Of the forty one species of snakes indigenous to Georgia, only six are poisonous: Southern copperhead, cottonmouth, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, pigmy rattlesnake, and the eastern coral snake. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths are all pit vipers. Pit vipers have two pits underneath their nostrils that detect heat, which allows them to hunt warm blooded prey. Although there is a common identification system that involves the head shape, size, and coloration to determine if a snake is poisonous or not, it is often inaccurate. It is important to know your surroundings and the snakes in your area, especially when visiting new environments. If bit by any of these species, treat it as a medical emergency and contact your local hospital or emergency room.
Southern Copperhead: In general, copperheads are large, heavy snakes with triangular heads and eyes that look like cat eyes. They tend to be tan or brown and range from twenty-four to forty inches in length. Copperheads’ have hourglass cross bands, a solid brown head, and two dots on the top of their head with distinguishes them from other species. Males tend to be larger than females and their young are marked with a yellow tip on their tails. Copperheads use their pits to detect potential prey and predators in their environment.
Cottonmouth: Usually found in or near water, cottonmouths are aggressive with the males being territorial. Cottonmouths are strong swimmers with markedly triangular heads. Their diet primarily consists of fish and frogs. Cottonmouths intimidate their prey or potential predators by gaping which exposes the white lining of the mouth; hence the name. Adults grow to be rather large and can have a potentially fatal bite.
Rattlesnakes: The Eastern Diamondback, Pigmy, and Timber rattlesnakes are venomous. Each of these species vary in color and skin patterns; however all have a forked tongue and rattle at the end of the tail. The forked tongue flicks up and down picking up on microscopic particles that tell the rattlesnake if the “smell” is that of a mate, prey, or predator. Rattlesnakes also have external nostrils which act in a similar way to its tongue. Rattlesnakes will begin to be seen more often as temperatures begin to warm up in the spring. They typically hunt at night and eat squirrels and other small mammals.
Eastern Coral Snake: Coral snakes are known best for their coloring and small size. Most coral snakes are elusive and spend most of their life underground or buried beneath brush. They do, however, come up during breeding season. Coral snakes aren’t aggressive and will attempt to flee before biting. They inject potent venom with their short fangs.