6 venomous snakes in SC, Greenville: What to know about rattlesnakes, copperheads, more

Nature is waking up again in South Carolina as the weather warms. As S.C. residents begin enjoying outdoor activities again, it's important to know what to look out for in nature to stay safe.

There are 38 species of snakes in S.C., meaning that one risk of enjoying the great outdoors is the potential for snake bites. Fortunately, only six of these species are venomous, with only two occurring statewide and three considered common in their ranges.

Here's what you need to know about the six species of venomous snakes in S.C., their habitats, and the severity of their bites.

American copperhead

Copperhead snakes have hourglass markings on their backs.
Copperhead snakes have hourglass markings on their backs.

Appearance: Copperhead snakes are generally about three feet in length as adults, with a light brown base color and contrasting dark brown, hourglass-shaped pattern. Young snakes often have yellow tail tips.

Habitat: Copperheads are the most common venomous snake in the state, living all across S.C. These snakes prefer areas with both cover and sun for basking, such as woodland edges.

Bite severity: While copperhead bites are painful, they often pose minimal risk to victims. Poison control says that about half of all bites result only in pain and mild swelling.

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Timber rattlesnake

The timber rattlesnake gets a new segment on its rattle each time it sheds its skin, though they sometimes break off.
The timber rattlesnake gets a new segment on its rattle each time it sheds its skin, though they sometimes break off.

Appearance: Timber rattlesnakes vary in size and color but can be recognized by their dark banded pattern on lighter skin and the rattle at the end of their tails.

Habitat: Rattlesnakes are rare in S.C. but can still be found in the mountainous areas of the state, mainly in areas of public conservation ownership to preserve the species.

Bite severity: Much more severe than bites from copperheads and cottonmouths, all rattlesnake bites are considered medical emergencies. Their venom contains hemotoxins, meaning it kills red blood cells, but deaths from their bites are rare due to the availability of effective antivenom.

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Cottonmouth (water moccasin)

Coral snakes get their name from the warning maw they flash when threatened.
Coral snakes get their name from the warning maw they flash when threatened.

Appearance: Cottonmouths are about 3 feet long, with dark crossband patterns and light brown centers. As per their name, they are known for the contrasting white, cotton-like color inside their mouths.

Habitat: Cottonmouths generally prefer water, mainly inhabiting areas like riverine swamps and floodplains, lake edges, Carolina bays and small stream forests.

Bite severity: Similar to a copperhead, severe but not as dangerous as rattlesnake bites.

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Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are the largest rattlesnake variety.
Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are the largest rattlesnake variety.

Appearance: Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are the world's longest and heaviest rattlesnakes, measuring up to six feet in length. They can be dark gray or olive green and are identifiable by the distinctive diamond-shaped markings on their backs. Also distinctive are black bands outlined by two pale lines that cover the snake's eye areas.

Habitat: In S.C., these rattlesnakes generally dwell in longleaf pine flatwoods, pine hills and maritime grasslands of the lower coast.

Bite severity: Rattlesnake bites are medical emergencies and can cause death if not treated by antivenom.

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Carolina pigmy rattlesnake

Appearance: Pigmy rattlesnakes as the name implies, are relatively small, with adult snakes rarely growing longer than a foot in length. They have dark gray spotted patterns on gray, pink, or red skin.

Habitat: Pigmy rattlesnakes are found in most areas of S.C. besides the mountains. Though they live in varied habitats, they usually prefer to live near freshwater, such as marshes, swamps, and ponds.

Bite severity: Due in part to their small size, bites from these snakes are often less severe than many other rattlesnake bites. Still, all rattlesnake bites are medical emergencies that require immediate medical treatment.

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Coral snake

Appearance: Adults can reach two feet in length. Coral snakes have alternating bright red, yellow and black bands down the size of their bodies.

Habitat: Coral snakes live in a wide range of habitats but aren't common anywhere. They are also reclusive, spending much of their time underground. They prefer loose, sandy soil.

Bite severity: According to poison control, these bites can be missed easily, as they cause less pain than many snakebites. Their effects are usually delayed by up to 13 hours. Venom contains neurotoxins, and most deaths from bites occur due to respiratory failure.

Iris Seaton is the trending news reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach her at iseaton@citizentimes.com.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: 6 poisonous snakes in SC. How deadly are copperheads, rattlesnakes?