Rattlesnake slithers out of the ocean on South Carolina beach

A couple visiting the beach on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island when they spotted an unusual visitor that emerged from the ocean: a diamondback rattlesnake.

The couple, Jonathan and Lindsay Wiles, saw the serpent wash ashore at Port Royal Plantation Beach where they were vacationing with their four children. The giant snake was slithering along the beach.

Jonathan reportedly posted the video to Facebook on Aug. 1, with a caption that read, “Our morning rattle snake friend. Sorry, couldn’t ʀᴇsɪsᴛ posting. The rare Hilton Head Beach rattler lol”

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 ꜰᴀᴛᴀʟ ᴇɴᴄᴏᴜɴᴛᴇʀs with ʜᴏsᴛɪʟᴇ 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 ᴀᴅᴠᴇɴᴛᴜʀᴏᴜs 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.

The couple stayed with the snake for about half an hour until Port Royal Plantation security arrived, so they could warn beachgoers not to step on it. Wiles said the snake was interested in them.

“If we were on the right side of it taking pictures, it would crawl towards us, and if we moved to the left side, it would change direction,” he said. “At one point, it tried to get back in the ocean but the waves deposited it right back on the beach. It seemed to not want to be where it was.”

Wiles said he never felt ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛᴇɴᴇᴅ by the snake—but at the same time, he didn’t get any closer than four feet to it. After Hilton Head Island Beach Patrol picked up the snake—because Port Royal Plantation security told them rattlesnakes were not in their jurisdiction—the Wiles went home, ate breakfast, came right back to the beach and went swimming.

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