General Misconceptions About Snakes

    Many people who are unfamiliar with snakes assume that their skin is cold and slimy.  The skin of a snake is actually dry and scaly.  In many instances, the skin of snakes is smooth to the touch.  The scales that make up a reptile's skin consist of keratin, the same material that makes up human fingernails, mammal hair, and bird feathers, none of which are slimy.
    Just like the skin of humans, a snake's skin can either be warm or cold.  If a snake is retrieved from a hibernaculum or caught beside a cold body of water it is likely that its skin will be cold.  However, a snake caught on a warm afternoon while basking in the sun will usually feel as warm as any mammal.  Unlike mammals, which are endotherms, amphibians and reptiles are ectothermic which means that their body temperature is usually dependent on the immediate surroundings.
Rainbow Snake  (Farancia erytrogramma

photo credit: Steve Mullin

    Snakes are often reported as being much longer than they actually are.  The nearly universal long and narrow body design of snakes makes it easy to overestimate their length.  The fact that many snakes often remain in a coiled position may also lead to false estimations of their size.  In addition, overestimates of their size by humans may undoubtedly be attributed to fear.  The majority of snakes in North Carolina range from 1-3 feet in length.  Some active-foraging snakes such as coachwhips and ratsnakes may reach lengths of up to 7 feet.  By far, the largest bodied snake in the southeastern United States is the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.  Besides having broad, thick bodies, these snakes can attain lengths of up to 8 feet, although such lengths are uncommon.
  Queen Snake (Regida septemvittata)            
  Size:  15-24 inches 

   Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)
   Size:  3-8 feet

  photo credit: Steve Bennett

    Another common misconception about snakes concerns the speeds at which they travel.  Many people believe that snakes are very fast.  In reality, few snakes are able to travel over 6 mph.  The manner in which many snakes travel, lateral undulation, gives the illusion that they are traveling faster than they really are.  Another reason snakes may appear to be traveling faster than they really are is that they are more adept to traveling through dense cover due to their lean profile.
 Black Racer(Coluber constrictor)   

Venomous Snakes
    The regularity with which people kill snakes may lead one to believe that the world is overrun with venomous snakes.  In fact, venomous snakes only make up about 10 percent of snake species worldwide.  There are six species of venomous snakes in North Carolina compared to thirty-one species of nonvenomous snakes.  Five of the six local venomous species are pit vipers and belong to the family Viperidae.  Local snakes belonging to the family Viperidae include the copperhead, cottonmouth, timber rattlesnake, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and the pigmy rattlesnake.  The remaining local venomous species is the eastern coral snake which belongs to the cobra family (family: Elapidae).  Of the six species of venomous snakes in North Carolina, three are considered to be uncommon or rare in most areas (eastern diamondback, pigmy rattlesnake, and the coral snake).

    One commonly held misconception is that snakes are aggressive and chase people.  Herpetologists, people who study amphibians and reptiles and frequently encounter snakes, never seem to report being chased by them.  When confronted by a human, a snake is more likely to attempt to escape rather than attack.  This is not to say that some snakes will not defend themselves.  If an escape route is not available, some snakes will advance towards a disturber in hopes of driving them away.  What many people fail to realize is that snakes have nothing to gain from chasing a person.  No snake in the United States is capable of eating a person.  It is therefore unreasonable to believe that any snake is targeting a human as a potential meal.  Finally, snakes are not vengeful animals and do not chase people out of sheer hate.