Frequently Asked Questions
There are some general characteristics to look for to determine if a snake is venomous. Five of the six species in South Carolina are pit vipers (pigmy rattlesnake, cottonmouth (aka water moccasin), copperhead, timber rattlesnake, and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake) and have a heat sensing pit between the eye and nostril. Our pit vipers tend to be relatively heavy-bodied or stout snakes. They will have large triangular or arrow-shaped heads, but some non-venomous species are able to flatten their bodies and make their heads appear larger and more triangular. The pit viper’s eyes have elliptical pupils, like a cat's eye.
The coral snake is not a pit viper and does not have the characters listed above. It is in the same group of snakes as the cobra. It is brightly colored in red, yellow, and black bands, and is rarely encountered. In the coral snake, the red bands ALWAYS touch the yellow bands. There are two species of non-venomous snakes that resemble the coral snake, but the red bands NEVER touch the yellow bands. There is an easy rhyme to help remember which snake is which: "Red on yellow kills a fellow; Red on black venom lack".
Several species of reptiles and amphibians in South Carolina are provided protection under state and/or federal law. All species of reptiles and amphibians are protected on state and federal lands. The Atlantic leatherback sea turtle, Atlantic ridley sea turtle, gopher tortoise, Atlantic hawksbill turtle, Flatwoods salamander, Webster's salamander, and the Carolina gopher frog are listed and protected under the Non-Game Endangered Species laws of South Carolina (Title 50 – Chapter 15 and R.123-150). All remaining sea turtles, the American alligator, coal skink, bog turtle, spotted turtle, south hognose snake, dwarf siren, and pine barrens tree frog are listed and protected under the Non-Game Species in Need of Management laws (Title 50 – Chapter 15 and R.123-150-153). None of these species may be possessed, transported, exported, processed, sold, offered for sale, or taken without a permit issued by the Department.
The diamond-backed terrepin is protected from all take or possession for a commercial purpose; however, individuals are allowed to possess no more than two diamond-backed for a non-commercial purpose. Additionally, nine species of turtles are also protected under Title 50 chapter 15-75. No more than 10 turtles of one species or a combination of species of the following turtles, yellowbelly turtle, Florida cooter, river cooter, chicken turtle, Eastern box turtle, Eastern painted turtle, spiney softshell turtle, Florida softshell turtle, and the common snapping turtle, are allowed to be removed from South Carolina at one time (with a maximum of 20 turtles in one year) by an individual or group of individuals traveling in one vehicle.
Turtles generally do not pose a problem for private ponds. Contrary to popular belief, few fish are eaten by the turtles commonly found in ponds. The diets of most adult pond turtles primarily consist of plant material. Some turtles will feed on the carcasses of dead fish providing a clean-up service for the pond owner. If turtles continue to be a problem you can contact a Wildlife Removal Service for more information on removing turtles from a private pond.
The turtles commonly found in ponds in South Carolina do not pose a serious risk to the fish populations in ponds. The diets of most adult pond turtles primarily consist of plant material. Some turtles will feed on the carcasses of dead fish providing a clean-up service for the pond.
Alligators are protected under South Carolina Regulation 123-151, and it is against the law to feed or harass alligators. Alligators can move very quickly, so do not approach them. Keep pets on a leash and away from the water. Do not throw rocks or other objects into the water, because to an alligator a "splash" means food. If the alligator is causing problems contact the nearest state DNR office.
Will Dillman - SCDNR Herpetologist
Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
PO Box 23205
Columbia, SC 29224