Every spring, we like to give folks some visual aids, as the snakes begin to wake. Because snakes can be extremely difficult to identify, and so many can be mistaken for venomous (when it reality they may be a beneficial snake), we’ve added some pics and descriptions that we hope you will find helpful. The following link is one we just love, as the pictures and descriptions are very clear, and we are grateful to this organization for keeping us informed!
From what all we have read, although there can be some regional crossover, the mountains of NC are actually home to only 3 poisonous snakes: the Timber Rattler, Diamondback Rattlers, and the copperhead (which is definitely a regional crossover, as we have many here in the Piedmont too). We have also included “canebrakes”, which is found more in the flatlands and coast, as it is also anther type of rattler, and there is an easy way to tell them apart..read on!
So..let’s learn a little, in case you are ever out hiking and cross paths with one of these..
First off, the best prevention is to avoid these snakes altogether..In fact, the timber rattler is actually a pretty shy snake, and will even do a fake bite sometimes if rattling does not warn away the intruder. But they can inject venom so here are the recommended steps to take if you should sustain a bite:
Move away from the snake to avoid possible further bites;
Remain calm (this is important..you do not want your blood racing and possibly spreading the venom further.).
Remove rings, watches, bracelets, etc…as swelling can be intense.
Do NOT cut the snakebite.
Do NOT apply ice.
Do NOT attempt to suck venom out with your mouth.
It is also recommended that, if possible, you circle the bite site with a marker, which helps medical personnel judge the severity of the bite, but this is not something to spend time on if you do not have a marker.
**You DO, however, want to keep the bitten person’s heart rate down, so try to stay as calm as possible, lower the bitten extremity lower than the heart, and also apply a light constriction bandage if possible, to help slow the spread of venom, just above the bite site. And with all possible speed, get the bitten person to a hospital or some type of relief station with anti-venom.
Timber rattlers are big, in general, and frequently sports a black tail. They also have dark crossbands, also called “chevrons” on a lighter colored overall background. In this example, the background is a mottled grayish shade, but can also have a yellowish tint, or even be almost completely black. Timber rattlers are also found in our coastal plain, but rarely in the Piedmont areas. They can den up in large numbers, and well I remember a young man when I was attending school in Cullowhee who’s father ran a timber business. He had many a story of scaling a cliff, only to poke his head up over the edge of the summit and be face to face with a number of these snakes! Timber rattlers have long held a place in NC, as they are a popular snake for religions that encourage snake handling. Although they will rattle when disturbed, according to various websites, generally they depend on their camouflage to stay out of sight.
In the above example of a “canebrake” rattler, please note the orangish stripe down the back. More commonly found in the coastal and Piedmont areas, we’ve included them because they are actually a type of timber rattler. Often, they sport a pink hue for their base background color.
EASTERN DIAMONDBACK RATTLER
The title of largest rattlesnake belongs to the Eastern Diamondback Rattler, and this is also the most dangerous of the rattlers. Diamondbacks can be distinguished by two lighter colored lines on the sides of their heads, and have a diamond pattern outlined with black running the length of their bodies, which is usually a grey or yellowish shade. At the tail, the diamonds form into bands. See picture above, and note the two lines on the head that are easily visible.
Although we tend to think of the copperhead as a Piedmont or lower elevation snake, they are also found in our mountains. In adulthood, these tend to be heavy, thick snakes, and have hourglass crossbands on brown or grey backgrounds. On the stomach, you may find a combination of white and black markings. The babies, which are common in my area of the Piedmont look just like the adults, but have yellow or green tails that are used to entice prey.
A word of warning here.
#1: One of our common watersnakes is often mistaken for being a copperhead. I have heard many friends describe flipping a canoe or diving out of a boat when a common watersnake dropped in, as, at first glance, it can be confusing, and few are going to wait around to determine which one it is!
#2: Although none of the sites I visited to collect this info mentions this, believe me when I say copperheads do play possum! You may think that snake is dead, but do not take chances. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen this for myself, but the most notable was when I was walking my horse home and came across one on the dirt road, still as all get out. As I stood there, casual in my flip-flops and my horse waiting patiently, I decided the snake had been hit by a car, and out of concern for the kids due to dismount from the bus, I quickly put the horse up, and returned to remove the snake ..gee whiz..guess what? It was gone…how close I came to being struck that day, I will never know..but please approach all snakes with respect..you just never know.
Be sure to be prepared for any possible emergency, as there is rarely any warning for this type of situation. There is a very good reason why seasoned hikers wear sturdy boots, and this is one of them.