The Venomous Snakes of South Carolina

by Chas Harbor Tours on February 19, 2013

South Carolina snakesThroughout the entire United States of America, poisonous bites from snakes, scorpions, spiders, and other (creepy, crawly) critters are rare causes of death. However, death can occur from certain poisonous bites and these bites can also cause infections as well as attack the central nervous system and other bodily functions.

Although poisonous snakes aren’t running rampant in South Carolina, they do exist and it is well worth your time to familiarize yourself with these creatures and understand their habitats, as well as the results of their bites.

There are approximately 38 species of snakes found in South Carolina and only five of these species are considered venomous. These species include the cottonmouth, copperhead, coral snake, pigmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, and Eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

All of South Carolina’s venomous snakes (aside from the coral snake) are considered “pit vipers,” which means that they all have infrared heat-sensing organs on their heads. These organs enable the snakes to detect changes in heat around them, making it easy for them to sense when warm-blooded prey is nearby. Out of all five of the venomous South Carolina snake species the copperhead and cottonmouth snakes are the most common.

Below we’ve spotlighted the cottonmouth and copperhead snakes of South Carolina, as well as symptoms of bites and tips on how to prevent bites: 

Copperhead Snake: As South Carolina’s most common venomous snake, the copperhead snake can be found inhabiting the state’s rocky outcrops, swamp edges, streams, and forests, with a diet that consists of small rodents, insects, and frogs. Reaching between two to three feet in length, the copperhead is a fairly long snake with a red- or copper-colored head and body markings.

Copperhead snake bites among humans are rarely fatal but can cause death with the onset of infection. The bite can also cause severe tissue damage in the limb that was affected, causing immobilization in that limb.   

Image above of a copperhead snake taken from National Geographic

Cottonmouth Snake: Commonly referred to as the water moccasin, the cottonmouth snake can be found in South Carolina’s swamps, lakes, streams, and wetlands and typically reaches three to four feet in length. These snakes have dark brown bands that span their entire length. The banded water snake is often confused with the cottonmouth as it has similar coloring and markings. The banded water snake, however, is non-venomous.

When threatened, the cottonmouth will coil up tightly and open its mouth, displaying its white, cotton-colored mouth. Similar to the copperhead snake, a cottonmouth’s diet typically consists of small rodents, amphibians, reptiles, and insects.

Image above of a cottonmouth snake taken from National Geographic

Tips for preventing snake bites: Most snake bites occur in wooded areas, tall grass, or areas that have lots of brush and poor ground visibility. Therefore, whenever you are walking in high grasslands or the woods, it’s important to try and stay in areas where you can see the ground clearly and use caution when stepping on areas with poor ground visibility. Also, be sure to wear high boots and long pants when out in the woods, tall grass, streams, and swamps.

Do not attempt to touch or move any type of snake, especially if you cannot identify it. All venomous snakes (except for the coral snake) have slit eyes (similar to cat eyes). They also have a triangle-shaped head and a depression between their eyes and nostrils.

If bitten by a snake, seek immediate medical attention. If you are unsure if a venomous snake bit you or someone else there are a few signs to look for to determine if it was in fact a venomous snake bite:

  • Two parallel puncture wounds
  • Redness, heat, pain, and swelling at the bite site
  • Nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, disturbed vision, the sweats, or tingling / numbness throughout the body

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