The copperhead is South Carolina's most common venomous snake. Found throughout our state, the copperhead can reach a length of 4 feet; however, the average adult length is between 2 and 3 feet. Background color varies from pink to coppery-tan with dark brown hourglass-shaped cross-bands overlying. The head is typically a uniform copper color.
Copperheads occur in a wide range of habitat types including mountain coves, piedmont and coastal plain hardwood forests, longleaf pine forests, and swamp forests. Copperheads feed on a variety of prey including small rodents, frogs, lizards, and insects.
The cottonmouth, also known as the water moccasin, is a large snake of wetlands and swamps. Adult cottonmouths are typically 3 to 4 feet in length but can reach lengths in excess of 5 feet. The cottonmouth is variable in coloration, ranging from dark brown and black to olive drab and yellow-tan. Dark cross-bands occur irregularly down the length of the body. The banded water snake and brown water snake are large-bodied, non-venomous water snakes that are commonly mistaken for the cottonmouth.
Cottonmouths eat a variety of prey including rodents, amphibians, fish, and other snakes.
Unlike other venomous snakes that generally attempt to escape from humans, the cottonmouth will stand its ground. They typically coil tightly, with the head centered in the coil and the mouth held open showing the white “cotton” lining. Researchers believe this threat display is a warning, and research results indicate that cottonmouths are reluctant to bite humans who approach them.
Coral snakes are not pit vipers, as are our other venomous snakes, and are quite different both in appearance and behavior from these snakes.
Adult coral snakes can reach a length of 2 feet. The bright red, yellow, and black bands alternate down the length of the body. Two species of non-venomous snakes are similar in appearance to the coral snake. The banding patterns for the harmless scarlet snake and the scarlet kingsnake differ from those of the coral snake. On the coral snake, the red and black bands never touch and the nose of the coral snake is always black.
Coral snakes can occur in a wide range of habitats; however, they are never found commonly anywhere. The species is very secretive, spending much of its time underground, and loose, sandy soil typifies most of the habitats frequented by the coral snake. The coral snake feeds primarily on lizards and other snakes.