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Snakes of North Carolina

Adult NC Snake Photos
Young NC Snake Photos

Snakes range in size from a few inches to more than 8 feet. There are many more nonvenomous snakes than venomous snakes. Approximately 37 species of snakes are found in North Carolina. Six of the 37 species are venomous but only three of those are found in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. They are copperheads, rattlesnakes, and sometimes cottonmouths. Cottonmouths are typically found east of Gaston County beginning in Union County eastward to the coast.

North Carolina’s nonvenomous snakes have many tiny teeth. These small teeth will make superficial cuts similar to briar scratches. If you, a child or a pet is bitten by a nonvenomous snake, the bite will look like a horseshoe of tiny scratches. Clean the area well with soap and water and wipe it with hydrogen peroxide. If only one or two puncture wounds are present, or if you are allergic to snakes, or if you are not sure the snake is nonvenomous, go to a doctor. Unlike venomous snakes, most nonvenomous snakes cannot bite through clothing.

Most snakes kill their prey by smothering them or by squeezing them, not by biting. Their tiny teeth point backwards, to help them swallow their prey. Snakes eat only living prey or eggs. They swallow their food whole, without chewing. A snake can unhinge the jaw so it can eat something up to one and a half times larger in diameter than the snake. After eating a large meal, a snake will not feed again for up to a month.

Some snakes have a tiny hollow tooth in the far back of the mouth which injects the prey with a weak venom to paralyze the prey so it does not struggle as they swallow it. Even if one of these snakes were to bite you, the tooth is much further back so you would not be exposed to the venom (unless you allowed the snake to swallow your finger!)

Snakes do not see well, and they have no middle ear so they don’t hear sounds as we do. They can detect movement through changing color patterns and through vibration. Snakes see shapes but not details. Snakes find their food through their excellent sense of smell. Unlike humans, snakes do not use their noses to smell. Instead, the snake smells through an organ on the roof of the mouth called the Jacobson organ. When a snake flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth, it collects scent particles from the air which the snake passes to the Jacobson organ.

Many times people kill snakes such as the young black or gray rat snake and the young racer snake, thinking they are copperheads. This is really a shame, because rat snakes and others do no harm and help keep the rodent and insect population down. Besides, most snakes — even venomous ones — are not aggressive and would rather avoid a confrontation with people. A snake can only strike with authority within a distance of one- half its body length. So a reasonable distance will keep you safe. Give the snake time to go on its way.

Information for this article came from NCADM No. 20, published by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service