Florida is a popular holiday destination for domestic and international tourists alike, famed for its world-leading theme parks, great weather and the picturesque beaches in the Key West.
Florida is only one two States in the United States to have a tropical climate and it is even home to a stunning coral reef, the only barrier reef in the country and the third largest in the world. This state’s shoreline is distinctively flat, with its coastal plains and sandbars, attracting sun seekers far and wide, while its warm waters provide a perfect setting for a range of water sports.
It is also home to the Everglades National Park, a tropical wilderness made up of wetlands, swamps, forests and mangroves, attracting a wide range of wildlife. Animals in Florida include the; American Alligator & Crocodile, aquatic birds such as Flamingos, Panthers, Dolphins and of course, snakes…
In this article we will focus on the 6 most venomous snakes in Florida which pose a real threat to humans and should be avoided at all costs.
Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake
This short snake rarely grows beyond 2 feet long and weighs around 150 grams, on average. The Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake’s markings consist of a dark stripe through each eye, spots along its back, a white underbelly and a red/ orange stripe running along the side of its body.
Despite its size, this species has a similar diet to much larger snakes in the region, feeding on small mammals (E.G. Mice and small rats), birds, amphibians and reptiles. Once it has injected the venom via its fangs, the Pygmy Rattlesnake releases its victim and waits for the hemotoxins to take effect. This snake tracks the injected prey by scent – a small mammal can be completely immobilised within 30-45 seconds but cold-blooded creatures like frogs and lizards can continue to move freely for up to 15-20 minutes.
The Dusky Pygmy can usually be found inhabiting freshwater floodplains, marshland and woodland area and this species is one of the longest living of our featured six, with a lifespan of up to 20 years.
The Western Pygmy Rattlesnake holds the title of the smallest venomous snake in the US but the Dusky Pygmy is not far behind.
The venom of a Pygmy Rattlesnake is typically not enough to kill a human being, however, this snake can deliver multiple bites in a matter of seconds and anyone who has been bitten should seek medical attention as soon as possible. A bite from this viper can cause excruciating pain, swelling and tissue damage – in some cases, people have been known to lose fingers and toes if the wound is not properly treated. Dogs and pets should be treated immediately if you suspect they have been bitten.
The Southern Copperhead has a light brown/ tan colouring with a pinkish tint, with distinctive yellow eyes and brown cross bands shaped like hourglasses. Like all pit vipers, the Southern Copperhead has heat sensors between the eyes and nose to help it detect prey.
This snake has been known to feed on baby Cottonmouth snakes in addition to mice, rats, swamp rabbits, lizards, baby turtles, frogs, toads, grasshoppers, cicadas and other insects, showing that it certainly isn’t a fussy eater.
Like other species of Pit Viper, the Southern Copperhead does not lay its eggs and instead the female incubates them until they are ready to hatch, protecting them from predators. The average lifespan for this species is between 6-8 years.
It is active during daylight hours in the cooler months and nocturnal during the hot summer months. Copperheads generally have one meal every three weeks and hibernate in winter, often in nests with other snake species.
A bite from this not snake is not particularly potent and only deadly in very rare cases, with children, the elderly and people with issues in regard to their immune system the most at risk. Its hemolytic venom breaks down blood cells, causing tissue damage and pain. In order to kill its prey, the Southern Copperhead clamps down on the victim and holds it until the venom has taken effect.
Also known as a Water Moccasin, can grow up to 1.2m in length, with a thick body and scales which are usually a mixture of dark and light brown, with cross bands, spots and speckles. Its markings get darker as it gets older and a long living Cottonmouth can turn almost black. Its eyes are also camouflaged, improving its ability to hide in close proximity to its prey.
The Water Moccasin, as you can guess by its name is predominantly a water snake, feeding on aquatic animals, helped by its excellent swimming abilities. Its main diet is made up of fish, amphibians, birds, eggs, rodents, smaller snakes, small turtles and baby alligators.
They can be found in every county within Florida and can also be found on the islands off the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico. It rarely ventures far from water but in the Everglades, this species has been found a quarter of a mile inland. Drying water holes are also a popular habitat for these snakes where prey have less freedom to move and are therefore, easier to catch.
The Cottonmouth is one of Florida’s most venomous snakes and its bite can be very dangerous to animals and pets – anyone bitten should seek immediate medical attention. As ever, this snake will not seek to attack a human and if possible, will avoid all contact. Bites from the Cottonmouth usually occur when its is accidentally stepped on or spooked.
These widespread pit vipers can be found in the north and south of the eastern states, making it one of the most populous species in the country – it is also known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake and the Banded Rattlesnake.
