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How to Identify Venomous Snakes

By Nicole from Ready Store
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A huge part of learning how to become more self-reliant is knowing how to protect yourself against dangerous creatures in the wild. For instance, wild snakes. A question we’ve been asked by one of our customers is, do you know how to identify what snakes are poisonous and those that are not life threatening? Rest assured, it’s easier than you’d think. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7,000 - 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes and unfortunatley 5 results in death. This number would be higher if people did not seek medical care 1. It doesn’t matter if you’re working, camping or just outside, being able to identify snakes will hopefully save you from an unwanted hospital visit.

Common Venomous Snakes in the United States

Rattle Snakes

  • Easy to identify since they have triangle-shaped heads, large bodies and a rattle at the tip of the tale.
  • Their sizes range from 1 – 8 feet, depending on the breed.
  • They can be found in forests, deserts, swamps and grasslands.
  • Rattlesnakes have heat sensing organs located in the pits of their eyes. This helps them "see" their prey even in complete darkness.
  • Rattlesnakes can be found almost anywhere in the United States, especially in the southwest.



Copper Heads

  • Copperhead snakes usually have an unmarked copper-colored head, reddish-brown, coppery bodies with chestnut brown hourglass crossbands2.
  • The average size of a copperhead snake is 30 inches.
  • They can be found on the east coast of the Unites States and in mid-southern states as well.
  • Copperheads have heat sensing organs located between their eye and on each side of their head.
Eastern Copperhead

Cottonmouths/Water Moccasins

  • Cottonmouth snakes have large, triangular heads with a dark line through their eyes, elliptical pupils and large jowls (cheek) due to the venom glands3.
  • Their sizes range from 24 - 48 inches.
  • They can be found in the southeast, north to southeastern Virgina. Since they are semi-aquatic, they can be found near swamps, rivers, and wetlands. They can also be found around drying pools as well.

Coral Snakes

  • The most common type of coral snake is identified by the red, yellow and black band pattern. However, not all coral snakes have the same colors. The head is always black, regardless of the region.
  • Their sizes range from 18 - 20 inches.
  • The Eastern Coral snakes are more common the Western Coral snakes. They prefer marshy, wooded areas where they can hide.
  • The venom in coral snakes is considered neurotoxic. This means that it'll affect the way that the way that the brain communicates with muscles, slurring speech, affecting movement and ultimately ceasing cardiac and respiratory function4.


  What to Do If You're Bitten By a Venomous Snake

  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible
  • Keep still and stay calm
  • Try to remember the color and shape since this will help with the treatment of the snake bite
  • Apply first aid if you cannot get to the hospital right away (lay down with the bite below the level of the heart, wash the bite with soap and water and cover it with a clean dressing)


  • Do no wait for symptoms to appear, always seek medical attention
  • Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it
  • Do not apply a tourniquet
  • Do not suck out the venom of the snake
  • Do not apply ice or put in water
  • Do not drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages

Signs or Symptoms of a Venomous Snake Bite

  • Redness or swelling around puncture marks
  • Impairment of vision
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Increased sweating and/or salivation
  • Numbness or tingling

We recommend that you always have a first aid kit on you when exploring the outdoors. If venomous snakes are common in your area, it would be a wise idea to invest in a snake bite kit or venom extractor.

What do you have in your emergency kit to help with snake bites?

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7 months ago
7 years ago at 7:10 AM
The info on head shape & coloration of these snakes is right on. Photos were excellent. But I beg to differ with your claims of size & non aggression for cottonmouths & copperheads. Here in NW Florida we have had both types well over the 4' length & these are both far more likely to attack & come at you while striking at you than the rattlers. Also we have 3 types of rattlers in this area,,, the timber, eastern diamondback & pygmy. The timber does not often rattle, the other two usually do. The pygmy is less than 2 feet long, has lovely violet & purple tints that make it very hard to see. And yes, we've had all three types of rattlers on our property plus the copperheads & even an occasional cottonmouth or water moccasin show up after hurricanes. I look for the roughly triangular head... If the neck is smaller than the back of the head, most likely that is not a snake we want anywhere near the house or livestock areas.
5 years ago at 7:51 AM
Saw a YouTube video of a Texas guy stalking cottonmouths and he was trying HARD to provoke one without success; however, it was a small one. Would this make a difference?
7 years ago at 6:10 PM
More than enough reasons for me to live in the northwest!
6 years ago at 8:27 AM
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and we ALWAYS had rattlesnakes in our yard each summer.
5 years ago at 6:46 AM
We moved to the country, outside of Richmond, VA. Have a large creek near. I purchased calf protectors for my wife and I. Do snakes never, or hardly never strike above the bottom of the knee, where my protectors do not cover?
Jack H.
5 years ago at 2:21 PM
If bitten while several hours away from medical help, loosen collar and belt, remove sharp objects from pockets, bend over, placing head between knees and kiss your ass goodbye.
Jeff Medlock
3 years ago at 4:45 PM
Q:How to tell if a snake is venomous ? Answer : Run like hell and the point will be moot!?