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Tuesday, March 31, 2015
@ AnimalsReptiles & AmphibiansSouthern Appalachian Snakes


The Nature Center currently has several species of snakes on display including the ones highlighted below.  These snakes can be found in a variety of habitats and play an important role in the ecosystem. 

Adult Black Rat Snakes average between four and six feet in length with occasional specimens reaching a length of seven feet or more. They may occupy many types of habitats ranging from deep woods to forest edges, overgrown fields and meadows. One of the black rat snakes on display in the Appalachian Station has a genetic variation called amelanism that causes the snake to lack all black pigments. This gives a red/yellow coloring of the snake instead of pure white like albinos.


Corn snakes are generally very colorful snakes with most adults displaying vivid colors of reddish or orange blotches edged in black with a grayish to orange colored background tinged with yellow. The corn snake prefers a habitat of wooded areas, rocky hillsides, meadows, or near water. This snake is often confused with the venomous copperhead because of its similar coloring, but the corn snake has a different patter and head shape than the copperhead.

The Eastern Hognose Snake is characterized by its upturned snout which is used to dig up toads which is one of its favorite foods. This snake lives in sandy, soiled areas and partially wooded hills and meadows. When threatened, the Eastern Hognose, spreads its neck like a cobra and will often strike but rarely bits. If this does not work, the snake will roll on its back and play dead.

The Eastern King Snake is another non-venomous snake found in the Appalachian region. It is a constrictor that is not a picky eater, eating anything from rodents, turtles, frogs, and eggs. The Eastern King Snake prefers woodland habitats, rocky hills, meadow, and swamps. This snake is well known for killing and eating other snakes including venomous ones.

The Northern Water Snake is a semi-aquatic snake and can be found in swampy areas, rivers, lakes, and bogs in the southern Appalachian region. When threatened, this water snake will flatten its body and spread its jaws to make it look bigger. The northern water snake can become aggressive and may bite if provoked.

The Rough Green Snake is an excellent climber that spends most of its time above ground often going unnoticed because of its shape and color that disguises them as vines. This snake lives in forested areas with dense vegetation overhanging rivers and streams. The rough green snake has keeled (rough) scales that aid it in climbing.

Southern Appalachian Venomous Snakes

One of only two venomous snake species found in Western North Carolina, the other being the Timber Rattlesnake.  Another species, the closely related Southern Copperhead, occurs in central and eastern North Carolina along with several other venomous species.

The northern copperhead is normally a rather short and heavy-bodied snake, averaging around two to two and one half feet in length, sometimes as much as three feet or longer in large specimens.  Specimens larger than this are rare but do occasionally occur.  The coloration of the copperhead can be quite variable from light to dark but specimens from the mountains of western North Carolina tend to be much darker than those found in lowland areas.  The background color is generally a brownish gray to reddish-tan with a series of distinct darker hourglass or saddlebag-shaped markings over the back.  The head is often copper-colored hence their common name but may also be lighter or much darker.  Like other members of the pit viper family, the head of the copperhead is usually quite wide in relation to the neck and heat sensitive pits or openings are found between the nostril and the eye on each side of the face.  The pupils are elliptical, an adaptation for nocturnal vision but open up to become almost round in dim light.  Baby copperheads up to a year or so in age may be easily identified by the presence of a bright yellowish-green tail tip, an adaptation which is used by the young snakes to procure their food.

Rattlesnakes are members of the Pit Viper family, which includes all the venomous snakes found in North America with the exception of the Coral Snake. They are best known for the presence of a "rattle" on the end of the tail. A new segment is added to the rattle each time the snake sheds its skin, which may occur several times a year and rattle segments on the tail periodically break off. When a rattlesnake is frightened or disturbed, it vibrates the tail tip which results in the characteristic buzzing or rattling sound.

The Timber Rattlesnake is a heavy-bodied snake averaging around 3 feet in length with occasional individuals approaching 5 or 6 feet. They vary greatly in overall coloration depending on the region in which they occur. Specimens from the lowlands of eastern North Carolina are typically very light in coloration, often a pinkish-tan with dark black or brown crossbands. Timber Rattlesnakes from the mountain regions of Western North Carolina occur primarily in two varieties, a yellow phase and a black phase. The yellow phase tends to be more common in most areas. Yellow phase Timber Rattlesnakes have a background coloration of yellow or tan with brown or black crossbands. Black phase Timber Rattlesnakes are sometimes almost solid black in coloration but usually sport the same pattern as the yellow phase with the yellow or brown being replaced by much darker pigments. Contrary to popular opinion, the sex of a Timber Rattlesnake cannot be determined by its color phase. Because of its many different color varieties, people often mistake the Timber Rattlesnake for other rattlesnake species, particularly the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake; however, the Timber Rattlesnake is the only species of rattlesnake found in Western North Carolina. Like other pit vipers, the head of the Timber Rattlesnake is very broad in comparison to the neck. The pupils of the eyes are elliptical in shape (in bright light only), and there are heat-sensitive pits, one on either side of the face, between the eye and nostril.


~ WNC Nature Center ~ 75 Gashes Creek Road ~ Asheville ~ NC 28805 ~
Phone (828) 259-8080


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