South Carolina Snakes Identification Guide (Species Info & Pics)

If you’d like to learn to quickly and accurately identify South Carolina snakes, including the common ones, the pretty ones, and the dangerous ones – you’ve come to the right place!

If you’ve ever wondered how to tell venomous snakes from harmless snakes or how many types of venomous snakes there are in South Carolina, keep reading!

We’ll uncover those answers and more – and even see cool pictures of snakes in South Carolina.

In Short

  • Give wild snakes a wide berth if you encounter them.
  • There are 38 species of South Carolina snakes, only 6 of which are venomous.
  • Most snake bites occur as a result of someone trying to kill, relocate, or harass a snake.
  • Snakes play an integral role in the SC ecosystem, including reducing pest populations.

Snake Identification Basics

Scarlet Snake on top of dead twigs
Note the red nose and face of this non-venomous Scarlet Snake (Cemophora coccinea).
Image credit: Todd W Pierson via Creativecommons.org.

This guide is only for South Carolina snake identification.

Some key features to look for when attempting to identify a wild snake:

  • Scales – are they keeled or smooth?
  • Length – is the snake long or short?
  • Pupil Shape – are they round or elliptical?
  • Body Shape – is the snake slender or stout?
  • Color and Pattern – most species have a wide range of “normal”, but if you can differentiate splotches from bands, you’re off to a great start.
  • Unique Characteristics – are there any distinctive features, like the buggy eyes of the glossy crayfish snake?

Venomous Species in South Carolina

South Carolina is home to six venomous snakes.

How to Quickly Identify Venomous Snakes

Western diamondback rattlesnake with tongue out
This photo of an albino Diamondback Rattlesnake clearly shows the location of their heat-sensing pits and the shape of their elliptical pupils.

Five of South Carolina’s six venomous snakes are pit vipers. You can quickly identify a pit viper by recognizing all or more of the following characteristics:

  • Elliptical, cat-like pupils
  • Broad, triangular heads
  • Heat-sensing pits between the nostrils and eyes

Of the five pit vipers, the three rattlesnake species usually also have a rattle at the end of their tail.

To identify the sixth and final venomous South Carolina snake – the coral snake – look for:

  • Lack of red bands on the tail (only black and yellow)
  • Black nose and face, as opposed to a red or yellow nose and face
  • Colored bands that wrap around the entire body, including the belly
  • Red bands that touch yellow bands, in comparison to red bands that touch black bands

Copperhead

Copperhead Snake close-up
Copperheads’ markings are often in the shape of Hershey’s kisses.

Scientific Name:

Agkistrodon contortrix

Range:

Statewide

Size:

24 – 40 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Keeled scales

Triangular, solid dark brown heads

Tan to brown body with triangular markings on both sides

Juveniles possess bright yellow tail tip used for caudal luring

Habitat:

Varied

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Cottonmouth

Cottonmouth Snake close-up
Cottonmouths have pixelated markings.

Scientific Name:

Agkistrodon piscivorus

Range:

Southeastern ½ of the state

Size:

24 – 48 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Keeled scales

Older individuals may appear solid brown or black

Juveniles possess bright yellow tail tip used for caudal luring

Triangular heads with dark lines through eyes (like a Zorro mask)

Body is brown or black with or without yellow. Markings are triangular and bordered in black.

Habitat:

Nearly all freshwater habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Coral Snake

Eastern Coral Snake close-up
The Coral Snake has a black nose and face.

Scientific Name:

Micrurus fulvius

Range:

Southeastern ½ of the state

Size:

18 – 30 inches

Description:

Slender

Smooth, shiny scales

Body is banded in bright red, yellow, and black – red and yellow rings typically touch

Habitat:

Woodlands and sandhill habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Pygmy Rattlesnake

Pygmy Rattlesnake on top of dead leaves
The Pygmy Rattlesnake’s rattle is so small that it may not be visible!

Scientific Name:

Sistrurus miliarius

Range:

Statewide except northwesternmost tip

Size:

14 – 22 inches

Description:

Keeled scales

Small, but stout

Triangular head with colored bars that run from the eye to the base of the mouth on either side

Juveniles possess bright yellow tail tip used for caudal luring

Gray, tan, lavender, orange, or red body with a row of darker dorsal spots, a red or brown dorsal stripe, and one or two rows of faded lateral spots on either side

Habitat:

Woodlands, sandhill habitats, and near water sources

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Timber Rattlesnake

 Timber Rattlesnake coiled showing rattle
The Timber Rattlesnake has a pink, yellow, orange, or brown dorsal stripe.

