5 Poisonous Snakes in Virginia

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: April 10, 2022
© iStock.com/NajaShots
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Also known as the birthplace of the nation, Virginia was the first permanent site for English settlers. Virginia is famous for its food, presidential homes, and the Appalachian Trail. It is also known for being home to many snakes.

Did you know that the non-venomous eastern garter snake is the state’s official snake? In Virginia, it is a criminal offense to kill this species of snake or any snake. This rule helps to preserve the lives of these valuable reptiles.

One thing to note, however, is that snake bites are not poisonous but are venomous.

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Remember: If a snake bites a person and they die, the snake is venomous and if a person eats a snake and dies, the snake is poisonous.

Virginia is home to 32 species of snakes but only 3 species out of this lot are venomous. They include copperheads, rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths. However, several of these species have equally dangerous subspecies. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the 5 venomous snakes in Virginia.


Moccasin Snake
Cottonmouths are venomous and dangerous semi-aquatic snakes found in southeastern parts of Virginia.

©Kristian Bell/Shutterstock.com

Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, are commonly found in the southeastern parts of Virginia. They are semi-aquatic snakes. This means that they live both on land and on water. Cottonmouths have triangular heads as well as elliptical pupils. Adult cottonmouths have black tails but their tails aren’t always black. Baby cottonmouths are born with brightly colored tails which darken as they age.

Cottonmouths are known for their deadly venom which contain hemotoxins that break down blood cells and stop blood from clotting. Once a cottonmouth bites, it will take only a few moments for the venom to spread. This will lead to hemorrhaging of the prey’s circulatory system. These species of snakes should be avoided at all times as they have been known to kill humans.

Luckily, cottonmouths do not routinely prey on humans. They prey on smaller cottonmouths, baby alligators, small turtles, and lizards.


Northern Copperhead (agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) on leaf litter - taken in New Jersey. Its ground color is pale brown to pinkish-brown, and it has darker, hour-glass shaped bands down its body.
Copperheads are venomous snakes found throughout Virginia in places such as forests, marshes, rock outcrops, and old fields.

©iStock.com/David Kenny

Copperheads are found throughout Virginia. Their triangular heads are one of their most prominent features. They also have pits on both sides of their snots. People often mistake these for their nostrils. Copperheads aren’t large snakes – they measure up to 2 to 3 feet- and in some cases, 4 feet. These snakes have brown copper-like skin and cat-eyes which are called elliptical pupils.

One major reason to avoid these snakes is that they have been known to bite without a warning if they feel threatened. Their bites are venomous and contain hemotoxins that temporarily damage tissues in the bite area. In their prey, this venom is enough to weaken and kill, but in humans, they aren’t usually fatal. If you’re bitten by a copperhead snake, be sure to get treatment as soon as you can.

Copperheads are often found in forests, marshes, rock outcrops, and old fields where they hunt baby cottontail rabbits, mice, lizards, frogs, and swamp rabbits. They also hunt other snakes and baby turtles.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

eastern diamondback rattlesnake curled up in grass
Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are highly venomous. They are also the largest species of rattlesnakes.


Virginia is known to have several venomous rattlesnakes. However, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest of the lot. These high venomous snakes are known for their quick and extremely painful bites. Several people have died from them, after suffering immense pain.

The venom contained in the bite of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes is extremely dangerous. It contains hemotoxins which damage tissues and kill red blood cells. Although many humans survive their bites, people who fall into this category are those who were lucky enough to get adequate medical help at the right time.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes aren’t easy animals to miss. Adults can weigh up to ten pounds and grow up to four to five feet. This makes them the heaviest snakes in America, although definitely not the longest. Their size and length also help them when hunting.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes also have distinctive colors that make it easy to identify them, especially if you keep their size in mind. Their colors often range from blackish-gray to muddy gray and even olive green. This coloring makes it easy for them to hide in the wild and remain unseen. They also have keeled scales and irregular botches close to their heads.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are known to prey on mammals, birds, and fish. Like various pit vipers, diamondback rattlesnakes do not lay eggs. Rather, the female carries the fertilized eggs in her body until they are ready to hatch.

Pygmy Rattlesnake

Pygmy rattlesnakes are the smallest venomous snakes in the United States.

©Gerald A. DeBoer/Shutterstock.com

Pygmy rattlesnakes are another subspecies of rattlesnakes found in Virginia. They are commonly found on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. They are known to prey on small mammals, lizards, and smaller snakes. Like other pit vipers, they are ovoviviparous. This means that they do not lay eggs but give birth to their young in amniotic sacs.

Pygmy rattlesnakes are the smallest venomous snakes in the United States. Adults usually measure anywhere from 16 to 20 inches and weigh about 5.4 ounces. They have thick bodies, despite their small size. Another distinctive feature they have are their dark markings through each eye. They also have circular spots that run down their backs. Usually, their scales are dark grey to black with orange or red dorsal stripes.

Not only are pygmy rattlesnakes venomous, but they are also known for their painful bites. Their venom is fatal to their prey but not usually to humans. Despite this, it is a better idea to steer clear of these snakes. They will usually announce their presence with a soft buzzing sound. Pygmy rattlesnakes also attract or lure their prey using their tails.

Timber Rattlesnake

A Timber Rattlesnake striking prey
Timber Rattlesnakes are mostly found in the mountainous region on the western sides of Virginia.

©Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com

Timber rattlesnakes are also known as Canebrake rattlesnakes. They are mostly found in the mountainous region on the western side of Virginia. Timber rattlesnakes are easy to identify due to their yellow, tan, or gray rounded heads, and V-shaped tails.

In their adult stages, timber rattlesnakes grow to about 36-60 inches and weigh up to 52.3 ounces. They have large black crossbands across their tan or pinkish-gray bodies. Another easy-to-spot feature is the dark lines that run from each eye to their jaws.

Timber rattlesnakes are an endangered and highly venomous species. It is illegal to even possess them in the state of Virginia. The venom in their bites contains hemotoxins that affect cells and tissue. This helps the rattlesnake digest their prey more easily.

In humans, the bites aren’t usually fatal- especially if the victim is treated properly and immediately. Usually, the bitten area turns black and swells. However, this should fall off as the skin heals. Timber rattlesnakes often feed on shrews, chipmunks, and mice. They capture their prey by stalking and ambushing them. They strike quickly and inject their venom into their victims. The venom affects their prey’s tissues and cells which makes it easier for Timber rattlesnakes to eat them.

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eastern diamondback rattlesnake curled up in grass
The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake was a symbol on one of the first flags of the United States.
© iStock.com/NajaShots

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