How to Identify the Pygmy Rattlesnake

If you are in the Southeastern United States, you might come across a pygmy rattlesnake (also called a ground rattler). This snake has three subspecies:

  • The Carolina pygmy rattler can be found in Alabama, Georgia and North and South Carolina. It can be pale gray, tan, lavender, orange or red in color and has rows of spots on its sides. This species usually lives in drier habitats [source: University of Georgia].
  • The Dusky pygmy rattler can be found in Florida, Mississippi and the Carolinas. It ranges from bluish gray to almost black and has a black stippling pattern. This species usually lives near water sources like swamps, marshes and creeks, although it can also be found in forested areas [source: University of Georgia].
  • The Western pygmy rattler can be found in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. It's a pale grayish-brown with crossbar-shaped blotches [source:].

Pygmy rattlers have a dorsal stripe that is red or orange, and a red-brown to black bar running from the eye to the jaw.


You will probably find the pygmy rattler in the summertime. You may hear a soft buzzing sound from the tiny rattle on the end of the snake's tail. The sound only becomes audible when a snake is a few feet (about 1/2 meter) away. The snake ranges from 15 to 30 inches (38 to 78 centimeters) in length.

Pygmy rattlesnakes are a species of pit viper. All pit vipers are able to find warm-blooded prey using a heat sensitive organ in a pit on either side of their head. They should never be handled as their fangs are full of hemotoxic venom, which is very painful and dangerous though usually not lethal [source:]. Pygmy rattlers have been known to bite even after they're dead because of their neurological reflexes [].