Scientific Name:

Crotalus horridus

Range:

Statewide

Size:

30 – 72 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Keeled scales

Tail is black and may appear velveteen

Triangular head with two light lines on either side of face

Gray, brown, dark yellow, or black body with black chevron dorsal and lateral markings, with the point of the (V) pointing forward

Habitat:

Rural farmlands, woodlands, and high ground near water sources

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake on top of dead grass
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake’s heavily keeled scales and intricate pattern resemble Native American beadwork.

Scientific Name:

Crotalus adamanteus

Range:

Southeastern ½ of the state

Size:

33 – 96 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Keeled scales

Triangular head with two light lines on either side of face

Brown, tan, or yellow body with darker diamond-shaped dorsal markings that are bordered in yellow or off-white

Habitat:

Dry, sandy habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Fun Fact: Many experts consider the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake the deadliest snake in the U.S.

Water Snakes in South Carolina

There are five types of water snakes in South Carolina. They all belong to the Nerodia genus. Most of them are specially adapted to hunt and consume fish.

Green Water Snake

Green Water Snake on top of dead leaves
Adult Green Water Snakes have faded or non-existent patterns.
Image Credit: Tom Spinker via CreativeCommons.org

Scientific Name:

Nerodia floridana

Range:

Southern ½ of the state

Size:

30 – 55 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Heavily keeled scales

Eyes positioned at top of head

Older individuals may appear solid olive-green, brown, orange, or black

Green-brown or reddish-brown body with plain, pale belly and dark, irregular dorsal and lateral bars (not to be confused with Diamondback Water Snakes)

Habitat:

Still bodies of water with heavy aquatic vegetation

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Brown Water Snake

Brown Water Snake on top of wooden plank
The Brown Water Snake’s dorsal and lateral blotches usually alternate.
Image credit: Tom Spinker (via CreativeCommons.org)

Scientific Name:

Nerodia taxispilota

Range:

Southeastern ½ of the state

Size:

30 – 60 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Heavily keeled scales

Off-white belly with brown splotches and black crescents

Light to dark brown body with large, dark, square blotches – one row dorsally one alternating row on each side

Compared to other local water snakes, head is more narrow, and eyes are positioned closer to the nose and the top of the head

Habitat:

Flowing permanent bodies of water

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Banded Water Snake

Banded Water Snake on top of stones and twigs
Banded Water Snakes have markings that are widest at the spine and taper towards the side.
Image credit: Jonathan Hakim (via CreativeCommons.org)

Scientific Name:

Nerodia fasciata

Range:

Southeastern ½ of the state

Size:

24 – 48 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Heavily keeled scales

Dark stripe from eye to angle of jaw

Light brown, reddish, or black body with darker bands

Pattern fades with age; older individuals may appear solid black, brown, or red

Habitat:

Nearly all freshwater habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake with it's tongue out
The Northern Water Snake’s alternating blotches sometimes merge to form bands.

Scientific Name:

Nerodia sipedon

Range:

Northwestern ½ of the state

Size:

24 – 55 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Heavily keeled scales

Brown, tan, or gray body with a single row of black dorsal blotches and alternating rows of smaller lateral blotches on each side

Habitat:

Nearly all freshwater habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Red-bellied Water Snake

Red-bellied Water Snake
Adult Red-bellied Water Snakes are typically patternless.
Image credit: Vicki’s Nature (via CreativeCommons.org)

Scientific Name:

Nerodia erythrogaster

Range:

Statewide except northwesternmost tip

Size:

30 – 48 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Heavily keeled scales

Solid brown or gray body with solid, bright orange or red belly

Juveniles have alternating dorsal and lateral blotches that fade with age

Habitat:

Nearly all freshwater habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Black Snakes in South Carolina

All of South Carolina’s five water snake species are also occasionally black in color, as well as three of the venomous pit-vipers: the cottonmouth, timber rattlesnake, and Eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

Here are ten additional types of black snakes in South Carolina.

