SNAKES OF GEORGIA By Issac Murphree, 2020-21 Marine Education Fellow

Snakes are some of the most misunderstood members of the animal kingdom. However, if one arms themselves with a little knowledge and understanding, it is easy to see that these amazing animals are not as scary as they are made out to be and actually play an important role in the ecosystem, as both predators and prey. They prefer to avoid conflict, so coexisting with them is simple as long as they are given their space. Georgia is home to more than 40 species of snakes and it is widely regarded by herpetologists as a North American serpent hotspot.

Ecologically speaking, snakes can serve several purposes. All snakes are predators in their ecosystem, but most are also an important prey item to larger predators higher up the food chain. Common prey items for snakes in Georgia include rodents and other small vertebrates as well as fish, crayfish and even insects. Common predators of snakes in Georgia include hawks and eagles, wading birds, foxes, bobcats and raccoons. There are a few instances where snakes occupy the top of the food chain, serving as apex predators and fulfilling yet another ecological niche. An absence of snakes in Georgia would have a drastic impact on ecosystems all across the state, but humans can play a role in helping them be successful.

The best way for humans to allow snakes to maintain healthy ecosystems is by simply leaving them alone. Contrary to popular perceptions, snakes are not aggressive, only defensive. When provoked, they may strike at non-prey items out of fear, but their most common method of defense is to stay motionless, blending in with their surroundings and waiting for a chance to slither away. If there is an unwanted snake near someone’s house, the best course of action is to call a professional who can advise you on the species, their behavior, and recommend a course of action for your situation. Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has a team of herpetologist experts who can assist you or you can contact local professional wildlife handlers if removal is deemed necessary.

Issac Murphree, 2020-21 Marine Education Fellow, holds a corn snake, one of the ambassador education animals at the UGA Aquarium.


Of the 46 species of snakes found in Georgia, only six are venomous. Snake bites from venomous snakes are uncommon and fatalities even rarer. The Center for Disease Control estimates there are about 7,000 venomous snake bites a year for the entire United States, but only five of those are fatal (National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, 2021). In fact, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be bitten by a venomous snake. Venomous species often perform what’s referred to as a “dry bite” on non-prey items where little to no venom is injected. Their venom is extraordinarily complex and biologically expensive to produce inside their venom glands, so they don’t want to waste it on something that they aren’t going to eat. However, any bite from a venomous species should be considered a medical emergency and treated by a medical professional.

Being able to identify local venomous species is a valuable skill to have, and this list will feature the six venomous species in Georgia as well as a few, unique non-venomous species found all across the state. Of the six featured species, five are known as pit vipers. Pit vipers get their name from the heat sensing pits that line their jaw. These pits can detect the infrared radiation, essentially giving these animals “heat vision” and allowing them to detect potential prey items in complete darkness. Pit vipers also have a characteristic triangle-shaped head, due to their venom glands sitting behind their jaw.

Three of the six venomous snakes in Georgia are rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes get their name from a rattle made of keratin on the end of their tails. They can shake the end of their tail back and forth up to 100 times in just 1 second (using some of the fastest muscle contractions in the natural world) creating the characteristic buzzing sound meant to deter predators (Moon, 2001). This behavior is mimicked by many non-venomous species without a rattle, so a shaking tail does not always indicate a venomous species.

The pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) is the smallest rattlesnake in North America and only reaches a length of 24 inches, with newborns being able to fit on a US quarter. Pygmy rattlesnakes are found throughout the southeast, occupying both upland forests and low-lying floodplains and marshes.

The eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) is the largest venomous snake in North America and can reach a maximum length of 6 feet. Eastern Diamondbacks prefer coastal and coastal plain habitats, making their home in imperiled longleaf pine forests and barrier island dune systems in the southeastern U.S. Like many snakes, they have the ability to swim short distances and have been observed traversing fresh and saltwater systems to reach barrier islands and other habitats.

The timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) has the largest range of any venomous snake in North America, extending east from the coast to Texas and all the way north to Minnesota. Those that occupy coastal and barrier island habitats are also referred to as canebrake rattlesnakes. Timbers prefer mixed hardwood forests where their diet consists of rodents and other small mammals. Initial research indicates that timber rattlesnakes may reduce the incidence of Lyme’s disease by preying upon common hosts of black-legged ticks. 

The copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) is found throughout the state, though it is more common in upstate and piedmont regions and fairly scarce along the coast. Copperheads get their name from the distinct light brown shade on their head that stands out against the rest of their body. They prefer forested landscapes and prey on a diversity of animals, including mammals, frogs, lizards and other snakes.

The cottonmouth or water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) occur in every southeastern state and can be quite common in wetlands, river floodplains and other freshwater habitats. They are semi-aquatic and are excellent swimmers. Cottonmouths prefer to flee when threatened but will open their mouth and rattle their tail to deter predators. Their namesake comes from the white coloration on the inside of their mouth that they use in this threat display.

The last venomous species in Georgia is the eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius), which occurs in the southern and eastern part of Georgia. They occur primarily in dry forested habitats but can also be found in hardwood hammocks. These relatively small snakes (18-30 inches) are related to cobras and mambas, and while their venom is particularly toxic, bites are extremely rare and usually only occur when handled extensively. They have the characteristic pattern of red, black and yellow rings along their entire body. A good way to tell the difference between a coral snake and other similar looking non-venomous species is to look at the pattern of the rings. If the red and yellow rings are touching, it is a coral snake. If the red and black rings are touching, it is a non-venomous species such as a scarlet kingsnake. This rule only holds in our region of the world. Coral snakes are extremely covert and sightings are rare.

Scarlet Kingsnake


The remaining 40 species of snakes found in Georgia are non-venomous and have a great diversity of behaviors, diets, sizes and habitats. Some non-venomous snakes are featured below.

The longest snake in the state (and the country) is the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi). Growing to be up to 7 feet long, they get their name from the black coloration of their body. They often make their homes in the burrows of gopher tortoises and easily cohabitate with the other reptiles. Indigo snakes have been known to eat other snakes, including venomous species and are immune to rattlesnake venom (Grosse).

Another species that is known for eating other snake species is the eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula). King snakes are also are immune to pit viper (rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads) venom, which is the reason for their namesake. They are known for their docile nature and spend most of their time underground. Kingsnakes are found along the coast on barrier island forests, dunes, and marshes but they range inland occupying upland pine and hardwood forests.

Another interesting Georgia snake is the eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) named for their nose or rostrum that comes to a point. These smaller snakes (46 inches) have a special way of defending themselves. Instead of striking when threatened, they are much more likely to “play dead” by turning around on their back and opening their mouth. Sometimes, they will even regurgitate or defecate to deter predators.

Rough green snakes (Opheodrys aestivus) are arboreal or tree-dwelling and are known for their long, slender bodies and bright green coloration, which allows them to blend in against vegetation. They eat insects and other invertebrates found in trees across the state.

The queen snake (Regina septemvittata) is an aquatic species that also preys on invertebrates, almost exclusively eating crayfish. They smell using their tongue like all snakes do and can detect freshly molted crayfish using their sensitive sense of smell. The freshly molted crayfish are a much easier meal due to their exoskeleton not yet being fully solidified (Ford & Attenborough, 2008).

The Brahminy blindsnake (Ramphotyphlops braminus) is a non-native species originally from Southeast Asia. They are also called the “Flower Pot Snake” since they like to burrow in soil, and were introduced into the country through flower pots of imported plants. Only growing to a maximum length of 7 inches, they are often mistaken for earthworms and feed primarily on small insects (Lillywhite, 2004). They are the smallest species of snake in Georgia.

These are just some of the many snakes found in the state of Georgia. There is a wide range of species, with many displaying unique characteristics. However, a commonality of many of our snake species is that their populations are declining due to habitat loss, persecution by humans, collection for the pet trade and disease. Humans can help snakes by dispelling negative myths about them whenever the opportunity arises. Remember, regardless of species, snakes should be left alone and pose no threat to humans as long as humans don’t threaten them. They occupy an important section of the food chain, and many offer additional benefits to the ecosystem and humans as well.


Ford, S. (2008). Life in Cold Blood/Sophisticated Serpents. episode.

Grosse, Andrew M. (n.d.). Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi). Species Profile: Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi) | SREL Herpetology. https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/drycou.htm

Lillywhite, H. B. (2014). How snakes work Structure, function and behavior of the world's snakes. Oxford University Press.

Moon, B. R. (2001). Muscle physiology and the evolution of the rattling system in rattlesnakes. Journal of Herpetology 35. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1565969?origin=crossref&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (2021, June 28). Venomous Snakes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/snakes/default.html

Created By
Issac Murphree