Snake Identification and Nuisance Snake Complaints

There are six venomous snake species in Florida, only four of which can be found in Central Florida: the Eastern diamondback, the pygmy rattler, the cottonmouth and the coral snake.

There are a few very common nonvenomous snakes which are quite often misidentified as venomous and cause a lot of panic: yellow and red rat snakes, black racers and several types of water snakes, particularly the banded water snake, the brown water snake and the green water snake.

  Click here for a page with photos of Central Florida's four venomous snake species and resources for helping you identify a snake you see on your property.

Nuisance Snake Complaints

While you can never positively identify a snake based on a description on the phone, you can learn to listen for the following "warning signs" and ask these questions.

"I can hear a loud rattle" – OK, but can you see one? Most snakes rattle their tails, including harmless garter snakes and rat snakes. Cottonmouths do this too. The only snake you can probably eliminate based on this description is a pygmy rattler. Their rattles are almost inaudible and sound more like a buzzing bee. Speaking of insects, locusts produce a very convincing buzzing rattle. An insect's rattle is usually more rhythmic and may stop and start at very regular intervals.

"The snake was in a tree" or "up on the roof" or "lying on top of the fence." - If the snake was more than a few feet off the ground, the chances of its being venomous is very small indeed. Florida’s venomous snakes are not climbers, and none of them have the muscle power to physically support themselves by wrapping around a branch as all the harmless constrictors can. Ask if the snake was also yellow or brownish-orange and striped. If so, it’s a rat snake. If it was green, it’s a green grass snake.

"The snake was all black and it moved so fast I could hardly see it." - This is a black racer, or possibly an indigo snake, which is illegal to capture or kill. Our only solidly dark colored venomous snake, the cottonmouth, is a slow mover.

"The snake was striped" – No North American venomous snake is clearly striped. Several harmless Florida snakes are striped (lines running in the direction of head to tail). The most commonly reported striped snakes are the yellow rat snake (brown to orange-tan with four stripes), the ribbon snake and the garter snake (black with pale white, blue, green or yellow stripes and often a checkered pattern as well). The pygmy rattlesnake has an indistinct reddish stripe down the middle of its back, but also has blotches and spots.

"The snake was banded" – Both venomous and non venomous snakes may have markings that resemble saddles, diamonds, bands or rings. Banded red, orange and brown with blotchy markings and a checkered belly is a red rat snake. Neat black, red and yellow bands with a jet black nose is a coral snake. Red, black and yellow bands with a red nose is a harmless coral snake look-alike, either a scarlet king snake or a scarlet snake. A small black snake with one white, red or yellow ring around its neck is a harmless ringneck snake.

"The snake had a big triangular shaped head" – Rattlesnakes and cottonmouths have heavy and distinctly shaped heads, but so do adult red rat snakes and water snakes. All the vipers have vertical pupils, coral snakes have round pupils. Unless you're already pretty familiar with what venomous and harmless snakes look like, you may find it difficult to tell based on head shape.

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