Snakes of Charleston, SC

Charleston snake

Brown Snake
Latin name: Storeria dekayi
Size: 5 to 15 inches
Venomous: No

The brown snake is a shy and secretive species, active mostly at night, and hiding beneath rocks, boulders, or tree logs (in the wild) during the day. A burrowing snake, it prefers to live in moist areas, where the substrate is soft and easily burrow-able. It has everything it needs to survive down there, including plenty of earthworms, slugs and snails, which make up the bulk of its diet. Because of this, the snake's presence can actually be beneficial in flower gardens, croplands, and vegetable patches. The occasional other insect may be consumed, but this is mostly thought to be accidental.

Red Corn Snake
Latin name: Pantherophis guttatus
Size: Up to 70 inches
Venomous: No
The red corn snake, also known as just corn snake, has such a wide variety of colorings and markings that it often looks like other snake species, including the venomous copperhead. Sadly, this is what leads to the deaths of many wild corn snakes; humans believing it is venomous and killing out of accidental fear. Although all snakes will bite to defend themselves when they feel it is necessary, corn snakes aren’t usually very aggressive, much preferring to slither off into safety than stay and fight against a large predator.

Eastern Coachwhip
Latin name: Coluber flagellum flagellum
Size: 42 to 60 inches
Venomous: No
The eastern coachwhip is quite a large snake, and a fast one, too. Active during the day, and a solitary wanderer (until mating season comes around), it is an adept swimmer, but it usually doesn’t spend a great deal of its time near or in water, despite sometimes inhabiting creek valleys and swamplands alongside the more common farm and woodland, prairies, desert regions, and scrubland. As well as having speed on its side, this snake can also climb very well, so will use trees to escape as and when necessary, and will commonly utilize underground burrows, inhabited or not, as shelter.

Eastern Coral Snake
Latin name: Micrurus fulvius
Size: 18 to 30 inches
Venomous: Yes
It is quite rare to find the eastern coral snake in South Carolina, but there have been sightings in the southernmost regions of the state, around pine habitats, dry forests of oak trees, as well as lightly-vegetated open ground. Also known as the coral adder, American cobra, harlequin snake, and host of other names, bites from it are rare, and fatalities even rarer. Despite having quite potent venom, it rarely attacks and would much rather prefer to retreat from conflicts with humans. It needs its venom reserves to take down prey, which include frogs, lizards, and other snakes, including smaller coral snakes.

Glossy Crayfish Snake
Latin name: Regina rigida
Size: 13 to 20 inches
Venomous: No
The glossy crayfish snake is a highly aquatic species, known to dwell in quite the assortment of water-based areas — lakes and ponds with plenty of vegetation, water-filled ditches on the side of roads, swamps, and bays. It is known by a host of other names, including glossy water snake and simply crayfish snake — and it eats its namesake: the crayfish. This snake is an elusive species, tough for even the most experienced of snake-watchers to find, especially as it spends most of its time in or around bodies of water that contain and are surrounded by plenty of vegetation.

Southeastern Crowned Snake
Latin name: Tantilla coronata
Size: 5 to 10 inches
Venomous: No
Also known as the eastern backfanged snake, because of the mildly-venomous (but completely harmless to humans) fangs this snake has, the southeastern crowned snake sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. Thin-bodied and very shy, it is actually incredibly rare for people to see this species in the wild, although overturning rocks and decaying logs can sometimes unearth a small, slithering surprise. It spends its life trying to hide away, and our knowledge of the species is small, but ever-growing. What we do know is that it eats insects, such as earthworms and beetles, and human bites are very rare.

Eastern Smooth Earth Snake
Latin name: Virginia valeriae valeriae
Size: 7 to 10 inches
Venomous: No
Small, thin, and elusive are just three words you could use to describe the eastern smooth earth snake, one of many subspecies of earth snake. It looks a lot like other snakes found in South Carolina, such as brown snakes, worm snakes, and red-bellied snakes, with gray, brown, or red-brown colourations that usually bear little to no pattern or blotching. As juveniles, this snake can be quite intricately patterned with different shades of brown, but this tends to fade out and darken as the snake grows into adulthood.

