- North Carolina is home to 37 species of snake, of which 6 are venomous.
- The deadly cottonmouth or water moccasin is an example of the latter. Semi-aquatic, they prefer shallow streams, ponds, and swamps.
- The mainly piscivorous brown water snake is another denizen of the state. In spite of a rather painful bite, it is not venomous, unlike the water moccasin to which it bears a close resemblance.
With stunning mountain ranges, flat coastal plains, and the rolling fields of the Piedmont plateau region, North Carolina has a vast array of habitats that are home to thousands of different animals. Amongst these animals are snakes, and there are 37 species that call the state home, of which six are venomous. While snakes often come in many bright and vibrant colors and patterns, some of them use their appearance to keep themselves hidden. Quite possibly, the best-camouflaged snakes are brown snakes which can hide amongst leaf litter and soil and underneath logs and rocks. In fact, some blend in so well you might not even notice them, so join us as we discover some of the brown snakes in North Carolina!
Also known as water moccasins, cottonmouths are one of the most venomous pit vipers. They are 2 to 6 feet long, with males larger than females, although larger snakes are not that uncommon. Cottonmouths are usually black with dark brown crossband markings and cream or tan bellies. The crossbands are sometimes broken, creating half-band markings on either side of their bodies. Cottonmouths are semi-aquatic snakes and live in shallow streams, ponds, and swamps. However, they rarely occur in deeper bodies of water. Despite this, they can also sometimes occur up to one mile from water in forests and prairies. Cottonmouths are active both during the night and the day, and they feed on a wide range of birds, snakes, fish, amphibians, and mammals. They usually stand their ground rather than fleeing when threatened and vibrate their tail as a warning.
Brown Water Snake
The most common species of water snake throughout the southeastern US is the brown water snake. Brown water snakes live mainly in swamps and streams in lower coastal regions in North Carolina, where they feed predominantly on juvenile catfish. They are almost completely brown, with the exception of around 25 black or dark brown markings down their back. They have thick, heavy bodies and large, flat heads. However, their neck is noticeably narrower than their head. Brown water snakes are also mistaken as water moccasins due to their resemblance to cottonmouths, and many are killed every year as a result. Brown water snakes can bite when threatened, but they are not venomous or seriously dangerous to humans.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Another venomous brown snake in North Carolina is the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. These are the largest rattlesnakes in the world and can reach 6 feet long, although a record of more than 9 feet has been observed. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes have brownish bodies which are overlaid with diamonds. The diamond markings are usually black or brown but have cream-colored borders and become crossbands nearer the tail. Eastern diamondbacks live in woodlands, forests, and swamps, and they often inhabit the burrows of gopher tortoises. They are ambush predators and feed mainly on birds, rodents, and other small mammals. Eastern diamondbacks are incredibly dangerous as they have the largest fangs of any rattlesnake and contain a high amount of venom – enough to kill five adults. Thankfully though, they don’t have a particularly aggressive nature!
An incredibly secretive snake is the mole kingsnake (Lampropeltis rhombomaculata). Mole kingsnakes are 30 to 42 inches long and are typically light brown with reddish-brown spots down their bodies. However, these spots fade as the snake becomes older, so it is common for the oldest snakes to have no markings at all. Mole kingsnakes prefer to live in fields on the edge of forests where there is plenty of loose soil for them to burrow into. They are particularly abundant in the Piedmont region. Mole kingsnakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs that hatch outside of the body – like birds. Females lay 10 to 12 eggs underground and then leave them to hatch on their own. Mole kingsnakes are not venomous and prey on rodents, lizards, and frogs.
Rough Earth Snake
One of the smallest brown snakes in North Carolina is the rough earth snake at only 7 to 10 inches long. Rough earth snakes have slender bodies and are typically brown or reddish-brown with no markings on them. They have keeled dorsal scales, which give them a rough texture and help to distinguish them from smooth earth snakes. Rough earth snakes live in both forests and urban areas, where they are one of the most abundant snakes. In both habitats, they prefer to hide away underneath logs and rocks or burrow into loose soil or leaf litter. They mainly eat earthworms, and they have many predators due to their small size. Rough earth snakes are completely harmless to humans and very rarely – if ever – bite.
