Florida’s Venomous Snakes
Of the approximately twenty species of venomous snakes found in the United States, only six venomous snakes are found in Florida. Here is a helpful guide to identify those venomous snakes.
EASTERN DIAMONDBACK RATTLESNAKE
Size: Usually 3–5 ft. (max. ~7 ft.)
Identification: Body color is tan, brown, or grayish; back is marked with a row of obvious dark diamonds outlined in cream. Distinct, dark bands, outlined in white, run from the corner of each eye to the corners of the jaw. Tail is tipped with a large rattle. Scales have obvious lengthwise ridges (keels). This venomous snake gives birth to live young (does not lay eggs).
Habitats: Found throughout Florida in flatwoods, sandhills, hammocks, and other dry forested habitats but generally avoids interiors of marshes and swamps. In urbanized areas, it may be found on golf courses and wooded lots.
Diet: Ground-dwelling birds, mice, rats, squirrels, gophers, small rabbit
Size: Usually 1–1.5 ft. (max. ~2.5 ft.)
Identification: Relatively thick body is grayish; back and sides are marked with rows of dark gray-black, irregularly shaped blotches. Blotches on the back are especially dark and are often separated by a reddish-brown stripe down the spine. Obvious dark bands run from each eye to the corners of the jaw. Tail is tipped with a tiny rattle that is prone to breaking off. Scales have obvious lengthwise ridges (keels). This venomous snake gives birth to live young (does not lay eggs).
Habitats: Found throughout Florida in a wide variety of habitats from dry upland forests and sandhills to seasonally flooded flatwoods and marshes. It is the most commonly encountered venomous snake in urbanized areas, often in gardens or brush piles.
Diet: Insects, frogs, lizards, small snakes, nestling birds, mice
Size: Usually 3.5–4.5 ft. (max ~6 ft.)
Identification: Thick body is pinkish-tan, yellowish-gray, or brown (occasionally black); tail is black and tipped with a large rattle. Back is marked with a rusty red stripe down the spine between brownish black “V”-shaped crossbands. Obvious red-brown bands run from each eye to the corners of the jaw. Scales have obvious lengthwise ridges (keels). This venomous snake gives birth to live young (does not lay eggs).
Habitats: Found only in northern Florida in the Suwannee River Basin and extreme northeastern panhandle, in bottomland hardwood forests, cane thickets, pine flatwoods, and the edges of swamps and wet prairies.
Diet: Frogs, lizards, birds, mice, rats, rabbits, gophers
Size: Usually 2.5–3 ft. (max. ~4.5 ft.)
Identification: Thick body is grayish-beige or pinkish and marked with broad, reddish crossbands. Crossbands are hourglass-shaped and are narrowest at the spine. Faint, reddish-brown bands may run from the eyes to the corners of the jaw. Scales have lengthwise ridges (keels). Very young Cottonmouths are often misidentified as Copperheads. However, Copperheads have a very limited range in Florida, so be sure to check the range map for help with identification. This venomous snake gives birth to live young (does not lay eggs).
Habitats: Found only in northern Florida in the Apalachicola River Basin in shady hardwood forests with abundant leaf litter and fallen branches and logs.
Diet: Large insects, frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes, lizards, birds, shrews, moles, mice, rats
COTTONMOUTH or WATER MOCCASIN
Size: Usually 2.5–3 ft. (max. ~6 ft.)
Identification: Young Cottonmouths are marked with broad, splotched bands that fade with age, and have tails tipped with mustard yellow. Juveniles may be misidentified as Copperheads, which are only found in Florida in a small area of the panhandle. Thick body is reddish-brown to dark gray-brown; older individuals may be nearly solid black. Dark bands run from each eye to the corners of the jaw. When threatened, the Cottonmouth may coil and open its mouth wide, showing the cottony white interior. Scales have obvious lengthwise ridges (keels). This venomous snake gives birth to live young (does not lay eggs).
Habitats: Found throughout Florida in or near aquatic habitats, including ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, canals, ditches, cypress swamps, wet prairies, and brackish coastal marshes. It may be especially abundant in areas where wading birds congregate to breed. It is occasionally encountered in upland habitats away from water.
Diet: Fish, frogs, snakes, turtles, young alligators, birds (and their eggs), mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits
HARLEQUIN CORAL SNAKE
Size: Usually 2–3 ft. (max. ~4 ft.)
Identification: Body is marked with wide bands that completely encircle the body. Red and black bands are separated by slightly narrower yellow bands; red bands often have black speckles. Think of the colors of a stoplight – if you see yellow bands touching red bands, stop! Snout is rounded and black, and a wide yellow band runs across the back of the head. Tail is ringed with black and yellow. Scales are smooth. It may be confused with the harmless Scarlet Kingsnake or Scarletsnake. This is the only venomous snake in Florida that lays eggs.
Habitats: Found throughout Florida, mostly in dry habitats, including hardwood hammocks, pinewoods, swamp edges, and suburban neighborhoods. It spends most of its time buried under loose leaf litter or logs or underground in stump holes or small burrows.
Diet: Snakes, lizards, wormlizards
Special Thanks to Dr. Steve A. Johnson and Monica E. McGarrity, Extension program assistant for their great publications.
REFERENCE http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw258 This includes non-venomous snakes also