Rough Earth Snake
Latin name: Haldea striatula (Formerly known as Virginia striatula)
Size: 7 to 10 inches
Venomous: No
The name of this snake has changed many times over the years since it was first discovered, including the latin name, but you'll commonly have heard of this snake species being referred to as the brown ground snake, the striated viper, the small-eyed brown snake, or the little striped snake. A fossorial species, the rough earth snake spends a lot of its time trying to be as secretive as possible, using it's neutral camouflage to hide under loose leaf litter, logs and tree hollows, underneath rock piles, and in other areas of dense ground vegetation.

Charleston snake Eastern Garter Snake
Latin name: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Size: 18 to 26 inches
Venomous: No
The eastern garter snake is a slender, small, and quite shy snake for the most part, but it is becoming more and more capable of living really close to where humans live, including under stairs and decking, and also underneath logs, rocks, boulders, and garden furniture. If you leave this snake to do its business, it'll likely slither off after a time, at which point you can seal up any spaces it once called home. If you try to move it or handle it however, it will think of it as an attack and will act accordingly — this can sometimes mean delivering a harmless but sometimes painful bite.

Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake
Latin name: Heterodon platirhinos
Size: 15 to 42 inches
Venomous: No (Yes, but it doesn't affect humans)
The eastern hog-nosed snake is just one subspecies of hog-nosed snake found in South Carolina, the other one being the southern hog-nosed snake. They both look quite similar, with an upturned nose that gives it the hog name; and they can both come with quite an array of colorings and markings. Usually, the body is a brown, caramel, or tan color, with darker uneven spots of color. Occasionally, however, the snake can be almost entirely black, giving it the appearance of other, venomous species, such as the water moccasin.

Southern Hog-Nosed Snake
Latin name: Heterodon simus
Size: 14 to 25 inches
Venomous: No (Yes, but it doesn't affect humans)
As well as the eastern subspecies, South Carolina is also home to the southern hog-nosed snake, although it is rare and numbers have declined across multiple states since the seventies. This is thought to be because of a couple of things — deforestation, and also the introduction of fire ants. These snakes are mostly active during the day, especially in the morning when it is warm, although they do spend a great deal of their time underground, being a fossorial species. The main food on the menu is toads, but they have been known to eat other prey items when toads are not readily available, such as reptiles and small mammals.

Charleston snake Eastern King Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis getula getula
Size: 36 to 50 inches
Venomous: No
The king snake has been given its name because it is, quite literally, the king of the snake world. It is in the regions it inhabits, anyway, because it has the ability to kill and feed on other snake species – including the venomous ones. Without snakes like this one, who knows how many venomous species humans would have to deal with! As well as keeping venomous snake populations in check, the eastern king snake also consumes rodents, keeping pest problems at bay. With its striking black-and-white chain-like patterned body, it’s not bad to look at, either.

Mole King Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis calligaster rhombomaculata
Size: 30 to 40 inches
Venomous: No
The mole king snake is a very secretive, fossorial snake species that spends pretty much all of its time hiding. Found in forested areas, particularly around the edges, the majority of the day is spend sleeping in burrows in loose, soft, and dry soils; or hiding beneath rocks, boulders, logs, branches, etc. The mole king snake’s primary food source is rodents, but it will consume a number of other prey items, including other snake species, frogs, tadpoles, lizards, and reptile eggs.

Prairie King Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis calligaster calligaster
Size: 30 to 40 inches
Venomous: No
The prairie king snake is a fairly common snake in some areas, and is found across most of the southeastern and midwestern areas of the USA. Despite this, you may never spot one, not even if you were to go hunting for it. This species is an elusive one, and fossorial in nature — which means that it spends most of its time living beneath the surface, or hidden under rocks and boulders, tree logs and branches, of even just fallen leaves that scatter across the ground. It is rare for these snakes to stray too far from a body of water.