Rat Snake

Black Rat Snake crawling on top of a rock
Rat Snakes in South Carolina can be yellow, black, or gray.

Scientific Name:

Elaphe [Pantherophis] obsoleta

Range:

Statewide

Size:

36 – 72 inches

Description:

Neither stout nor slender

Weakly keeled scales

Depending on locality, may have:

  • Gray body with dark blotches (Gray Rat Snakes – along the Savannah River)
  • Solid black body with hint of white between scales (Black Rat Snakes – mountains and Piedmont regions)
  • Orangish-yellow body with four dark, lengthwise stripes (Yellow Rat Snakes – along the coast)

Belly is off-white near the head, becoming more checkered or mottled towards the tail

Juveniles have square-shaped blotches that may fade away completely, merge to form lengthwise stripes, or stay the same

Habitat:

Woodlands, wetlands, and suburban and urban habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Coachwhip

Coachwhip on sand
The Coachwhip has remarkably large eyes.
Image Credit: Sophro via CreativeCommons.org

Scientific Name:

Masticophis flagellum

Range:

Statewide except northwesternmost tip

Size:

96+ inches

Description:

Slender-bodied snake

Tail pattern resembles a braided whip

Black head that gradually fades down the body into light tan or near-white at the tail

Juveniles are completely tan with irregular darker bands and white markings on and around the head

Habitat:

Sandhills, coastal areas, agricultural areas, and barrier islands

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Mud Snake

Mud Snake on top of dead leaves
The Mud Snake is one of my personal favorites because of its shiny, bright, contrasting red-and-black coloration.

Scientific Name:

Farancia abacura

Range:

Southeastern ½ of the state

Size:

Up to 81 inches

Description:

Smooth, glossy scales

Somewhat heavy-bodied

Bony, spine-like protuberance at tip of tail

Head is blunt and no wider than the neck, small eyes, and yellowish-orange chin

Solid black body with a checkerboard orangish-red belly pattern that fades up the sides

Anerythristic mud snakes that lack red coloration are semi-common – belly is off-white instead of red

Juveniles’ pattern may extend all the way up the sides, creating a totally banded red-and-black appearance

Habitat:

Permanent and temporary bodies of water

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Black Racer

Southern black racer snake on top of dead leaves
Black Racers have smooth, shiny, black scales.

Scientific Name:

Coluber constrictor

Range:

Statewide

Size:

Up to 60 inches

Description:

Slender-bodied

Remarkably large eyes

Solid black body with white chin and dark gray or black belly

Juveniles are tan or gray with brown or reddish, rounded dorsal blotches that fade by the time the snake reaches 12 inches long

Habitat:

Varied, especially edge habitats and agricultural areas

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Queen Snake

Queen Snake on top of leaves
Queen Snakes tend to have keeled black or gray scales.

Scientific Name:

Regina septemvittata

Range:

Northwestern ½ of the state

Size:

Up to 24 inches

Description:

Slender-bodied

Yellowish belly with four brown stripes

Olive green, brown, gray, or black body with three faint darker lengthwise dorsal stripes and two lighter dorsal stripes on each side

Habitat:

Running water with abundant crayfish populations, the preferred prey of the queen snake

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Rainbow Snake

Rainbow Snake on ground
The Rainbow Snake is often regarded as North America’s most beautiful snake.
Image Credit: Todd W Pierson via CreativeCommons.org

Scientific Name:

Farancia erytrogramma

Range:

Southeastern ½ of the state

Size:

Up to 66 inches

Description:

Smooth, glossy scales

Yellowish chin and head

Red or pink belly with two or three rows of black spots

Highly iridescent black body with three red dorsal stripes

Bony, spine-like protrudence at tip of tail

Habitat:

Flowing fresh and brackish water habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Ringneck Snake

Ringneck Snake on ground
Ringneck Snakes can have a gray or black body, but their ringed neck and belly are always bright.

