Florida is a haven for snakes. The warm, humid weather is perfect for cold-blooded species, but it also facilitates thick vegetation for them to hide in and helps keep their prey species numerous and healthy. Rattlesnakes in Florida are common, even if they aren’t as diverse here as they are in other states. You’ll find rattlesnakes in every corner of the state, in every kind of habitat, too.
3 species of rattlesnake in Florida
The three species of rattlesnake in Florida are the pygmy rattlesnake, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and the timber rattlesnake.
1. Pygmy Rattlesnake
Species name: Sistrurus miliarius
Adult length: 24 inches
Named for its small size, the pygmy rattlesnake can be found throughout Florida. Gray in color with brown and orange markings down their backs, they’re commonly thought to be one of the prettier rattlesnake species.
They prefer to live in wooded areas and floodplains, and they eat small mammals, insects, and lizards. Their rattle so small it can only be heard from a few feet away, so often by the time you hear one you’re already dangerously close. Fortunately, these diminutive snakes can’t produce enough venom to deliver a fatal bite to a human, although it would still be an unpleasant experience.
2. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Species name: Crotalus adamanteus
Adult length: 94 inches
In stark contrast to the pygmy rattlesnake, the eastern diamondback is the largest of all rattlesnake species, and one of the heaviest venomous snakes in the western hemisphere. The coloration is very similar to the western diamond back, but a few shades darker. The distinctive diamond pattern on the back, plus its great size, gives this snake away.
You’ll find them all throughout Florida, in just about every kind of habitat. Rabbits are their favorite food, but they’ll also eat rats, and occasionally birds. It’s not a very aggressive species, but it’s massive size means it has very long fangs and produces a lot of venom, so bites are especially dangerous. In fact, it’s widely considered the most dangerous snake in North America.
3. Timber Rattlesnake
Species name: Crotalus horridus
Adult length: 60 inches
Timber rattlesnakes are limited to the northernmost parts of Florida, as they aren’t overly fond of the hotter climates further south. In fact their range extends far up into the northeast, where the weather gets cold.
They have a pattern of dark cross-bands over a brown or gray background. They like to live in rugged, heavily wooded areas where they hunt small mammals, birds, and frogs. They are large snakes and produce a lot of venom, making bites highly dangerous, but they are very mild mannered, and tend to give longer warning rattles than most other species.
6 commonly asked questions about rattlesnakes in Florida
1. Is it illegal to kill a rattlesnake in Florida?
None of the rattlesnake species in Florida are endangered, and if you encounter one you can legally kill it. We would urge you only to do this if you find one near your home where it presents a danger to your family and your pets, since rattlesnakes are an important part of the ecosystem, and the snakes living out in the wild aren’t a threat to you.
Also, please note that it is illegal to kill any non-venomous snakes in Florida, with the sole exception of the invasive Burmese python.
2. Where do rattlesnakes live in Florida?
Rattlesnakes live all throughout the state of Florida, in every type of habitat. While they definitely prefer to avoid areas with lots of people when they can, there’s no area of Florida that’s completely free of rattlesnakes.
3. How long do Florida rattlesnakes get?
That depends on the species. Pygmy rattlesnakes are only a couple of feet long at most, and they’re actually small enough that they don’t present much danger to humans. Timber rattlesnakes can be up to five feet long, which is quite large, but still not the biggest. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes top out at nearly eight feet long, making them the largest of any rattlesnake species.
4. What eats rattlesnakes?
Despite their potent venom, rattlesnakes do have many natural predators. Birds of prey like hawks, owls and eagles will occasionally hunt them, but their most dangerous predators are actually other snakes.
Kingsnakes are expert rattlesnake hunters- they’re even immune to the venom of the rattlesnake. Every species of kingsnake will hunt other snakes, and in the wild almost all of them will target rattlesnakes to some extent.
Racers of various species will also hunt rattlesnakes, and the indigo snake, North America’s largest snake species, is also immune to rattlesnake venom and therefore hunts them frequently.
5. Can Florida rattlesnakes kill you?
Yes, Florida’s rattlesnakes can definitely deliver a lethal bite. Pygmy rattlesnakes may not be lethal to adults, but they could kill a child. Timber and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are both potentially among the most dangerous snakes in the world, and either is fully capable of killing a human.
Florida doesn’t have as many snake bites as states like Arizona and California, which could be for several reasons. Florida’s snake population may not be as high as other states, or perhaps Floridians just don’t venture into snake habitat as often. It’s also true that non of Florida’s rattlesnakes are especially aggressive, while the rattlesnakes of the southwest tend to be more prone to biting quickly. Still, if you get bit by a rattlesnake in Florida, seek medical help immediately.
6. Is a rattlesnake more dangerous than a water moccasin?
With the usual caveat that it depends on the species, typically, yes. Water moccasins will almost always try to avoid biting you if they can, while even the most docile rattlesnake is going to bite you if their warning rattle doesn’t work.
Water moccasin bites aren’t as dangerous as timber rattlesnake or eastern diamondback rattlesnake bites, although they’re considerably more dangerous than a pygmy rattlesnake bite. You’re probably more likely to encounter a water moccasin in Florida, although they’re fairly shy animals and you may never notice you’ve walked by one.