WILDLIFE ON KIAWAH ISLAND

SNAKES ON KIAWAH

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Town of Kiawah Island
21 Beachwalker Drive
Kiawah Island, SC 29455
(843) 768-9166
Email a Town Biologist

Snakes are an important link in the food chain of Kiawah Island.  They are carnivores, meaning that they only eat other animals and/or their eggs.  The diet of the island’s various snake species is diverse and includes small mammals, insects, birds, fish, eggs and other reptiles—including other snakes.  Those that feed on rodents (rats and mice) serve a vital role in controlling their numbers.

Snakes also provide food for many of the other animal inhabitants of the island, including:  herons, hawks, owls, eagles, raccoons, opossums, and even bobcats.  Snakes can be found in all areas of the island-the dunes, maritime forests, pond edges, and swampy areas.  Although there are no true saltwater snakes on Kiawah, it is possible to see snakes on the beach or in the salt marsh.

As cold-blooded animals, snakes must warm their bodies using external heat to remain active and digest their food. This is why snakes are often seen basking along the leisure trails and roads.  Snakes will also seek shelter (and food) under debris, rocks, logs, and leaf litter.

 

         Venomous vs. Non-Venomous

There are approximately 15-20 species of snakes on Kiawah, of which only 5 are venomous.  All of Kiawah’s venomous snakes are extremely rare.  Venom is a prey-immobilizing substance in snakes that is used secondarily as a defense system.  There are two types of venom, neurotoxins and hemotoxins.  Neurotoxin affects the central nervous system, while hemotoxins affect the circulatory system and muscle tissue.

The overwhelming majority of snakes that you will encounter on Kiawah will be non-venomous. 

           Venomous vs. Poisonous

Snakes are often referred to as being poisonous.  Snakes are technically venomous and not poisonous.  A poison is a substance that takes effect after being ingested or absorbed through the skin.   A venom is a substance that must be injected in order to have any effect.  Since snakes inject their venom with fangs located on the roof of their mouth, they are classified as venomous. 

Yellow rat snake - A very common constrictor, which can be identified by 4 black bands that run the length of the body over a yellowish base color.  They are very skilled climbers.
Non-venomous species found on Kiawah Island
Black racer - A long, slender black snake that often travels with its head raised.  Has a large, black eye and often a white chin.  3-5 feet long and very fast.
Corn snake - A common constrictor with red or orange blotches on a brownish-yellow back.  Name comes from the maize (Indian corn) pattern on its underbelly.  Often confused with the venomous copperhead.
Banded water snake - 2-4 feet long and semi-aquatic in a nature.  Variable color ranging from light brown to black with large, darker cross bands.  Similar in appearance to the Cottonmouth, but harmless.   
Rough green snake - A small, slender snake up to 3 feet in length.  Excellent climbers that spend most of their lives in trees and shrubs.  They eat a variety of insects and spiders.
Scarlet Kingsnake - A small, beautifully ringed tricolor snake that mimics the venomous coral snake.  Spends most of its time hiding under leaf litter and rotten logs.  They feed primarily on skinks and lizards. 
Eastern kingsnake - Up to 5 feet in length.  Non-venomous constrictors that feed primarily on rodents, birds, and lizards.  Also well-known for their tendency to eat other snakes, including venomous species.   
Coachwhip - Large, slender snakes up to 8 feet.  They are active during the day, extremely fast, and very good at climbing trees.  Eat a wide variety of prey including lizards, skinks, and birds.
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Venomous species found on Kiawah Island
Copperhead - Copper or pink-tinged snake with reddish-brown crossbands.  Eats rats and mice.  The most common venomous snake on Kiawah, but still rare. 
Cottonmouth - Also known as water moccasin.  Heavy-bodied drab brown or olive in color with darker crossbands.  Found primarily in wetland habitats.  Eats fish.  Typically very sluggish and not aggressive.
Eastern diamondback rattlesnake - Heavy-bodied snake with large head.  Light to dark brown with distinctive brown and yellow diamonds.  Found in maritime forests and dunes.  Extremely rare, possibly extirpated from Kiawah.
Coral snake - Small, slender snake with red, yellow, black pattern.  Typically hides in leaf litter and rarely seen.  Distinguished from scarlet kingsnake by color pattern.  "Red on yellow, kill a fellow, red on black, friend of Jack".
Timber rattlesnake - A large snake up to 6 feet in length with distinctive rattles on end of tail.  They eat primarily rodents and rabbits.  Only 2 records from Kiawah in last 10 years.
What should you do if bitten by a venomous snake?
Venomous snake bites are extremely rare and there has never been a documented incident on Kiawah, but it is still important to know what to do in the unlikely event that you are bitten by a snake.
 
1.  Stay calm and relaxed

2. If possible, get a description of the snake, but do not attempt to capture it.

3.  Call 911 and/or get medical attention as quickly as possible.
 
Do not attempt any other treatment! 

Most "home remedies" are ineffective and may even make the situation worse.