Scientific Name:

Diadophis punctatus

Range:

Statewide

Size:

10 – 15 inches

Description:

Slender-bodied

Shiny, smooth scales

Gray or black body with a distinct yellowish-orange belly and ring around the neck

Habitat:

Prefer wooded areas

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Eastern King Snake

Eastern Kingsnake on the ground
The Eastern Kingsnake has a muscular head and distinctively beady eyes.
Image Credit: Seánín Óg via CreativeCommons.org

Scientific Name:

Lampropeltis getula

Range:

Statewide

Size:

36 – 48 inches

Description:

Shiny, smooth scales

Neither slender nor stout body

Black body with white or yellowish chain-link crossbands that connect along the sides

Habitat:

Woodlands, aquatic habitats, agricultural and suburban areas

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Black Swamp Snake

Black Swamp Snake on top of a leaf
Black Swamp Snakes are entirely patternless.
Image Credit: 2ndPeter via CreativeCommons.org

Scientific Name:

Seminatrix pygaea

Range:

Southeastern ½ of the state

Size:

12 – 22 inches

Description:

Slender-bodied

Shiny, smooth scales

Glossy black body with distinct bright-red patternless belly

Habitat:

Heavily-vegetated wetlands

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Glossy Crayfish Snake

Glossy Crayfish Snake slithering to a small patch of grass
Glossy Crayfish Snakes have small heads with a distinctive bug-eyed appearance.

Scientific Name:

Regina rigida

Range:

Southeastern ½ of the state

Size:

14 – 24 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Short heads with distinct buggy eyes

Yellow belly with two rows of black spots

Olive-green, dark brown, gray, or black body with or without two light lengthwise stripes

Habitat:

Most wetlands

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Most Common Snakes in South Carolina

According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the most common snakes in South Carolina are:

  • Rat snakes*
  • Black racers*
  • Corn snakes
  • Water snakes*
  • Brown snakes
  • Eastern kingsnakes*
  • Rough green snakes
  • Eastern garter snakes

We’ve learned about some of these abundant snakes* in previous sections. Let’s cover the rest of them here:

Corn Snake

Corn Snake on top of a rock
Most wild Corn Snakes aren’t as brightly-colored as their selectively-bred captive cousins.

Scientific Name:

Elaphe [Pantherophis] guttata

Range:

Statewide

Size:

30 – 48 inches

Description:

Slender snake

Smooth scales

Belly is black-and-white checkered, resembling Indian corn

Orange, dark brown, or gray body with squarish, reddish-brown dorsal blotches that are outlined in black

Spear-shaped blotch on top of the head, pointing toward the nose, and stripes extending from the back of the eyes past the corners of the jaw

Habitat:

Upland, terrestrial habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Brown Snake

Brown Snake on top of dead leaves
Brown Snakes have dark streaks on each side of their head.

Scientific Name:

Storeria dekayi

Range:

Statewide

Size:

6 – 13 inches

Description:

Dark head

Slender snake

Light brown or off-white belly with tiny black spots along each side

Yellowish, reddish, gray, or brown body with two rows of dark dorsal spots that sometimes merge

Habitat:

Varied, including residential areas

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Rough Green Snake

Rough Green Snake close-up
It’s virtually impossible to misidentify South Carolina’s emerald beauty, the Rough Green Snake.

Scientific Name:

Opheodrys aestivus

Range:

Statewide

Size:

Up to 32 inches

Description:

Large eyes

Weakly-keeled scales

Medium-sized slender snake

After death, color fades to blue or black

Bright green body with yellow or off-white belly

Habitat:

Open forests and edge habitats

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Eastern Garter Snake

Eastern Garter Snake on top of dead leaves
Garter Snakes may look black or have a checkered pattern between their stripes.

Scientific Name:

Thamnophis sirtalis

Range:

Statewide

Size:

18 – 49 inches

Description:

Heavy-bodied

Keeled scales

Vertical bars on lip scales

Gray, red, or even blue body with three yellow lengthwise stripes and with or without checkerboard lateral pattern

Habitat:

Moist, grassy environments

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Fun Fact: Pit vipers and garter snakes don’t lay eggs – they give birth to live young!

Other Native Species

Florida Scarlet Snake on top of dead leaves
Unlike Coral Snakes, the Scarlet Snake’s bands don’t fully encircle the snake’s body. They have patternless, off-white bellies.

