Central Florida is home to a diverse array of snake species, both venomous and non-venomous. Some of the most common native snakes found in the region include the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, cottonmouth, corn snake, rat snake, and garter snake. Identifying key physical characteristics can help distinguish harmless species from dangerous vipers. Snakes inhabit a variety of ecosystems in Central Florida, from pinelands to swamps to suburban areas. Understanding their habitat range and behavior is crucial to safely coexisting with these reptiles.
Native Snake Species
Florida is inhabited by over 40 different snake species, most of which are harmless to humans. Some of the most prevalent non-venomous snakes in Central Florida are the eastern rat snake, corn snake, pine snake, and eastern garter snake. These colubrids thrive in forested areas and often reside near water sources. Venomous species native to the region include the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, dusky pygmy rattlesnake, cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), and coral snake. These vipers deliver a hemotoxic venom that can be dangerous if left untreated. However, they are not aggressive and will avoid confrontation if given adequate space.
Venomous vs Non-Venomous Snakes
The primary difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes is the presence or absence of specialized fangs and venom glands used for subduing prey. Non-venomous species have rows of small fixed teeth on their upper and lower jaws used for grasping food while venomous snakes have hinged hollow fangs that can inject venom from sacs in their heads.
Other ways to distinguish venomous snakes is by their triangular heads, vertical pupils, heat-sensing pits between their eyes and nostrils, rattles on their tails, and warning color patterns like bands and diamonds. Non-venomous snakes have round heads and pupils, lack specialized pits and rattles, and exhibit more solid camouflaged colors.
Identifying Common Snake Species
The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in Florida reaching lengths over 7 feet. It has distinctive dark diamond patterns down its back bordered by yellowish scales. A key identifier is the segmented rattle on the tip of its tail.
The dusky pygmy rattlesnake is a smaller pit viper averaging 1-2 feet long with a rusty dorsal color and dark spots or blotches on its sides. The cottonmouth is a heavy-bodied dark brown or blackish viper with a white lining inside its mouth giving it its name. The brightly colored red yellow and black bands of the coral snake signify its highly potent neurotoxic venom.
Non-venomous colubrids lack these vibrant warning patterns. The eastern rat snake is a common blackish gray or brown snake with lighter blotches while corn snakes exhibit red-orange blotches outlined in black on a grayish background. Garter snakes have three longitudinal stripes – one down the center with two on the sides – on their brownish or olive bodies while pine snakes are tan brown or reddish with dark brown blotches down the back.
Habitats and Range
Snakes occupy diverse habitats in Central Florida from pinelands to scrublands to swamps marshes human-altered areas etc. Cottonmouths prefer wetlands often found basking on vegetation overhanging water while diamondback rattlesnakes inhabit upland pine forests but may venture into wet prairies as well.
Rat snakes often reside in barns and abandoned buildings while garter snakes frequent yards fields and roadsides in suburban neighborhoods. Understanding the habitat range of venomous and non-venomous species can prevent dangerous encounters.