The swamps of Francis Marion National Forest are a herpetologist's paradise. Snakes, lizards, turtles, and frogs are
plentiful. A hiker is likely to see many of these on even a casual hike. Driving the back roads through the forests and
swamps at night is a good way to find snakes and frogs that warm themselves on roads that hold the heat absorbed
from the daytime sun. Several poisonous snakes are found here, and in many areas poisonous Copperheads and Water
Moccasins are quite common. These snakes are a vital part of the ecosystem, and are not aggressive if left
The Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) is usually found in or near water, which is just about everywhere in a swamp. These
snakes are very common in some parts of Francis Marion National Forest. While these snakes are not usually aggressive, they
sometimes stand their ground when approached. When the water moccasin feels threatened it opens its mouth wide, displaying its
fangs and the white inside of its mouth (see photo below). The white mouth resulted in this snakes alternate name -  "Cottonmouth".
The Water Moccasin is poisonous and very common in some areas.
The Southern Copperhead is well camouflaged in the dead leaves of the forest floor. This poisonous snake is very common in
many areas and, while these animals are not at all aggressive, hikers should be careful not to accidentally step on one.
Copperheads usually prefer to sit quietly and rely on their camouflage to protect them from predators. They eat small mammals
and occasionally birds that they kill with their venomous bite. Copperheads, like all snakes, swallow their food whole.
Southern Copperheads have hourglass shaped bands across their
Copperheads, rattlesnakes, and water moccasins are all pit vipers. The pit vipers have a heat sensitive organ that is
seen as a pit between the nostril and the eye. This heat sensitive pit helps the snake locate warm blooded prey,
normally small rodents, in the dark of night. These snakes also have elliptical pupils that might help the snakes to
see in low light. Most American non-venomous snakes, as well as the poisonous coral snake, have round pupils.
This young water moccasin will lose most of its color as it matures. A yellow tip of the tail, seen in young
copperheads and water moccasins, is used to lure prey, such as small lizards and frogs.
This snake is displaying the white
inside of its mouth that gave the snake
its alternate name, "cottonmouth".
This Canebrake Rattlesnake, also called the Timber Rattlesnake, is the more common of three species of rattlesnakes found in the
area. The others are the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake and the Carolina Pygmy Rattlesnake. All of the rattlesnakes are
venomous. Many nonpoisonous snakes and even other poisonous snakes will vibrate their tails rapidly when they are frightened,
mimicking the rattlesnake and even making a rattling sound if the snake is on dry leaves. Only the rattlesnakes have the segmented
rattle at the end of the tail, which they often hold upright, as in the picture below, while rattling loudly. Each time a rattlesnake sheds
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