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Barbara Hughes
Seminole County Extension Services Manager
250 West County Home Road
Sanford, FL  32773
(407) 665-5560

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Extension Services


venomous snakes of florida

Contrary to their undeserved reputation, out of the sixty-seven species and sub-species of snakes in Florida, only six are venomous. They live in just about any conceivable habitat, from coastal mangroves to freshwater wetlands and dry uplands therefore, it is probable that you will encounter them occasionally.

Snakes are reptiles, just like lizards, turtles and alligators, but many people fear them more than any other animals. Snakes are strictly carnivores and play an important role in our ecology, especially because they keep in check rodents which destroy our crops and are carriers of diseases that affect men. About half of our snakes are born alive while the others lay eggs, newly born snakes usually appear by late summer.

There are two types of venomous snakes in Florida, the pit vipers, which includes the diamondback rattlesnake, canebrake rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, cottonmouth, and the copperhead; the other group is represented by the coral snake. The pit vipers are identified by the facial pits, one located between the eye and nostril on each side of the head. They also have an elliptical eye pupil and a broad, V-shaped head. Their venom is haemotoxic, which destroys the red blood cells and walls of the blood vessels of the victim. The coral snake has a neurotoxic venom, which acts on the nervous system, paralysing their victims.

Diamondback rattlesnake: The largest and deadlier poisonous snake in North America can be recognized by the yellow-bordered, diamond-shaped markings on the back, and rattles on the end of its tail. When disturbed, the rattler assumes a defensive position with the body coiled upon itself, and head and neck raised in an S-position from which it will strike its enemy. The head is wider than the neck and the mouth has the typical fangs, lying folded inside the roof of their mouth. Their food is mostly wild rabbits and cotton rats. They can grow to about eight feet in length and can be found state-wide.

Canebrake rattlesnake: It is a large snake, usually about four feet long, not as common as the diamondback. It has a pink buff color with sooty black bands and a rusty stripe down the middle of the back. Their tail is brown to black, and terminates in a rattle. They measure about five feet in length and are found in northern Florida and as far south as Alachua County.

Pygmy rattlesnake: Also called ground rattler, is fairly common in Florida. It is gray in color and marked with rounded, dusky spots. Reddish spots alternate with the black along the middle of the back, starting at the base of the head all the way to their tail. It feeds on frogs and small rodents and can measure up to two feet in length.

Cottonmouth moccasin: Also called water moccasin, can be found in every county of Florida, usually around stream banks, in swamps, and margins of lakes. Their color varies from olive-brown to black, with or without dark crossbands on the body. Their head is wider than their neck with a dark band extending from the eye to the rear of the jaw; the tail does not have rattles. When disturbed, it cocks its head upwards and opens its mouth wide to reveal the whitish interior lining, which gives this snake its name. It feeds on fish, frogs, snakes, lizards and small mammals. They average about 3 1/2 feet in length. Several kinds of harmless water snakes are often mistaken for cottonmouths.

Copperhead: A medium sized snake, pinkish tan with reddish-brown crossbands. These bands are wide along the sides and narrow along the back to form a shape resembling an hourglass. Found only in the Apalachicola River drainage of Gadsen, Liberty, Calhoun and Jackson Counties. Their habitat are fields and hammocks, and fairly rare within its range. The average length is 2 1/2 feet.

Coral snake: A fairly small snake, usually less than two feet in length, with patterns of red, yellow, and black rings. The characteristic black nose is used to identify this snake from the red nose of the non-poisonous scarlet king snake and northern scarlet snake. The red rings of the coral snake borders the yellow while the red rings of the king snake borders the black.

Al Ferrer
Seminole County Residential Horticulturist


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