Eastern Milk Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
Size: 24 to 54 inches
Venomous: No
This snake has earned itself the nickname “leopard-print snake”, and it's not very hard to see why. With a pale tan or gray background and larger red-brown uneven spots on the top, it certainly looks a little leopard print-spotted. Shades can vary from region to region, of course; some are more of a dull brown, others are a bright red, almost to the point of being orange. Another adaptable snake, the eastern milk snake can live in a wide array of habitats, and is just as easy living in dry, open prairies as they are in moist woodlands.

Eastern Mud Snake
Latin name: Farancia abacura abacura
Size: 40 to 54 inches
Venomous: No
Despite being called the mud snake, this snake is anything but a muddy color. It is usually bright red on the underside, sometimes marked with black, and the top of the body is usually a very glossy and dark black color, sometimes with lighter edges of the scales. This snake spends almost all of its life in the water of swamps and streams, usually only leaving them to breed, find a dry space to lay eggs, or to hibernate. Combine that with its nocturnal nature and there's a pretty good chance you won't ever see this species in the wild.

Florida Pine Snake
Latin name: Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus
Size: 40 to 66 inches
Venomous: No
A heavy and thick-bodied snake that is native to Florida (hence the name) but strays into both Georgia and the southernmost areas of South Carolina, in areas that have dry and sandy soils and good water drainage. As the name suggests (again), they have a preference for pine forests and oak scrubs, as well as scrub flatlands. This particular subspecies of pine snake is actually quite uncommon, especially the further out you move from Florida, and many herpetologists believe that populations are decreasing at quite a fast rate. Combine that with the fact that they spend a lot of their time burrowing underground and there’s a chance you won't ever encounter this elusive snake species.

Northern Pine Snake
Latin name: Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus
Size: 45 - 70 inches
Venomous: No
This snake can make quite a racket if you disturb it, although it is unlikely that you will spot the northern pine snake above ground, especially during fall or winter; and with numbers declining in all areas, sightings are becoming more and more rare. As well as loud hissing and rattling-like vocal noise, it will also shake its tail. The visual shaking and vocal noise can easily confuse a predator (and a human) into believing that the non-venomous pine snake is a venomous rattlesnake. In reality, this snake is really more interested in mice, rats, birds eggs, and other mammals, many of which they find as they invade underground burrows. It is common for the snake to get all underground mammals into the ‘corner’ of the burrow, before then killing them all.

Pine Wood Snake
Latin name: Rhadinaea flavilata
Size: 10 to 14 inches
Venomous: No (Yes, but not harmful to humans)
Also known as the brown-headed or yellow-lipped snake, the pine wood snake is one that inhabits its namesake: pinewood forests, as well as other types of hardwood forest and woodlands. Damper environments are better, and it is believed that it eats small lizards, frogs, tadpoles, toads, and small insects, but we don't know an awful about this species because of its highly elusive nature. We do know that it often falls prey to a number of other snakes also found in mixed and pinewood forests, such as king snakes and black racers.

Queen Snake
Latin name: Regina septemvittata
Size: 13 to 30 inches
Venomous: No
The queen snake is a natatorial species, which means that it has a body designed for swimming. Semi-aquatic in nature, you will more commonly find this snake close to a body of water, such as river or stream, especially ones in which crayfish live. This is the number one source of food. The snake has colourations that make is suitable for hiding beneath the surface of the water: brown, olive, or gray, usually dark, and occasionally with barely-there stripes. Males are smaller than females, and this species is less shy than other types of water snake. It is quite common to see the queen snake basking in the sun.

Rainbow Snake
Latin name: Farancia erytrogramma
Size: 36 to 48 inches
Venomous: No
It is quite rare to see this stunning snake species in the wild, and not just because it is highly-aquatic/. It is also incredibly elusive and spends almost all of its time in brackish, tidal water – or, more commonly, in rivers, streams, and other bodies of slow-moving waters. Adults tend to prefer permanent bodies, with juveniles inhabiting temporary, seasonal wet regions. Although averaging 36 to 48 inches in length, with males being smaller than females, 66-plus-inch specimens have been previously recorded. Although quite large, this snake Is non-venomous and rarely bites.

