Of the thirty-eight species of snakes in South Carolina, only six are venomous. These are readily recognized by anyone who will take the time to learn a few distinctive field marks.
The timber rattlesnake is a large, 3 to 5 foot rattlesnake that is found throughout South Carolina. This species has two different “forms” in our state: the mountain form, often referred to as the timber rattlesnake, and the piedmont-coastal form, referred to as the canebrake rattlesnake. These two forms of this species are different in their appearance and their life history.
The timber, or mountain, form can vary from a background color of yellow to black, both with dark cross-bands across the back. The canebrake, or coastal, form typically has a background color of light tan but can be pink to light orange, with dark cross-bands. The canebrake form typically has a red-brown stripe running down its back. This stripe is missing in the mountain form.
Ambush predators, both forms feed primarily on rodents including mice, rats, chipmunks, and squirrels.
The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is South Carolina's largest venomous snake. Adults of this species range from 3 to 5 feet in length and occasionally reach lengths in excess of 6 feet. The diamondback gets its name from the series of dark-brown to black “diamonds” running down the rattlesnake's back. Each dark diamond is outlined in yellow to cream-white and sits on a background varying from light brown to olive. The diamondback has a black mask across its eyes, thought to hide its eyes from potential prey.
The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is found in longleaf pine flatwoods, rolling pine-hills, and in maritime grasslands of the lower coast. Diamondbacks, like other pit vipers, are ambush predators. They feed primarily on rabbits, squirrels, cotton rats, and other large rodents.
The pigmy rattlesnake is the miniature of the rattlesnake world, with adults seldom reaching over a foot in length. Background color can vary from dark, charcoal gray to light gray and pink. Dark blotches occur down the back of this rattlesnake and often a faint red stripe runs down the spine. The pigmy has a tiny set of rattles that may be difficult to see without close inspection and often cannot be heard.
Pigmy rattlesnakes are found throughout South Carolina, with the exception of the mountains. They occur in a variety of habitats but are seldom found far from fresh water, such as marshes, swamps, and ponds. Pigmies feed on a variety of prey including lizards, frogs, and small rodents.