Florida's Venomous Snakes

Part 2


The Pygmy Rattlesnake

Also called ground rattler, is common throughout Florida. If is found in every county and on many of the offshore islands. Its rattle id small and slender and produces a sound like the buzzing of an insect. This warning signal can be heard for no more than a few feet away.

Stout - bodied for so small a snake, it is gray in color and marked prominently with rounded, dusk spots. Starting at base of the head, reddish spots alternate with the black along the midline of the back. Most pygmy rattlers measure less than 18 inches in length.

This species feeds on small frogs, lizards, mice and other snakes. Like other members of the pit - viper family, it does not lay eggs, but gives live birth to its young.

Look for the pygmy rattlesnake in palmetto flat woods, or in areas of slash pine and wire grass. It may be encountered in almost any locality where there are lakes, ponds, or marshes.

It is fortunate that the ground rattler is small, as it has a feisty disposition, and is quick to strike. Its bite produces pain and swelling which subsides in a few days. While its bite could be fatal to humans under certain circumstances, no deaths from the bite of this species have been recorded.


The cottonmouth moccasin is a pit viper. It grows to large size, exceeding five feet in length. Most Florida specimens average about three feet. It occurs commonly in every county in the state and on many coastal islands.

Color pattern of the cottonmouth varies form olive - brown to black, with or without dark crossbands on the body. It is stout -bodied with an abruptly tapering tail, and a broad head much wider than the neck. A distinctive mark is a dark band extending form the eye to the rear of the jaw. A drooping mouth line and protective shields overhanging its eyes give it a sullen appearance.

Often when disturbed it draws into a loose coil, cocks its head upwards and opens its mouth wide to reveal the whitish interior lining, hence the name cottonmouth. From this loose - coiled stance, it lunges out in a fast strike to embed its poison - carrying fang. It usually retains a hold on its pray, chewing in order to drive its fangs deeper into its victim. It does not have to be coiled to strike, but can deliver a bite from almost any position, either in or out of the water. It is an unpredictable snake. Some individuals are calm and sluggish while others may be very aggressive.

A cottonmouth gives birth to six to 12 young that are born with poison sacs loaded and ready for action. The baby snakes are boldly marked with reddish brown cross bands and bright yellow tails. During the day, the cottonmouth spends time resting near water, often in a grassy patch, on a pile of debris, in brushy places pr low trees hanging over the water.