Charleston snake Black Racer
Latin name: Coluber constrictor
Size: 20 to 60 inches
Venomous: No
The black racer is also commonly known as the eastern racer, and there are a few different subspecies. The southern subspecies (Coluber constrictor priapus) tends to be the most popular across Central and North America, and it is found more often than not close to a source of water, such as wetland edges. Slender but long, this snake tends to be almost entirely black, with shiny scales, but different variations in color are frequently reported. They can sometimes have pale patches, particularly on the sides and towards the underbelly, and also around the chin area.

Eastern Rat Snake
Latin name: Pantherophis alleghaniensis
Size: 36 to 72 inches
Venomous: No
This snake is an avid swimmer, an excellent climber, and can also burrow underground with ease — which makes the eastern rat snake quite an intimidating opponent when you come face to face with one. Thankfully, the snake isn't venomous, and when left alone, it's not aggressive, either. It is a predator for rodents, however, which is a good thing. You’ll need to make sure that your chickens are well-protected, on the other hand; this snake has been given the name “chicken snake” for a reason — it preys upon them and their eggs when they are available.

Black Rat Snake
Latin name: Pantherophis obsoletus
Size: 40 to 70 inches
Venomous: No
This snake is quite confusingly known by a few other names, such as western rat snake, black rat snake, or pilot black snake, and is usually confused with similar-colored snakes — eastern racers and eastern indigo snakes being just two of them. Rat snakes can climb really well. In fact, they prefer to live in wooded areas with plenty of trees where they will find protection from predators, such as hawks, and also find prey, such as squirrels, chipmunks, birds, bird eggs, frogs, lizards, and more.

Yellow Rat Snake
Latin name: Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata
Size: 36 to 48 inches
Venomous: No
The yellow rat snake is adaptable and can live in a wide range of different habitat types, such as cypress swamps, hardwood forests, pine scrubs and flatlands, mostly in the coastal regions. Just as adaptable in behavior, it is known to be away both during the day and night, depending on the weather, and they have a habit of getting into farm buildings, abandoned buildings, and even homes in some cases. Although called the yellow rat snake, the body can be more orange-yellow than bright yellow, and there are sometimes darker patches of color running down the back.

Carolina Pygmy Rattlesnake
Latin name: Sistrurus miliarius miliarius
Size: 16 to 24 inches
Venomous: Yes
You will find the Carolina pygmy rattlesnake subspecies in more drier habitats than other subspecies — mixed pine and hardwood forests, sand-hills, and long grass prairies. This pit viper eats a lot of frogs and lizards, which are commonly known to inhabit water-close areas, but smaller mammals, various insects, and small rodents are on the menu, too. Small, discreet, and well-camouflaged, pygmy rattlesnakes can be hard to spot in the wild, although it isn't unusual to find them as roadkill after collisions with vehicles on roads. They spend most of their time hiding in vegetation and loose ground covering.

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake
Latin name: Sistrurus miliarius barbouri
Size: 16 to 24 inches
Venomous: Yes
This venomous rattlesnake is small and well-camouflaged in its wet prairie and swamp surroundings, especially in areas with lots of vegetation (where it likes to spend its time), so there's a good chance that you wouldn't ever know if you were close to a dusky pygmy rattlesnake — one of two subspecies of the pygmy rattlesnake found in the state of South Carolina. A fun fact about the pygmy rattlesnake is that its venom is used to treat patients with blood clotting problems. It was considered to be the basis of a drug called eptifibatide, which is used during heart attacks.

Florida Red-Bellied Snake
Latin name: Storeria occipitomaculata obscura
Size: 8 to 10 inches
Venomous: No
The Florida red-bellied snake is one of three subspecies of red-bellied snake, and sometimes encountered in the state of South Carolina. It lives in wetlands, mostly swamps, river edges, around lakes, and in bogs and marshes, where it feeds on soft-bodies bugs and grubs such as earthworms, slugs, and snails that it finds there. The red-bellied snake, as the name implies, has a red underside that can sometimes be tinged with pink or orange. Regularly mixed up with the ring-necked snake, this particular species has a stripe that runs down the top of the body of the red-bellied snake, whereas the ring-necked snake does not.