Pine Woods Snake
Also known as the brown-headed snake, pine woods snakes are 10 to 13 inches long and reddish-brown. Pine woods snakes (Rhadinaea flavilata) live in damp woodlands and pine forests in scattered coastal regions across North Carolina. They are secretive snakes and often hide in leaf litter or underneath logs. During the winter, they typically hibernate underground. Pine woods snakes have a small set of fangs at the rear of their mouth and are mildly venomous to their prey, although they are not dangerous to humans. Their diet consists of frogs, lizards, and salamanders. They have several predators, including other snakes such as kingsnakes and southern black racers.
Southeastern Crown Snake
Another small snake is the southeastern crown snake which is 8 to 10 inches long. Southeastern crown snakes are endemic to the southeastern region of the United States and are light brown or grayish-brown with black heads. They live in woodland habitats in areas where there is loose and sandy soil and plenty of leaf litter for them to burrow into when they are threatened. Although they are not harmful to humans, southeastern crown snakes are mildly venomous to their prey and possess a set of small rear fangs with which to inject it. Their diet mainly consists of small prey such as worms, spiders, and centipedes. They have numerous predators, although their main ones are coral snakes and kingsnakes.
There are three recognized subspecies of pine snakes, all of which are endemic to the southeastern US. Pine snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) are 48 to 90 inches long and have small heads with powerful bodies. They are usually brown or grayish-brown with brown or black blotches. Pine snakes live in a range of habitats, from sea level to elevations as high as 9,000 feet. However, their preferred habitats are pine flatwoods and woodlands as well as prairies and fields with plenty of sandy soil for them to lay their eggs. Pine snakes are not venomous but vibrate their tail as a warning before striking when they are threatened. Their diet mainly consists of rodents, and they often enter rodent burrows in search of food. The main predators of pine snakes are foxes and skunks.
Another venomous brown snake in North Carolina is the eastern copperhead. Eastern copperheads are 22 to 36 inches long and are pinkish-tan with darker crossband markings. The markings along their back typically appear as an hourglass pattern, while those on their sides usually have light centers. Eastern copperheads prefer to live in deciduous forests, woodlands, and swamps. Their appearance provides them with excellent camouflage amongst leaves and makes them incredibly difficult to spot. As they usually freeze when disturbed rather than fleeing, they are often unwittingly stood on, which is when they are most likely to bite. Despite this, their venom is fairly weak. Eastern copperheads are nocturnal during the summer months but are active during the day in spring and fall. However, in the winter, they hibernate in dens with rat snakes and timber rattlesnakes.
Where Do These Snakes Live?
It all depends on their species. Some like cottonmouths and eastern diamondbacks prefer shallow water but can live on land. Others like copperheads share brown water snakes’ fondness for swamps although they are also fond of woodlands and forests.
Pinesnakes on the other hand are even more varied in their choice of habitat, but are generally partial to places with plenty of sandy soil. The same goes for southeastern crown snakes, although they prefer their sandy soil mixed in with a bit of leaf litter. Pinewood snakes love pine forests due to the abundance of logs and leafy matter for them to burrow into.
Other Dangerous Animals In North Carolina
One of the most dangerous spiders in the United States can be found in North Carolina, the fearsome brown recluse. Although there have not been any recorded cases of death in this state, this spider’s venom is highly toxic and a bite can cause significant damage to blood vessels, and at the envenomation site, the tissue will suffer from cell death. This arachnid is generally rather shy and will stay away from humans but may be found in basements, attics, and crawlspaces. Should you get bitten, it is best to seek medical attention immediately.
One of the deadliest animals in the world can be found in North Carolina. There are over 3,500 species of this insect found throughout the world even though viruses like West Nile are more common in Africa Asia and the Middle East, the first reported death of West Nile virus in the state occurred in 2022. Mosquitos transmit very serious diseases, from Malaria and Zika virus to yellow fever and the aforementioned West Nile virus. The females are the only bloodsuckers of the species, requiring the blood to nourish their eggs. There are numerous ways that you can attempt to reduce being bitten, some of which are by wearing mosquito repellant, wearing clothing that covers the arms and legs, and ensuring that open doors and windows have screens to prevent entry.
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