Snakes of the High Country
In this area of western North Carolina we only have 2 species of venomous snakes (Northern copperhead and Timber rattlesnake) and a multitude of other harmless and unique species. According to our Blue Ridge Parkway biologist, Bob Cherry, snakebites are most commonly associated with hands and alcohol–a testament to the fact that snakes generally do not bite unless threatened or provoked in some way. Copperheads especially are known to be shy and reclusive, opting to stay silently camouflaged in their natural habitat rather than show signs of aggression. Venomous or no, snakes have vital ecological roles, such as controling insect and rodent populations, and are protected under federal law in all national parks (ek hm, the Blue Ridge Parkway.) Therefore it is smart to keep your eyes peeled, especially when climbing and hiking to remote crags or cliffs, but to leave snakes alone in the wild! Here are some photos for identification and some fun facts as well!
Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) (VENOMOUS)
One of the most common venomous snakes in western NC which feed on mice, small birds, insects and frogs. On a recent Mycology field trip, half of our lab walked right past a copperhead on the side of the trail without noticing, supporting the idea that copperheads will not usually bite unless provoked. They are easily identifiable by their striking cross-band pattern, “copper-head”, and vertical pupils. Their habitats include most forested areas but they can also prefer rocky areas, so always pay attention while climbing!
Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) (VENOMOUS)
A thick-bodied snake with darker tails and sometimes yellow, dark gray, or even solid black rattlers in this area. They prefer swamps and lowland forests in the south. Just last week, we received a call on the parkway that an “angry, mean rattlesnake was blocking a hiking path.” Though we are naturally afraid of these creatures, it’s a stretch to label them as ever being ‘mean’ and having intent to bring harm without cause. Snakes, like all animals (us included,) are just trying to survive. They will only rattle or bite when provoked. We arrived at the site with the snake long gone and a bunch of bros recalling stories of how they barely escaped with their lives. Uh huh. Sure. As the parkway biologist puts it “I’m more concerned with protecting snakes from people than people from snakes, as the latter is rarely the issue.”
More snakes coming soon!!
Davidson College Herpetology
“North American Wildlife: Mammals, Reptiles & Amphibians” 1998