Living in a state with as many snake species as Florida can be unnerving. That’s why you need to know which snakes are dangerous and how to identify them quickly.
There are 6 venomous snakes in Florida: the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake, the dusky pygmy rattlesnake, the coral snake, the cottonmouth, and the copperhead. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake has the most lethal bite.
Most of these snakes live in every corner of the state, from the Panhandle to Miami and the Everglades. No matter where you go, there’s a chance that you’ll encounter one.
What Are the Most Dangerous Snakes in Florida?
Florida is home to fifty species of snake, which is almost the most of any state. That’s in large part because of the diverse range of habitats available. Throughout Florida, you have grasslands, forests, marshes and swamps, ponds, lakes, rivers—basically any habitat that would be a great home for a snake. That’s why so many species can thrive.
However, only six of these species are considered venomous and a danger to humans. Each one of them apart from the coral snake is a kind of pit viper, members of which are typically highly venomous—like rattlesnakes. These snakes are the ones you have to watch out for.
1) The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Their gray-brown diamond pattern runs all the way along their back. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is America’s most deadly snake by far, for many reasons.
First, their venom is incredibly potent, even more so than other rattlesnakes. Not only that, but they store more venom in their venom glands than most other snakes, too.
If you’re bitten by one, the first thing you’ll notice is searing pain, like being jabbed with two hot needles. This searing pain quickly moves through your body, leaving your whole body in agony.
Their venom causes your tissue to very quickly die, causes your blood to stop clotting, and can cause cardiac arrest. It’s estimated that 20% of people die from their bite. The only saving grace is that they’re not as aggressive as their reputation makes them out to be.
2) The Timber Rattlesnake
The timber rattlesnake isn’t quite as deadly as the eastern diamondback, but that doesn’t mean you can take it easy around them.
They’re instantly recognizable and can be easily distinguished from a Diamondback, because their pattern runs in horizontal stripes rather than diamond shapes. They’re quite high contrast, too, with a gray-brown background and dark black stripes.
Just like the eastern diamondback, they have a very high venom yield, meaning that they have a lot stored up that they can use. They’ve also got long fangs, which don’t necessarily make them any deadlier, but do make them scarier.
Their venom stops your nervous system from working, making it hard to breathe, and eventually stopping your heart altogether. Because of their wide range, around a dozen probable timber rattlesnake deaths have been recorded since the turn of the century.
3) The Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake
These snakes are much smaller than their bigger timber and diamondback cousins. While an eastern diamondback can reach 6 feet, pygmy rattlesnakes can only grow to 2 feet or so.
Aside from their length, you can recognize them by their dark brown spots, which run all along their top and their sides, against a gray-brown background.
While their venom is potent, they don’t have an awful lot of it. An eastern diamondback rattlesnake has a huge venom yield of up to 1000mg, with an average of 450mg or so. A pygmy rattlesnake only has reserves of 18mg on average. This means that a bite can’t kill you.
Specifically, their venom is designed to stop your blood from clotting. Now, on a small scale, this would normally only be a problem if you were bleeding and couldn’t stop.
But according to Poison Center Tampa, the real problem with this kind of snake venom is internal bleeding. This is what could kill you—although there are no pygmy rattlesnake deaths on record.
4) The Eastern Coral Snake
The eastern coral snake is the one with red, black and yellow stripes.
They look exactly like kingsnakes, except:
- In coral snakes, the thin yellow bands touch the red bands.
- In kingsnakes, they don’t. The yellow bands only touch the black bands.
It’s the origin of the old rhyme, “Red next to black, safe from attack; red next to yellow, you’re a dead fellow.” There are plenty of variants, but the point is always the same.
Coral snake venom is exceptionally dangerous—although the snakes themselves aren’t. First of all, coral snakes are actually quite small and short. They only reach 30 inches or so at most.
Not only that, but they don’t have the long and dangerous fangs that rattlesnakes and other pit vipers do. The fangs are positioned at the front of the mouth, just like rattlesnakes, but they’re significantly shorter (at a quarter of an inch long, or so). They’re also quite docile snakes, hardly ever attacking people, and only rarely using venom when they do.
But if they do decide to bite, and to use their venom, you’re in for a shock. It’s neurotoxic, meaning that it attacks your nervous system, stopping your lungs and heart from working.
But even worse than that is the fact that there’s a coral snake antivenom shortage. Because of the infrequency of bites, it isn’t profitable for drug companies to manufacture an antivenom anymore, and stocks have almost run out.
5) The Copperhead Snake
The copperhead is named after its bright rusty-red head. This and their low-contrast, dusty brown color makes them easy to distinguish from rattlesnakes, although they are quite well camouflaged.