Northern Red-Bellied Snake
Latin name: Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata
Size: 8 to 16 inches
Venomous: No
The northern red-bellied snake is a diurnal (active during the day) species that barely grows to more than 15 inches, and boasts of a fiery-red underbelly that can sometimes be orange or pink-tinged. Dorsally, the snake can be a wide array of colours and patterns, often with pale stripes against a black, gray, or brown backdrop. The red-bellied snake’s diet is primarily made up of soft-bodied insects, such as slugs and snails, but earthworms are the number one food on the menu. It finds these in the soft substrates of the woodlands it lives in, although it isn't unusual to see this species in residential back gardens, residential parks, and also agricultural lands.

Eastern Ribbon Snake
Latin name: Thamnophis sauritus sauritus
Size: 7 to 40 inches
Venomous: No
Closely resembling the eastern garter snake, the eastern ribbon sake is usually slimmer in size, and it also has the three stripes down the back in slightly different places, although this isn’t always easily spotted when the snake is speeding along the low-growing vegetation, or, being semi-aquatic, diving into the bodies of water they often live close to. Being semi-aquatic, this snake eats a lot of prey that you'd expect to find in marshes, swamps, ponds, streams, and similar areas close to these — crustaceans, frogs, small fish, and occasionally small mammals on land around the edges.

Peninsula Ribbon Snake
Latin name: Thamnophis sauritus sackenii
Size: 16 to 30 inches
Venomous: No (Yes, but it doesn't affect humans)
The peninsula ribbon snake also goes by a few other names, including Florida ribbon snake, and is a semi-aquatic species. Associated habitats include edges of freshwater bodies, such as streams, pounds and lakes, and also in/around marshes. The peninsular subspecies of the ribbon snake is usually smaller than the others, with dark olive-green colorings and green-yellow stripes. It is often confused with other snakes, such as garter snakes, and it is usually only upon closer inspection that the two can be told apart — specific variations of the stripes. In South Carolina, where different ribbon species are present, they can interbreed with each other to create hybrids.

Northern Ring-Necked Snake
Latin name: Diadophis punctatus edwardsii
Size: 10 to 15 inches
Venomous: (Yes, but it doesn't affect humans)
Unlike the southern ring-necked subspecies, the northern ring-necked snake has a band that is complete and unbroken, but that’s as far as the differences go with these two ring-neck snakes. Usually black in color, with a bright yellow or white band, they’re a small, semi-aquatic, non-aggressive, shy snake that has more predators than prey. They're also known by a host of other names, including the fodder snake, common ring-necked snake, and yellow-belly king snake.

Southern Ring-Necked Snake
Latin name: Diadophis punctatus punctatus
Size: 10 to 15 inches
Venomous: (Yes, but it doesn't affect humans)
The southern ring-necked snake is also known as the ring snake, or the punctuated viper, and is a dark-colored snake with an incomplete band of creamy-white colour around the neck. Found in forested areas or lowlands/floodplains, the snake eats almost exclusively lizards, salamanders and earthworms, found in or around bodies of water. The ring-necked snake isn’t really built for burrowing in soil, but it is known to hide underneath logs, boulders, rocks, and other structures, including under decking and inside garages in residential areas.

Northern Scarlet Snake
Latin name: Cemophora coccinea copei
Size: 14 to 20 inches
Venomous: No
Despite looking very much like coral snake, or other venomous snakes, the northern scarlet snake is a non-venomous, relatively harmless one that rarely bites humans, even when in close contact with them. A fossorial species, it spends a lot of its time being secretive and shy, hiding in undergrowth or beneath structures that offer security — fallen logs, piles of rock or wood, garden furniture, trash cans, garden debris and similar. With teeth that help to crack them open, the scarlet snake feasts on reptile eggs, alongside frogs, toads, lizards, and other small snakes.

Carolina Swamp Snake
Latin name: Liodytes pygaea paludis
Size: 10 to 15 inches
Venomous: No
As the name might suggest, the Carolina swamp snake likes to live in swamps, preferably as murky as possible, and with lots of vegetation to offer protection from predators. It rarely leaves the safety of the water, and it doesn't need to; all of its food sources can be found there, including leeches, small fish, frogs and their tadpoles, salamanders, and various other insects and bugs. This snake is also known by a few other names, including red-bellied mud snake, swamp snake, and black swamp snake.

