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How to identify snakes in SC, NC & GA

Copperhead ( VENOMOUS ) Credit: J.D. Willson

GREENVILLE, S.C. – How can you tell if a snake is venomous and non-venomous? Roper Mountain Science Center Natural Science Educator Tim Taylor shared some tips for identifying snakes in the area.

“We have about 30 [types of] snakes here in the Upstate, but only one, and I hope this will ease some of the fears of some of the people that are scared of snakes, only one common venomous snake and that is the Copperhead,” Taylor explained. “It has the hourglass shaped, or dumbbell shaped, markings. It’s a brightly-colored snake, and sometimes the markings look like Hershey Kisses on the body.”

While it is less common to see a Timber Rattlesnake in the Upstate, it is possible. Taylor said it is more common to see rattlesnakes north of Caesars Head State Park and in the North Carolina mountains.


“A non-venomous snake, if you notice, it might be hard, it has round pupils. It does not have a pit between the eye and nostril,” Taylor explained. “Venomous snakes do have catlike eyes instead of round pupils. Our pit vipers, like our Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnake, have a pit between their eye and their nostril, but the best way to identify snakes are by their colors and patterns, their characteristics.”


Although all snakes have teeth, Taylor said snakes do not want to bite you.

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“Snakes want to avoid people, they’re scared of people. So, if you just give them a chance to avoid. If you give them a chance to escape, they will,” Taylor explained. “If you come across a snake in the wild, just stay a safe distance away, leave it alone and it will leave you alone.”

If you are bitten by a snake, Taylor suggested seeking medical attention just to be safe.

“Very few people are killed by the bite of a venomous snake,” Taylor explained. “In fact, I don’t even know if in South Carolina anyone has died from the bite of a Copperhead. If you do get bit, which would very unlikely, getting a good photo, like from maybe 6-feet away, of the snake would be helpful.”

By getting a photo of the snake, medical professionals will be able to determine how to treat the bite. Taylor said venomous snakes can “dry bite,” which means it does not inject its venom.

Fun Fact: Snakes are venomous not poisonous. When a toxin is injected into you, that is venomous. When a toxin is absorbed, consumed or inhaled, that is poisonous. 


While it may not be possible to totally avoid snakes, especially is you’re outdoors, these tips may help:

  • Understand where snakes hang out. Downed trees make great homes for snakes, so keep brush piles away from your home.
  • Stay aware of your surroundings. Snakes are masters of camouflage. Because of this, they will probably know you’re there before you see them.
  • Realize snakes do not want to interact with you. If you see a snake, give it space to get away. Do not approach it. Snakes usually only strike when provoked.
  • Snakes cannot hear like human. Snakes do not have ears. They feel vibrations (and use their tongues to taste the air) instead of hearing. Having heavy foot steps can help alert snakes you’re in the area.
  • While hiking, stay on the trail. Do you walk or put your hands where you cannot see. “If you stay on the trail, you’re less likely to run into a snake,” Taylor said. “If you’re having to step across a log, you just want to be more careful because sometimes that’s where a snake might hide or in a log pile or brush pile, or in the roots of a downed tree that might be sticking up.”

The good news? While Copperheads and even the occasional rattlesnake may be in the area, the majority of the snakes in the Upstate are harmless. If you do see a snake and need it removed, don’t call law enforcement. Instead, call animal services or another wildlife expert.

If you would like to learn more, plan a visit to the Roper Mountain Science Center.

“The best time for the public to come and see these snakes and get a chance to touch them and all these other animals that we have here is during the summer. It’s called Summer Adventure. You can check out our website ropermountain.org, and we are open after school Tuesday through Friday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.,” Taylor said.

Use the photo gallery to identify snakes that are common to SC, NC and GA.


Copperhead ( VENOMOUS ) Credit: J.D. Willson

Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin ( VENOMOUS ) Credit: J.D. Willson

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake ( VENOMOUS ) Credit: J.D. Willson

Timber Rattlesnake ( VENOMOUS ) Credit: J.D. Willson

Pygmy Rattlesnake (VENOMOUS) Credit: J.D. Willson

Coral Snake ( VENOMOUS ) Credit: J.D. Willson


Black Racer (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Southern Hognose (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Southern Black Racer (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Southeastern Crowned Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Smooth Earth Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Scarlet King Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Rough Green Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Rough Earth Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Ringneck Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Redbelly Watersnake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Redbelly Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Rat Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Rat Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Rainbow Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Queen Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Pine Woods Snake ( Mildly venomous – not dangerous to humans ) Credit: J.D. Willson

Northern Watersnake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Northern Brownsnake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Mud Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Mole King Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Midland Watersnake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Gray Rat Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Glossy Crawfish Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Eastern Worm Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Eastern Worm Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Eastern Ribbon Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Eastern Kingsnake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Eastern Hognose (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Eastern Hognose (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Eastern Ribbon Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Eastern Indigo Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Corn Snake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Carolina Swampsnake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

Brown Watersnake (Non-venomous) Credit: J.D. Willson

3 Responses

  1. Absolutely. I hope my legs don’t freeze in place if I see some of these snakes.

  2. My daddy always taught me that a venomus snakes has a diamond shape head whereas the nonvenomus snakes have round heads.

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