Some NE Florida’s Non-venomous Snakes

WHAT IS A SNAKE?  A snake is a reptile without legs.  A reptile usually has scales, lays eggs, breathes air, and doesn’t spend much time taking care of its babies.  It is also cold-blooded, which means that its body doesn’t stay the same temperature all the time.  (Our bodies stay at 98.6 degrees F all day.)  Snakes get very cold on winter days and very hot in the summer.  Because of this, snakes usually stay in burrows during very hot and cold weather.  A burrow is a hole in the ground where they can live. 

WHAT DO SNAKES EAT?  All snakes are carnivores (car-ni-vorz) or meat-eaters.  There are no snakes that can eat people in Florida.   Small snakes eat bugs and frogs.  Larger ones eat fish, birds, mice, and rabbits.  They use sharp teeth and strong muscles to catch the prey.  If the prey animal is bigger than the snake’s mouth, the snake can dislocate (unhinge) its bottom jaw to fit the big animal in.

WHAT IS VENOM?  Venom is a poison the snake puts into its prey through its fangs (teeth).  This kills the prey so the snake can eat it.  The snakes on this page do NOT have venom.  They must kill their prey by biting it, squeezing it, or just by swallowing it alive.  Since they have no venom, they have other ways to protect themselves.  Some look like other venomous snakes.  Some rattle their tail like a rattlesnake to fool you.  Others swim, climb, and slither fast to help them get away.  Some even play dead or squeeze out a nasty smelling goo to make the predator go away.

bansnak.jpg (12909 bytes)BANDED WATER SNAKES (Nerodia fasciata) are easy to mix up with the venomous cottonmouth.  Both snakes have thick bodies and grow up to about 5 feet long.  When they are young, they have brown bodies with black and rusty orange patterns.  As they age, their skin gets darker.  Unless you’re really close, it’s hard to tell these two snakes apart.   Getting close is a BAD idea.  Both snakes are aggressive and will strike at you many times.   The main difference is that the banded water snake has no venom (poison) and the cottonmouth does.  Banded water snakes live in fresh or salt water marshes.  They are good swimmers that come out at night.  They eat frogs, tadpoles, and fish.



blrace.jpg (24421 bytes)BLACK RACERS (Coluber constrictor) are skinny black snakes that grow from 3 to 6 feet long.   They have white chins and are very fast.   They come out during the day and hunt large bugs, frogs, lizards, mice, and birds.  They can climb trees, but usually stay on the ground.  If they are frightened, they rustle the tip of their tail in the leaves.  It sounds like a rattlesnake and may scare you off.  They are aggressive biters if you pick them up.



CORN SNAKES or RED RAT SNAKES (Elaphe guttata) grow from 2 to 6 feet long.  They are a gold-brown color with red and black blotches on their back.  These blotches reach onto their stomachs, making their bellies look like the many-colored kernels of Indian corn.  These snakes usually come out at night.  They are good climbers and will go into trees and barns hunting for mice, rats, birds, and bats.  They are constrictors and suffocate their prey by squeezing them.


ROUGH GREEN SNAKES (Opheodrys aestivus) are pencil-thin tree snakes that grow from 1 to 4 feet long.  Their backs are green and their bellies are a lighter yellowish green.  This snake rarely bites people and is often out during the day.   It eats grasshoppers, caterpillars, and spiders.  Although it prefers to climb in trees, it can swim well if it needs to.



Conant, Roger and Joseph Collin. Peterson’s Reptiles and Amphibians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1991.
Behler, John and F. Wayne King
Audubon’s Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1992.

Provided by the Pelotes Island Nature Preserve

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