An adult Timber Rattlesnake can grow between 0.9-1.5m and they generally have black/ dark brown cross bands against a gray/ light brown background, these bands often display a zig-zag, ‘M’ or ‘V’ shaped pattern.
At home in rugged terrain, the Timber Rattlesnake can be found in deciduous forests and rocky areas. Females can often be seen basking on open, rocky ledges when temperatures are high, while males prefer cooler climates found below the forest canopy.
Even though the Timber Rattlesnake is not often seen by humans due to its long hibernation period and cautious nature, these highly venomous snakes are not to be taken lightly – it has long fangs, a powerful strike and can expel a large quantity of venom.
A rattlesnake’s rattle is made of keratin and a new segment is added each time it sheds its skin, however, it is difficult to judge a specimen’s age by its rattle as these segments often break after a couple of years. When the snake shakes its tail, these segments vibrate and create a distinguishable rattle.
Eastern Coral Snake
The Eastern Coral Snake is a highly venomous species found in the southeastern United States, recognisable by the red, black and yellow rings covering its body. This snake is often confused with the harmless Scarlet Snake.
One of the deadliest snakes in the US, the Eastern Coral Snake has a fearsome reputation and poses a serious threat to humans. Its bite contains a neurotoxic venom and can affect the way the brain communicates with muscles, resulting in symptoms such as; impaired movement and speech and eventually paralysis of respiratory and cardiac functions. Other effects include; vomiting, nausea, double vision, weakness and mild paralysis of the limbs. Once bitten it is possible for a person to go up to 13 hours without showing any symptoms but once developed, the venom’s effect can accelerate and leave lasting damage.
Anyone bitten should call for medical attention immediately, clean and cover the injury and then position their body so the wound is below the heart. It is not advised to try to cut away or remove the venom, or apply pressure to isolate the wound as cutting off blood flow can result in further tissue damage.
The Eastern Coral Snake contains the most deadly venom in the US (the second strongest in the world, after the Black Mamba) but attacks are rare and this species will avoid humans at all costs, if possible. Its normal habitat is sandy, marshy and wooded areas, spending most its time burrowed underground or resting beneath leaf piles or vegetation.
An adult will often eat younger Eastern Coral snakes as well as other smaller snakes, in addition to creatures such as lizards and frogs.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
The Eastern Diamondback is the largest species of Rattlesnake and the heaviest venomous snake found in the Americas, on average. The Biggest on record was shot in 1946, measuring 7.8 feet in length and weighing over 15kg.
The average length of this species is between 3.5ft-5.5ft and can be identified by their colour combination of brown, olive, grey and yellow. Its name derives from the row of diamond-shaped patches along its body.
This species is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s ‘Least Concern List’ due to its wide distribution and estimated large population. Although research shows that their numbers have decreased over the last few decades, their overall numbers are still high across many of the southern states.
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake can be found along coastal plains in the Florida Keys and the Gulf Coast, although it is not uncommon to find them further inland. The Diamondback’s typical habitats are: sand dunes, in palmetto thickets and tall grass, dry pine forests, swamps and coastal salt marshes in the dry season. It has also been known to occupy burrows made by Gophers and Tortoises.
Although not considered an adept climber, this rattlesnake has been spotted as high as 10 metres in search of prey. It is also a strong swimmer and has been seen crossing the barrier islands, miles off the coast.
It’s rattle serves as a warning when threatened but this snake is capable of moving in complete silence when stalking prey. It feeds on mainly rodents and some small birds, such as Quails and Towhees, it has also been reported that even an animal as large as a young Turkey has fallen victim to this predator.
Hawks and Eagles provide a threat to young and adolescent Diamondbacks but are unlikely to tackle an adult.
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is considered the most dangerous snake in North America and if untreated, the mortality rate of people bitten is between 10-20% according to studies. With a powerful strike, the largest fangs of any rattlesnake and a very high venom yield, the Diamondback Rattlesnake deserves the title of the most deadly snake in Florida.
For a deeper understanding of snakes in the southern states, a trip to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville is highly recommended.
What is the most venomous snake in Florida?
The Eastern Coral Snake is the most venomous snake in Florida and is amongst the most venomous snakes in the world, the most venomous being the Black Mamba. The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake’s venom is not as potent but can deliver much more poison in a single bite.
Non-venomous snakes in Florida include; Hognoses, Black Racers, Coachwhips, Red Bellies, Garter, Crowned and Green Snakes.
Are Florida water snakes venomous?
Yes, the Florida Cottonmouth, otherwise known as the Water Moccasin is a venomous water snake which can be found near bodies of freshwater in the southeastern states of America.