They also don’t have a rattle, although they’ll still rattle their tail, as if they’re pretending. This is a behavior they learned that’s termed ‘Batesian mimicry,’ which means that they’re copying an even scarier predator to make other animals scared of them.
Copperheads are an ambush predator that usually avoids humans, but unlike many other snakes, it freezes if disturbed. This is a problem both for the snake and for the person that finds them, because it makes it more likely that they’ll get scared and bite you.
It also means that if you approach one, you might not realize that you’re frightening it. Although they are venomous, they’re the least venomous of all pit vipers, and their bite stands very little chance of causing serious injury.
Of all the snakes listed here, copperheads have the most limited range in Florida. They’re only really found in the panhandle, while each of the other species lives all across the state. They are happiest in mixed woodlands and deciduous forest, although they can live in low-lying swampy areas too (like the panhandle).
6) The Cottonmouth Snake
Cottonmouths are one of the best-known American snakes. Everybody’s heard a story or two about them. There’s the one where a water-skiing woman falls into a deadly cottonmouth nest or the one where the boy dives into a swimming hole only to be surrounded by them.
Fortunately, neither of these stories are true, because cottonmouths are solitary creatures. But they should still be respected.
Cottonmouths, just like copperheads and every species of rattlesnake, are a kind of pit viper. And just like the copperhead, they get their name from their defensive display, too.
When the cottonmouth is threatened, they’ll open their mouth, exposing their bright white gums. You might also know them as the water moccasin, which is a name they earn from preferring to live close to fresh water.
The cottonmouth is slightly more venomous than the copperhead. Their bite and venom are powerful enough to occasionally kill, provided that the person can’t get to the hospital on time.
If they only tag you with a little venom, you’re still in for a treat. Cottonmouth venom kills the tissue around the bite mark, leaving huge swellings and even necessitating amputation if it gets too bad. Either way, like all pit viper venom, their bites cause intense pain.
Is It Legal to Kill Snakes in Florida?
If you come across a snake in your backyard, it’s only natural to want to deal with it. Whether that’s by getting rid of it or by killing it doesn’t matter if you feel that your family is threatened.
Can you legally kill snakes in Florida? Yes, aside from a certain few species that have to be protected. Several species of snake in Florida are considered endangered or threatened. These include:
- The eastern indigo snake
- The Florida brown snake
- The Florida pine snake
- The key ringneck snake
- The short-tailed snake
None of these species are venomous. Of these, the eastern indigo snake is protected by the Endangered Species Act, a federal law that prevents the killing of listed endangered animals.
If your home is invaded by one of the venomous snakes in the sections above, you’re within your rights to kill them as they pose a threat.
However, this isn’t always the best idea. The majority of snake bites happen when somebody is trying to either move or kill a snake. The snake, naturally, doesn’t appreciate being harassed and interprets your actions as those of a predator.
Like any animal, they’ll defend themselves to the end. It’s far better to get a safe distance away from the snake, call a pest control operative, and allow them to do the hard work for you.
If you encounter a snake in the wild, the same applies. By approaching them, you make it more likely that they’ll attack. Let them be on their way. Better yet, pick another path to walk. The adage that seeing a rattlesnake means there are more nearby is true.
Rattlesnakes have communal dens, and don’t travel very far from them. So, pick another path, and leave them be rather than trying to kill them.
Invasive Species of Snake in Florida
An invasive species is an animal that isn’t native to a particular place. So, for example, if there were a breeding colony of tigers in Australia, they would be an ‘invasive’ species.
There’s a species of snake called the Burmese python that isn’t native to Florida, but lives in the Everglades. They were released after Hurricane Andrew tore down a breeding facility, letting them loose. Today, there are tens of thousands of them.
You can legally kill these snakes. According to Live Science, it’s even encouraged, and there’s a bounty for each one you kill. They aren’t venomous, and despite being very large, they aren’t a danger to people—just to the native wildlife. Unfortunately, the population doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller, despite continued hunting and regulatory measures.
Where Can You Find Venomous Snakes in Florida?
Florida is a diverse state, with unique ecosystems not found anywhere else on earth. In large part, that’s why so many snake species have managed to thrive there. Do bear in mind, though, that the vast majority of snakes you find anywhere in Florida are going to be non-venomous.
As we said, there are at least fifty species, and only six of those are venomous. The rest don’t want to do anything but eat mice, rodents and similar prey—they don’t want anything to do with people.
But where should you go if you want to find dangerous and venomous snakes? Let’s take a look at a few different areas, and what you might find there.
Dangerous Snakes in The Florida Panhandle
The panhandle is home to all of the state’s copperheads. While the snake enjoys a variety of habitats, and can be found anywhere from Texas to Nebraska, and all the way east to Massachusetts, they only live in the very northwest of Florida.
