37 Snakes in North Carolina (6 Are Venomous!)

copperhead vs rattlesnake
© Scott Delony/Shutterstock.com

Written by Tracy Graham

Updated: October 7, 2023

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Key Points:
  • Ring-necked snakes live all throughout the state of North Carolina and are non-venomous.
  • The copperhead, cottonmouth, eastern coral snake, pygmy rattlesnake, diamondback rattlesnake, and timber rattlesnake are all venomous snakes that inhabit North Carolina.
  • North Carolina has one of the largest varieties of rattlesnakes of any state in the U.S.

North Carolina really has it all. From the stunning Smoky Mountains to miles of oceanfront beaches and plenty of grasslands, marshes, and rivers in between the landscape of North Carolina is very diverse. And because of that it also has a very diverse collection of wildlife that call the state home. For snakes, in particular, North Carolina offers great natural habitats. The hot and humid temperatures throughout the spring and summer keep the snakes very happy too. There are 37 types of snakes in North Carolina including six types of venomous snakes. Let’s dive into some of the most common snakes of North Carolina with pictures so you can identify them!

Common Non-Venomous Snakes in North Carolina

There are a lot of different kinds of NC snakes, so if you’re skittish around snakes you might be scared thinking about how many different kinds of snakes you might see here! But snakes in North Carolina run the gamut from tiny little snakes that are under a foot long to large snakes that look intimidating but really are not going to bother you unless you bother them.

Some of the most interesting and common non-venomous snakes in North Carolina are:

Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Where Do Snakes Live

Rat snakes are excellent pest exterminators among the snakes in North Carolina.

©Kyla Metzker/Shutterstock.com

Rat snakes are the pest exterminators among the snakes in North Carolina. They like living up in the mountains and far down in the Coastal Plains. The rat snakes in the mountains look scary because they are almost entirely black, but they are very shy and will speed away from people rather than hang around if anyone comes near them. Rat snakes that live down in the plains will have a more olive color that makes it easier for them to blend in with their surroundings.

Fear not if you see a rat snake, as they are non-venomous. In fact, rat snakes are very helpful to people because they primarily eat rodents and pests.

Ring-Necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

Ring-necked snakes are easily identifiable thanks to the coloration near their head.

©Tucker Heptinstall/Shutterstock.com

It’s easy to recognize a ring-necked snake. They are usually brown or olive, and sometimes they have an almost black base color but they will also have a red, orange, or yellow ring around their necks that matches their belly color.

Ring-necked snakes live all throughout the state of North Carolina. Their coloring changes depending on where in the state they are living, and ring-necked snakes that are coastal dwellers may not have a full ring around their necks. Homeowners and suburban dwellers may find ring-necked snakes living in their mulch, under flowerbeds or vegetable gardens, under planters, or under piles of leaves or grass clippings. The species is small, generally measuring just 10 to 15 inches, and is non-venomous.

Rainbow Snake (Farancia erytrogramma)

The rainbow snake is one of the prettiest to be found in North Carolina.

©Charles Baker / CC BY-SA 4.0 – Original / License

You can’t miss a rainbow snake so you don’t have to worry about surprising this beauty! One of the prettiest NC snakes, rainbow snakes are unique because of their bright colors and bold geometric patterns. Typically rainbow snakes have a black base color with three long narrow red stripes running down the entire length of the back.

They may have yellow or cream bellies and some will also have yellow markings in addition to the red stripes. These snakes are semi-aquatic which means they like to be in or near water. They inhabit the southeastern Coastal Plains in North Carolina and live mostly in the swamps or near brackish rivers. They generally measure 3 to 5 feet in length when fully grown.

Carolina Swamp Snake or Black Swamp Snake (Liodytes pygaea)

Carolina swamp snakes prefer being in the water to on land and avoid humans.


Snakes in North Carolina include swamp snakes among their numbers. They don’t like people and don’t even like to be on the land that much! They are mostly aquatic and like to stay in shallow water that has a lot of vegetation where they can hide. You may see one of these stunning snakes when you are kayaking or boating in the shallows and swamps. The top of the snake is black or dark olive to make it easier for it to blend into vegetation, but the snake’s belly is a bright scarlet red.

They are small and if they do leave the safety of their vegetative cover they only do it at night unless they are startled out of a hiding place. Like many snakes, the Carolina swamp snake is known by a number of names and also may be called the black swamp snake. They are generally less than 2 feet long and can be very abundant in wetlands. Swamp snakes are only found in the Tidewater region along the coast.

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)

northern water snake in water

The northern water snake reaches up to 4.5 feet in length.


There are four different aquatic snakes (water snakes) that live in North Carolina, and one of them is the northern water snake. The northern water snake lives in ponds and in some of the streams throughout most of the state except in the Coastal Plains in the southern half of North Carolina. Northern water snakes have a light tan or light brown body and have dark red, red-orange, or dark brown markings. One thing that you should know is that northern water snakes can be aggressive.