Pine Snakes

Pine Snake

Pituophis melanoleucus

Kingsnakes

Mole Kingsnake

Lampropeltis calligaster

Scarlet Milk Snake

Lampropeltis triangulum

Earth Snakes

Rough Earth Snake

Virginia striatula

Smooth Earth Snake

Virginia valeriae

Worm Snakes

Worm Snake

Carphophis amoenus

Scarlet Snakes

Scarlet Snake

Cemophora coccinea

Ribbon Snakes

Eastern Ribbon Snake

Thamnophis sauritus

Flathead Snakes

Southeastern Crowned Snake

Tantilla coronata

Hognose Snakes

Southern Hognose Snake

Heterodon simus

Eastern Hognose Snake

Heterodon platirhinos

Red-Bellied Snakes

Red-Bellied Snake

Storeria occipitomaculata

Pine Woods Snakes

Pine Woods Snake

Rhadinaea flavilata

Fun Fact: Neither of South Carolina’s Hognose Snake species are common in captivity, but their west-coast cousin is!

What You Need to Know

Eastern Wormsnake on the ground
Many of South Carolina’s snakes, like this Eastern Wormsnake (Carphophis amoenus), are more interesting than they are dangerous or scary!

Snakes are shy (and, many times, harmless) creatures that are more afraid of us than we are of them.

Snakes don’t chase, attack, or hunt humans or pets. They view us as their predators, not their prey.

Coexisting with South Carolina Snakes

Snakes play a vital role in South Carolina’s ecosystem.

Some predators, including birds of prey, foxes, and raccoons, rely on snakes as a source of food. They also help to keep rodent and insect populations in check.

The best way to coexist with South Carolina’s snakes is to give them space and treat them with respect.

Snake Safety 101

If a harmless snake bites you, simply wash the area with warm soapy water. Watch out for signs of infection.

If a venomous snake bites you:

  • Stay calm
  • Sit or lay as still as possible
  • Keep the bite site below heart level
  • Remove any jewelry or clothing near the bite site
  • Call 911 and/or SC Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222
  • If possible, mentally note or photograph the snake’s physical appearance
  • Immediately have someone drive you to the nearest emergency room or wait for an ambulance

About Venomous Snakes

South Carolina typically reports 150 to 300 snake envenomations per year. Of those bites, very few (if any) result in the victim’s death.

You should always seek immediate medical attention if a snake envenomates you to avoid medical problems such as permanent nerve damage, limb amputation, and breathing problems.

If You Encounter a Snake

The best thing you can do if you encounter a wild snake is to admire it from a distance.

Like most other wild animals, snakes are shy creatures that will eventually seek a more secluded location to hide or wait in ambush for prey.

When to Call for Help

Only reach out to a wildlife professional or snake relocation expert to have a snake removed from your property if you feel that it’s posing a direct threat to you, your children, or your pets.

Expert Tip: If you notice snake poop on your property, don’t panic – it’s free pest control!

If you find an injured snake, here’s a list of wildlife rehabilitation experts that accept reptilian patients in South Carolina.

Useful Resources

Emergency Envenomation Advice

If a suspected venomous snake bites you in South Carolina, contact the Palmetto Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Contact the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center on1-888-426-4435 for advice on what to do if a suspected venomous snake bites your pet and seek immediate veterinary advice.

Snake Relocation Services

You can find a snake relocation professional in your area with this Free Snake Relocation Directory on Facebook.

Educational Resources

Southern hognose snake on top of sand with tongue out
This Southern Hognose Snake (Heterodon simus) is playing dead! Aren’t South Carolina’s snakes the cutest?

You can learn more about South Carolina’s snakes, and other wildlife, on their DNR website.

Even more in-depth species information is available from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory’s Herpetology program.

iNaturalist offers a centralized location for wildlife enthusiasts to share observation data regarding plants and animals around the globe – including South Carolina’s reptiles.

Articles Similar to Our South Carolina Snake Identification Guide

If you’re interested in identifying more of North America’s native reptiles, have a look at our:

  1. U.S. Turtles Identification Guide
  2. Florida Snake Identification Guide
  3. Texas Snakes Identification Guide
  4. California Lizards Identification Guide

You can also check out our other articles on snakes – we have comprehensive guides to learn from!

Have you ever seen a reptile in the wild? Tell us about your cold-blooded experience in the comment section below!

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