Recognizing Florida's Venomous Snakes
Florida provides many opportunities to enjoy nature. Those who like hiking, camping, or swimming are probably acquainted with the many species of snakes native to the state—46 to be exact. While this number may scare some people, only six of the 46 are venomous. These include the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Timber Rattlesnake, Pygmy Rattlesnake, Copperhead, Cottonmouth, and the Coral Snake.
Despite the increased number of snake encounters, you are not likely to come across a venomous snake in a residential area. Furthermore, the risk of a snake bite is small. But, it is still important to learn how to identify venomous snakes and to know what precautions you should take if you cross paths with one.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Found throughout Florida, the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is the state's largest venomous snake—with sizes typically ranging from 3 to 6 feet. This species can be identified by its large head that has a dark band from its eye to its jaw and the large black diamond pattern (with beige boarders) on its back. These snakes also have rattles on their tails that may make a buzzing noise if they feel threatened.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes are often found in wooded areas, but they occasionally drift into suburban neighborhoods. If you happen to come across an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, it is best to leave it alone. This snake can strike up to two-thirds of its length and has a large amount of toxic venom, so only examine this one from afar.
Timber Rattlesnakes can grow to 5 feet or longer and are typically pinkish gray to tan, although they can be darker. They also have prominent dark marks and bands on their bodies. These snakes can be found in moist pinelands, river bottomlands, and hammocks in northern Florida and sometimes in the Panhandle.
The Pygmy Rattlesnake is the smallest venomous snake in Florida and averages 1 foot long. This small snake is also the most commonly encountered venomous snake in the state. They are often found in a variety of urban settings and residential neighborhoods.
Pygmy Rattlesnakes can be spotted by a dark band on their faces that runs from each eye to the corner of their jaws, as well as their gray bodies with dark blotches. As the name suggests, these snakes have a rattle on their tail, but they are so small the rattle can't be heard even when it shakes vigorously. Although small, Pygmy Rattlesnakes bob their heads and strike if they feel threatened. To protect yourself against these defensive snakes, you should wear leather gloves while gardening because they are often found in gardens and flower beds.
This species of snakes only occurs in the Panhandle—primarily along the Apalachicola River as they prefer wet areas. Copperheads are typically less than 3 feet long and are light brown to gray with dark brown hourglass-shaped bands along their backs.
The most aquatic venomous snake in Florida, the Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin, can be found in lakes, rivers, and wetlands throughout the state. Adults average about 3 feet in length, although they could be longer, and are dark colored. On the other hand, young cottonmouths are brightly colored and resemble Copperhead snakes.
True to its name, when a Cottonmouth is threatened, it may open its mouth wide to reveal a cotton-white interior. Although many water snakes are harmless, they may look similar to the Cottonmouth and are quick to bite, so it is best to stay away from all water snakes.
Even though Coral Snakes can be found throughout Florida, they spend much of their lives underground avoiding human contact. These small snakes (rarely longer than 30 inches) can be identified by the alternating bands of yellow, black, and red along their bodies. Coral Snakes look similar to two species of non-venomous snakes, but don't be fooled—if you see a red band touching a yellow band, it's definitely a Coral Snake.
Preventing Snake Encounters
- Snake proof your yard by keeping your grass mowed and shrubs and tree branches trimmed. Also, keep brush piles away from buildings.
- Snake proof your home by examining garages, sheds, basements, and porches that may have openings that might allow snakes into your house. If you find holes, you can seal them with weathering strips, caulking, and hardware cloth. Remember, some small snakes can fit through an opening no larger than a pencil, so you may want to seal tiny openings.
- Keep rodents away from your home so they won't attract snakes in search of food. This may include putting down traps, storing human and pet food in tight containers, and keeping your garage free of clutter.
If you encounter a snake outdoors, give it space. Snakes often strike if they feel threatened or are being cornered, and they may not give warning by coiling first. If you want to identify the snake because it is near your home, make sure to maintain a safe distance.
If a snake is in your home, try to identify it as venomous or non-venomous, but keep a safe distance. If you're sure it is non-venomous, as most snakes that enter homes in Florida are, you can remove it using a trashcan and a broom. Lay a large trashcan on its side close to the snake, and then, using a broom, gently push it inside and put the lid on carefully. Remember to keep your hands away from the open top. Set the snake free outside.
Remain calm if you come across a snake—whether venomous or non-venomous. Snakes are not aggressive and would rather avoid human interaction, but they can strike if they are afraid. While most encounters with snakes involve harmless, non-venomous species, knowing the look and behavior of venomous snakes is essential when dealing with these creatures.
Adapted and excerpted from:
S. A. Johnson and M. B. Main, Dealing with Venomous Snakes in Florida School Yards (WEC199), UF/IFAS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department (rev. 06/2012).
S. A. Johnson and M. B. Main, Recognizing Florida's Venomous Snakes (WEC202), UF/IFAS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department (rev. 06/2012).
S. A. Johnson and M. E. McGarrity, Dealing with Snakes in Florida's Residential Areas – Introduction (WEC219), UF/IFAS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department (rev. 06/2012).
S. A. Johnson and M. E. McGarrity, Dealing with Snakes in Florida's Residential Areas – Identifying Commonly Encountered Snakes (WEC220), UF/IFAS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department (rev. 06/2012).
S. A. Johnson and M. E. McGarrity, Dealing with Snakes in Florida's Residential Areas – Preventing Encounters (WEC221), UF/IFAS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department (rev. 06/2012).