But that doesn’t mean they’re the only dangerous snake here. The timber rattlesnake lives towards the east of the panhandle, at the very tip of its southern range. This is the only part of Florida where you’re likely to find one. It’s unclear exactly why, since there are forested areas throughout Florida, not just in the north/northwest. Perhaps it’s too warm for them.
Dusky pygmy rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, eastern coral snakes, and eastern diamondbacks are found all across the state, including in the panhandle. What with there being a huge range of different habitats in and around the panhandle, from swamps and bayous to pine forests, this is the ‘worst’ part of Florida when it comes to snakes. That’s because rattlesnakes that enjoy forests are happy here, as are cottonmouths that enjoy being near water.
Dangerous Snakes in The Everglades
There are invasive species in the Everglades, including invasive snakes, that are damaging the local ecosystem. Besides them, there are four venomous snakes you’re likely to find in the Everglades: the cottonmouth, the western diamondback, the coral snake, and the dusky pygmy rattlesnake.
Cottonmouths are especially happy here, with plenty of water. They can only live near significant bodies of water, so the more water, the more cottonmouths there are.
Diamondbacks are comfortable swimmers, too, so they’re at home here. Pygmy rattlesnakes prefer swamps and marshes too, so again, the Everglades is perfect for them.
Dangerous Snakes in Central Florida
Central Florida is home to far more nonvenomous snakes than venomous ones. In the urban areas around Tampa, Orlando, and Lakeland, you can find many completely harmless snakes:
- Black racers
- Corn snakes
- Yellow rat snakes
- Garter snakes
- Milk snakes
- Florida ringneck snakes
- Banded water snakes
These non-venomous snakes thrive in and around urban areas, where there tend to be lots of rodents. Of the venomous snakes in Florida, you’re most likely to see water moccasins/cottonmouths around here.
While eastern diamondbacks are found across the whole state, they prefer wide open areas to anywhere that’s built up. You’re more likely to see pygmy rattlesnakes. Coral rattlesnakes are only rarely seen.
Dangerous Snakes in Miami
Being a built-up area, you won’t see any snakes in Miami proper. In suburbs and parks around the city, you might come across the odd nonvenomous snake. The most common is the black racer, which isn’t venomous, but will bite if you try and catch it.
These are the snakes you’re most likely to see, both because they’re common and because they’re active during the day. The same applies to ringneck snakes and bimini blind snakes, which you can find in gardens and yards. Here’s some advice on how to keep snakes out of your garden.
Near fresh water (i.e., ponds, rivers, and streams) you’re likely to see water snakes, too. Water moccasins aren’t the only aquatic snake in Florida. The Florida banded water snake, for example, is common near bodies of water and is entirely harmless.
But where you’re likely to find them, you can normally find cottonmouths too. In south Florida generally, you’re likely to find coral snakes, eastern diamondbacks and pygmy rattlesnakes as well. If you do find them anywhere, it’ll be in your yard.
Dangerous Snakes in Southwest Florida
Southwest Florida, from Sarasota down to Fort Myers and Naples, takes in a number of state parks and preserves. You can find all the usual nonvenomous snakes like black racers, but the area is also home to all the usual venomous suspects too:
- Eastern diamondbacks
- Pygmy rattlesnakes
- Cottonmouth snakes
Fortunately, you’re not likely to find many of these snakes in Fort Myers and the surrounding area. While there are canals, they don’t like the water in them—it’s typically too salty for them. And copperheads, Diamondbacks, and other rattlers prefer wooded areas. So, you’re not likely to find many in built-up areas.
Aside from the native species, you’re also likely to come across some Burmese pythons too. According to NBC, while they originally only populated the Everglades, they have since expanded their range north towards urban areas in southwest Florida.
They can now be found all across Collier County, and even in Lee County (Fort Myers and Cape Coral). It’s unclear where the edge of their range will eventually be.
Areas with No Snakes in Florida
Unfortunately, if you want to guarantee a snake-free life, then Florida isn’t the place for you. The best you’re going to get is if you stay downtown in whatever city you choose to call home.
Head on out to any suburb, and you’ll encounter snakes semi-regularly. They also love to take up residence in parks, golf courses, or anywhere else that might be a little marshy or have a water source nearby.
Living somewhere like Florida, your best bet is to learn how to live alongside snakes, rather than hope you don’t meet them. When you do find a snake, treat them as you would any other wildlife. Maybe you don’t want to pet them, and that’s fine. But respect them by:
- Not threatening them, kicking them, moving them or harassing them
- Not treating them like a pet, petting them or trying to pick them up
- Letting them be on their way
By respecting the snake, even if you don’t recognize them, you guarantee that they can’t harm you. The vast majority of bites are from people who are reckless, intoxicated, or both.