Now here's something you don't see every day: an eastern diamondback rattlesnake soaking up the sun on the sandy beaches of South Carolina.

The beach-roaming reptile was caught on camera by Jonathan Wiles during a morning walk along Hilton Head Beach with his wife, Lindsay. On Facebook, Wiles jokingly called it the "rare Hilton Head Beach rattler", later telling a local news outlet that the snake had "rolled out of a wave" onto the sand.

And rare is right! Will Dillman, herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, notes that while this particular species lives across the southeastern United States, it's not a common sight in South Carolina, let alone on a local beach!


"To see something like an eastern diamondback rattlesnake in the wild is an incredibly rare thing," Dillman said. "This is a species that's experienced significant declines throughout its range." Much of that decline is due to habitat disruption and fatal encounters with hostile humans.

The warm sand and salty water of the beach might be a draw for vacationers, but this is not a great place for a diamondback. The species much prefers some forested cover, which can occasionally be found on the coast not too far from the beach – so it's possible this unusual visitor simply took a wrong turn, or was feeling particularly adventurous that day.

On the other hand, Wiles's observation that the snake had slithered out of the surf suggests another possibility: the animal may have swum there. Believe it or not, rattlesnakes are adept swimmers (many venomous snakes are!), and have established populations on a number of South Carolina barrier islands simply by crossing the narrow bands of sea to get there. According to Dillman, it's possible this individual was migrating across the water when a strong tide washed it onto the beach.

However it ended up there, the snake was probably eager to get back to a more comfortable area, and may not have stuck around on the beach for long. All in all, this was a spectacle very few get to see. "It's an unusual sight and sort of a lucky nature observation," Dillman said.


But as rare as such encounters might be, they're not unheard of. In fact, since Wiles's footage hit the internet, the state DNR has received a handful of calls from people reporting similar sightings. Since this species is of conservation concern for the state, observations like this are something local wildlife officials are keen to keep track of.

Of course, spotting a rattlesnake during your seaside stroll can be a little unnerving: these animals are highly venomous and should never be messed with. Dillman offers a simple way to stay safe. "The thing we know, unequivocally, is that if you do not want to get bitten by a snake, leave it alone."

In general, he says, venomous snake bites are extremely rare, and when they do happen, it's often because people intentionally get too close. Keeping your distance and taking pictures is a good strategy. And if the snake is in a place where it may be a danger to people (like a public beach), be sure to alert local officials who can ensure the animal is safely relocated.

So, if you're in the southeastern United States, and you're a fan of long walks on the shore, keep an eye (and a camera) out – you might be one of a lucky few to spot a beach rattler!



Top header image: Alex Figueroa/Flickr