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.
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.
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.
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