Commonly Confused Snakes in Central Florida
There are 46 species of snakes in Florida and only 6 of them are venomous. These creatures play an important role in our Florida ecosystems. One described even eats venomous snakes and is a federally protected threatened species. Read on to learn about some of Florida’s most commonly confused snakes.
Many snakes have similar characteristics, making it difficult to differentiate between them. However, it is important to be able to accurately identify snakes for your own safety due to the fact that many venomous and non-venomous snakes look alike. Another reason accurate identification is important is that some management decisions depend on the presence or absence of certain species. This is especially true for species that are considered threatened or endangered.
Water Moccasins vs. Southern Water Snakes:
Water moccasins are venomous snakes with thick bodies. They are dark in color with various banding on their bodies. Water moccasins have a dark, broad, band from their eyes to the corner of their mouth. Their heads are thick and blocky with vertical, or “slit” pupils, and a distinct neck. Although they are venomous, water moccasins will not attack humans unless they are threatened. They sometimes display their white mouths to scare off threats, earning them the common name of “cottonmouth”.
Cottonmouths can be found near the water in:
- Cyprus swamps
- River floodplains
- Heavily-vegetated wetlands
Southern water snakes are harmless snakes with slender bodies. They are also dark in color with various banding on their bodies. Their heads are dark brown with round pupils and have vertical lines along their lower jaw. As their name suggests, water snakes can also be found living in nearly all freshwater habitats such as:
Because both snakes are dark in color with various banding on their bodies, it can be difficult to distinguish between water moccasins and southern water snakes. Both snakes can be found in and around water feeding on fish and other small animals. The best way to tell these two snake species apart is by observing their heads and looking for the water moccasin’s distinct dark band. Another way to distinguish the two snakes is by their bodies. Water moccasins have very thick bodies, while southern water snakes have more slender bodies.
Coral Snakes vs. Scarlet Kingsnakes
Coral snakes are venomous snakes with black, yellow, and red coloring. Narrow yellow rings separate the wider red and black rings along its body. Coral snakes have round pupils and smooth scales. Coral snakes reside in a variety of different habitats such as:
- Dry Flatwoods
- Wet hammocks
- Swamp boarders
Scarlet kingsnakes are harmless snakes with red, black, and yellow bands along their bodies. The red and yellow rings on the snake are surrounded by black rings, therefore, the red and yellow rings do not touch. Scarlet kingsnakes have smooth scales and round pupils. Kingsnakes are quite abundant and can be found in:
- Hardwood hammocks
The best way to tell coral snakes, scarlet kingsnakes, and scarlet snakes apart is by observing their coloration. An easy way to identify the coral snake is by the color of the snake’s snout. On a coral snake, the snout is solid black in color. On scarlet snakes and on scarlet kingsnakes the snout color is red.
*We do not recommend using rhymes to remember the order of the snakes’ vibrantly colored band patterns as the rhyme can be easily confused.*
Juvenile Black Racers vs. Pygmy Rattlesnakes
Adult black racers are nearly solid black; however, juveniles are gray with reddish-brown blotches that fade into a solid colored tail. Juvenile black racers have very slender bodies with smooth scales. They also have round eye pupils.
Like the juvenile black racer, Pygmy Rattlesnakes also have patterned bodies. Pygmy rattlers are venomous snakes with thick bodies and rough, dull scales. They also have vertical slit eye pupils. Pygmy rattlers often live near water sources such as creeks, marshes, and swamps. However, they can also be found in a variety of other habitats such as:
- Pine and scrub oak Sandhills
- Scrub pinewoods
- Mixed pine and hardwood forests
- Longleaf pine-wiregrass forests
- Xeric uplands
Both the pygmy rattler and juvenile black racer are common in urban areas. These two snake species look very similar and are best observed from a distance due to the potential danger of the snake in question being a pygmy rattlesnake. The best way to tell these snakes apart is by their different pupil shape.
Mature Black Racers vs. Eastern Indigo Snakes
Mature black racers are black with white markings on their chins and throat.The bellies of black racers vary from grayish to black, and they have round pupils. Black racer snakes have slender bodies and smooth scales.
They are commonly found in:
- Hardwood hammocks
- Cyprus strands
Eastern indigo snakes are long, bluish-black snakes. They commonly have reddish or orange-brown chins and cheeks; however, they can also be white or black. Their bellies are black to cloudy blue-gray. Eastern indigo snakes have mostly smooth scales. However, adults have ridges, otherwise known as keels, on some of their scales. Eastern indigo snakes typically reside in:
- Pine Flatwoods
- Hardwood forests
- Moist hammocks
- Areas surrounding Cyprus swamps
Although these snakes are often mistaken for one another, one way to tell the two apart is: black racers have distinctive white chins, while Eastern indigo snakes usually have reddish or orange-brown chins. Black racers are slender and fast moving. Eastern indigos are stockier and slower-moving. Fun fact: Eastern indigo snakes will eat other snakes, even venomous ones!
For More Information:
For more information on snake identification, please visit the University of Florida’s Florida Museum’s Division of Herpetology webpage.
This blog post was written by Natural Resources Extension Program Intern, Ms. Paxton Evans, under the supervision of Natural Resources and Conservation Extension Agents, Mrs. Shannon Carnevale and Mrs. Lara Milligan.