They are not venomous, so a bite from one of these snakes won’t seriously injure you. But they can give you a nasty surprise if you are not paying attention when you are fishing, boating, or kayaking in the ponds and rivers in North Carolina. The northern water snake is often confused with the cottonmouth (water moccasin). If you’re confused about the apparent differences between the two, make sure to read our full guide comparing water snakes and cottonmouths.

Venomous Snakes in North Carolina

North Carolina has more venomous snakes than many other states. Snake bite cases begin rising in the spring, with about 85 cases of venomous snake bites in May, on average. Just remember if you’re bitten by a venomous snake only 1 in 500 bites prove fatal. If you learn to identify snakes that are venomous and seek immediate medical attention, the risk from snake venomous snake bites drops dramatically.

The following six venomous snakes can all be found in North Carolina:

We’ll detail some of them below, starting with one of the most common venomous snakes in North Carolina, the copperhead.

Copperhead Snake (Agkistrodon contortrix)

Snakes in Mississippi - Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

Copperheads are the most common venomous snakes in North Carolina.

©Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

Copperhead snakes are the most common venomous snakes in North Carolina. They are found in all parts of the state. 90% of venomous snake bites in North Carolina each year are from copperhead snakes. These snakes have color patterns that vary from light tan to gray and they have dark markings that run the length of their bodies that are in an hourglass pattern. They’re fairly short and usually fall somewhere between 2-4 feet long. But, they can camouflage themselves very well. While copperhead snakes lack a rattle, they will shake their tails as a warning. In addition, they will generally raise their heads as a warning before striking.

Cottonmouth Snake (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

Side view of a Cottonmouth snake, ready to strike. The snake has a large spade-shaped head.

The cottonmouth’s name refers to its large off-white mouth.


The cottonmouth is another very common snake in some parts of North Carolina. It’s sometimes called the water moccasin, so locals may call it a water moccasin instead of a cottonmouth. This snake prefers the water and its main habitat in North Carolina is in the Coastal Plains and in the Outer Banks. You may see one of these snakes in the water or near the water. Cottonmouth snakes are mostly black, like many other snakes, but when they open their jaws wide they expose a large off-white mouth. That’s where the name “cottonmouth” comes from.

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Timber Rattlesnake coiled on a rock

Timber rattlesnakes are especially common in the mountains and foothills of western North Carolina.


NC snakes such as the timber rattlesnake live primarily high up in the mountains. But there are some living in the Coastal Plains and parts of Piedmont, too. Timber rattlesnakes are about four to five feet long and the snakes that live in the mountains have colors that help them blend into the local environment. They are gray, brown, and black with dark markings that help them conceal themselves in the foliage and trees.

Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius)

Pygmy rattlesnakes prefer to rely on their coloring to camouflage them.

©Gerald A. DeBoer/Shutterstock.com

Pygmy rattlesnakes are small but also a scary sight! They are tiny compared to other rattlesnakes. They’re just about 12 to 24 inches long. In South Carolina, they are usually light gray with dark gray or black large patches on their backs. And even though they are venomous they will try to avoid any kind of confrontation. Pygmy rattlesnakes prefer to rely on their coloring to camouflage them. However, don’t be fooled by their small size. They can and will bite when threatened or if you try to handle them. In North Carolina, pygmy rattlesnakes live close to metro areas. They can be found in Crowder’s Mountain State Park near Charlotte, for example, and in some counties in the Coastal Plains.

Summary of Snakes in North Carolina

Here’s a recap of the venomous and common non-venomous snakes we took a detailed look at:

1Rat SnakeNon-Venomous
2Ring-Necked SnakeNon-Venomous
3Rainbow SnakeNon-Venomous
4Carolina Swamp Snake (Black Swamp Snake)Non-Venomous
5Northern Water SnakeNon-Venomous
6Copperhead SnakeVenomous
7Cottonmouth SnakeVenomous
8Timber RattlesnakeVenomous
9Pygmy RattlesnakeVenomous
10Eastern Coral SnakeVenomous
11Diamondback RattlesnakeVenomous

A Complete List of the 37 Snakes in North Carolina

There are a lot of snakes in North Carolina, including one of the largest varieties of rattlesnakes in any state in the country. It doesn’t matter if you live in North Carolina or you are visiting to enjoy some of the fantastic weather and beautiful landscape. You should watch out for snakes and always move very carefully when you’re out hiking, walking, fishing, or enjoying outdoor sports. A complete list of all the 37 types of snakes in North Carolina:

Which U.S. State Has the Most Snake Bites?

Copperhead Snake (Agkistrodon contortrix)

The venomous copperhead is among those responsible for snake bites in North Carolina.

©Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com

We’ve taken a closer look at numerous snake species slithering about in North Carolina. So which state ranks the highest in snake bites? That would actually be North Carolina! The snake bite rate in this southeastern state is 157.8 bites per million population annually. As the population as of 2021 was a little over 10 million (10.55 to be exact), and we were to just figure it off of 10 million, that would average out to roughly 1,580 reported snake bites per year. In the year 2019, there were 92 people bitten by venomous snakes in North Carolina.

The top 6 states for reported snake bites are:

RankStateBites per Million
1North Carolina157.8
2West Virginia105.3

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