The discovery of 23 venomous snakes on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton on Thursday and Friday has left some homeowners rattled.
Nearly a dozen Eastern diamondbacks were discovered Friday near a home on the island, including two giants measuring almost seven feet long found under a deck.
The snakes, which were captured and removed by Critter Management, included a rare timber rattlesnake estimated to be about six feet long that was found by crews in a Buckwalter condo complex as it faced off with a cat.
"It's unusual," Mark Carinus of Critter Management said of the hissing haul. "That's the most I have caught, ever, because they are very scarce."
The Eastern diamondback is among the heaviest, largest rattlesnake in the world. Once common in coastal areas from North Carolina to the Florida Keys, its populations have declined due to a combination of habitat loss and interaction with humans.
"Now, I would say it is one of the most uncommon snakes we have," Scott Pfaff, curator of herpetology at Columbia's Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, said in a recent interview.
"Places they like are the places people want to live now, like the coast of South Carolina's ... longleaf pine habitat," he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the snake should be granted endangered-species status.
While the rattler's venom is extremely toxic, Kimberly Andrews, a University of Georgia wildlife researcher, said people are more likely to be struck by lightning than be bitten by the serpent. Further, she said people are more likely to be struck twice than die from a snakebite.
"We see rattlesnakes readily cohabitate with humans with no problems," said Andrews, who studies the snakes in cooperation with the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy in Bluffton. "The actual negative encounters are incredibly rare, and while people need to look for rattlesnakes ... there is no reason to live in concern about getting bitten."
Critter Management's Joe Maffo and Carinus were tipped off to the snakes by property owners or residents who saw them slithering around. They would not say where on Hilton Head and in the Buckwalter area the reptiles were found.
Two of the largest Eastern diamondbacks caught Friday were likely about 20 years old, Carinus said. The others, which were about a foot long, were likely only a few months old.
"The little ones were scattered all over the place under the deck," he said. "The larger snakes were found all the way to the back."
Carinus had to remove deck boards to reach them.
Maffo received permission Friday to relocate the snakes to a rural property between Ridgeland and Hardeeville.
Maffo, who would not disclose the name of the snake's new landlord, said the man owns about 1,000 acres and "really wants to conserve snakes."