattern.  The exact patterns and colors can vary slightly from individuals of the same species, but the general pattern is the same.  Additionally, some non-venomous snakes, such as the black rat snake, are patterned as juveniles, and become a solid black color as they grow.  With a possible exception being the cottonmouth, venomous snakes typically retain the same pattern throughout their lifetime.  The cottonmouth, a cousin to the copperhead, is vividly patterned when young, but can become more of a uniform brown or olive color as they reach adulthood.  As with many semi-aquatic snakes that occur in tannin-stained waters of our coastal plain, the water itself can be responsible for “dying” the snakes giving them a dark appearance.  With many darker individuals, you can still see the hint of some pattern.  Some adult cottonmouths however, are vividly colored as adults.  An effective supplementary way to identify a snake as being venomous is its body structure.  With the exception of the coral snake, the remaining five venomous snakes are relatively thick-bodied, giving them a more stout appearance.

Click on the links below for detailed information about each of our venomous snakes, and learn tricks that will help you learn to identify them.  Venomous snakes, as well as the non-venomous have their place in the balance of nature, and deserve our respect and conservation efforts.

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Coral Snake

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Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

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Copperhead

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Timber Rattlesnake

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Pigmy Rattlesnake

 

Cottonmouth

 

 Click on the links above for information on our venomous snake species, and check out the rest of North Carolina's native reptile and amphibian species provided by Davidson College.

 

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