Banded Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia fasciata
Size: 24 to 45 inches
Venomous: No
With a flat head, and dark brown-green color, this snake is perfectly camouflaged in the swamp and river habitats it dwells in, but this leaves the banded water snake vulnerable to attacks from humans who incorrectly identify it as a cottonmouth, which is venomous. Although this snake can have a pattern of cross-bands decorating its back, they are usually so dark in color that you cannot make them out, especially when the snake is in the water. This particular subspecies of snake enjoys feeding on frogs and fish in the waters of South Carolina, particularly catfish.

Charleston snake Brown Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia taxispilota
Size: 30 to 60 inches
Venomous: No
The brown water snake is a heavy-bodied species, with a neck that is pronounced — it is much narrower than the largest part of the head. Also known by a string of other names, including the great water snake, water-pilot, false moccasin, pied water snake, and more, the body is usually a light brown color, with much darker patches decorating it that are almost square-looking. This checkerboard-like pattern continues round to the sides. This snake eats mostly catfish, and there have been cases of the brown water snake being spotted with actual catfish spines poking through the body, still being digested. This doesn't appear to post the snake any harm, however. (Despite how awful it might look!)

Florida Green Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia floridana
Size: 30 to 55 inches
Venomous: No
Also known as the eastern green water snake, the Florida green subspecies of water snake is the largest found across the whole of North America. The largest specimen every recorded was more than 74 inches in length, but it averages between 30 and 50 inches. This snake, as the name implies, is mostly green, or a combination of green and brown tones. It can occasionally have darker patches, and the underside is almost always either white, or green-white. You’ll find this snake species in wetland regions across South Carolina, particularly open marshes. It will rarely stray further out into streams or rivers, but brackish, calmer waters seem to be preferred.

Midland Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia sipedon pleuralis
Size: 22 to 40 inches
Venomous: No
Also known as the common water snake, the midland water snake can be found in sandy-bottomed, shallow streams and other wetlands — swales, streams, ponds, and marshes, often following the valley of rivers. Usually light brown in color, the body is heavy and stout, often decorated with cross-bands that are a dark brown or red-brown color, usually with an outline of black that really helps them to stand out. The underside of the snake is yellow or yellow-cream, and have a pattern that is reminiscent of a half-moon shape.

Northern Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia sipedon
Size: 20 to 55 inches
Venomous: No
This solitary snake is known as a scavenger, cleaning up ‘nature’ in the same ways that a janitor would clean up a building. On land, raccoons are scavengers, cleaning up road kill and other messes — and that's what the northern water snake does: it cleans up dead fish, keeps pest populations down, and prevents the stunting of fish growth by removing diseased ones from the equation. It lives in areas close to water, and spends a lot of time in it, including streams, marshes, swamps, lakes, rivers, and ponds.

Plain-Bellied Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia erythrogaster
Size: 24 to 40 inches
Venomous: No
There are six formerly known subspecies of the plain-bellied water snake, with the red-bellied subspecies inhabiting South Carolina. The subspecies were used to describe the underside colouration of the snake — red-bellied snakes have a red-orange-pink tinge. The rest of the body is thick and often one color, although it can have a green, gray, or even red-brown hue towards the sides. This snake usually breeds in May or June, giving birth to up to 55 juveniles between August and October. The average number of a litter is 18-20.

Eastern Worm Snake
Latin name: Carphophis amoenus amoenus
Size: 7 to 11 inches
Venomous: No
When the weather is dry, the worm snake has a tendency to head further underground, seeking out moist earth. You are unlikely to see this species out in the open; most of its prey (earthworms, insects, larvae, eggs) can be found underground, and they spend a lot of their time either underground, or burrowed beneath leafy or soft soil ground coverings. Usually dark brown to black, and quite glossy in finish, this snake is commonly confused with others when seen above ground, and smaller specimens are even confused with earthworms.