Rattlesnakes in North Carolina (Meet the 3 Species)

The 3 different species of rattlesnakes in North Carolina are found in various areas of the state, and live in many different types of habitats. North Carolina is the 28th largest state boasting 53.819 square miles of land, 13 national parks, the Great Smoky Mountains to the east, and four National Forests with 1.25 million acres of public lands from the mountains to the sea.

Rattlesnakes do tend to avoid urban areas, all of this wilderness provides rattlesnakes plenty of suitable habitats within the state of North Carolina.

Anyway, let’s have a look at North Carolina’s rattlesnakes!

3​ species of rattlesnake in North Carolina

T​he three species of rattlesnake in North Carolina are the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, and the timber rattlesnake.

1. E​astern Diamondback Rattlesnake

image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Species name: Crotalus adamanteus
A​dult length: 94 inches

I​n 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 this species in Southeastern North Carolina, in various habitats. Rabbits are their favorite food, but they’ll also eat rats, and occasionally birds. Eastern diamondbacks are not a very aggressive species, but their massive size means they has very long fangs and produce a lot of venom. This makes their bites especially dangerous. This species, along with the western diamondback, is widely considered the most dangerous snake in North America.

2. Pygmy Rattlesnake

image by Florida Fish and Wildlife via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Species name: Sistrurus miliarius
A​dult length: 24 inches

The pygmy rattlesnake can only be found in extreme eastern and southern North Carolina, they aren’t common in northern, western, or central parts of the state. Their range extends south into Georgia and Florida, and west into Texas and Oklahoma. They’re gray in color with brown and orange markings down their backs. Pygmy rattlesnakes, named for their small size, are commonly thought to be one of the prettier rattlesnake species.

T​hey 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.

3. Timber Rattlesnake

source: USFWS Midwest Region

Species name: Crotalus horridus
A​dult length: 60 inches

Timber rattlesnakes occur in both eastern and western areas of North Carolina, but aren’t common in Central North Carolina. Their range extends far up into the northeast, where the weather gets quite cold in the winter.

T​hey 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.

5 commonly asked questions about rattlesnakes in North Carolina

1. I​s it illegal to kill a rattlesnake in North Carolina?

All 3 species of rattlesnakes in North Carolina are protected under the N.C. endangered species act, it would be illegal to kill one.

2. H​ow long do North Carolina rattlesnakes get?

T​hat 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.

3. W​hat 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.

4. Can North Carolina rattlesnakes kill you?

North Carolina’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.

If you get bit by a rattlesnake in North Carolina, seek medical help immediately.

5. I​s 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 North Carolina, although they’re fairly shy animals and you may never notice you’ve walked by one.

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...