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There are 115 species of snakes from five families found in North America, and members of three of the families are found throughout the continent, including the eastern states. Due to the rise of exotic snakes in the wild — from escaped or released pets — small populations of any kind of snake can be found even in places where they do not naturally occur, especially if the habitat is favorable. Only two types of eastern snakes are venomous, but their ranges are large. Different types of eastern snakes include coral, pit vipers, and colubrids.
The coral snake family occurs in the southeastern portion of the United States, especially Florida, Louisiana, and Georgia. The most striking characteristic of these snakes is their distinct bands of color, usually black, red, and yellow. Coral snakes are very seldom seen because they are burrowers who spend most of the day hidden under piles of leaves and other vegetation, which also means they are easily stepped on. When they bite, they latch on tightly to inject venom, which contains a neurotoxin. Although the venom can take up to 12 hours to begin working, the neurotoxin can be deadly to the respiratory, cardiac, and central nervous systems.
The pit viper family can be found across most of the US, and includes the deadliest eastern snakes like rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouth snakes. The canebreak rattlesnake found in the southeastern states is considered one of the deadliest American snakes because of the potent neurotoxin-containing venom that can cause nearly instant paralysis and death. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake, found from North Carolina to Florida, is the largest venomous American snake at up to five feet in length, and injects enough venom in one bite to kill six human beings.
The colubrid snake family is the most populous of all families of eastern snakes, and includes the species of snakes most commonly found in backyard settings. The snakes in this family are non-venomous, and are commonly kept as pets. The colubrid family includes the rat snake, king snake, and garter snake, and is found throughout the eastern states, from Maine to the Florida Keys. Worldwide, the colubrid family includes over 2000 species, and throughout its entire range is considered an important part of the ecosystem.
The boa and python family are really not eastern snakes at all, native to only the western states and British Columbia, but they are increasingly found in the eastern states, and have even begun to populate the Florida Everglades. Boas and pythons are large snakes who use their thick, heavily muscled body to constrict and suffocate prey. Very popular as pets, they are often bought by people who do not realize just how large they can become, and who overestimate their own ability to feed them live prey. Frequently, these pet snakes are released into the wild to fend for themselves, and in places like Florida's warm, humid climate, they soon establish a population and flourish. In the Florida Everglades, Burmese pythons and African rock pythons have begun to interbreed, creating a larger and more aggressive species.