How to Identify a Venomous Snake

Four Methods:North American SnakesSnakes in the UKSnakes in IndiaAustralia: The Deadliest Snakes in the World

Snakes have captured our imagination—and fear—for as long as we've shared the planet together. They are the stuff of legend. While less than 1/3 of all snake species are venomous (unless you live in Australia, where that number is 65%!), it's good to know what to look out for. Be careful around all snakes—but non venomous snake bites aren't painful, they feel like a pinprick.

Method 1
North American Snakes

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    Know the snakes. There are four different types of venomous snakes in the United States:[1] cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, copperheads and coral snakes.
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    Cottonmouths. The cottonmouths have elliptical pupils and range in color from black to green. They have a white stripe along the side of their heads. They are often found in or around water, but have also adapted to live well on land. Young snakes have a bright yellow tail. They are often loners, so if you see multiple snakes coexisting peacefully, it is probably not a cottonmouth.
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    Rattlesnakes. Look for the rattle on the tail. Some harmless snakes imitate the rattle by brushing their tails through leaves, but only rattle snakes have the button-like rattle at the end of the tail. If you can't see the rattle, they also have a heavy triangular head and elliptical eyes like a cat's.
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    Copperheads. These beauties have a similar body shape to cottonmouths but are much brighter, ranging from coppery brown to bright orange, silver-pink and peach.[2] The young have yellow tails as well.
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    Coral snakes. Another beautiful but deadly snake is the Coral snake—so beautiful that other snakes—not-venomous ones such as the Milk snake—look just like them. They have distinctive coloring, though, with a black, yellow and red bands, a yellow head, and a black band over their nose. One rhyme to help distinguish coral snakes from king snakes is 'Red to yellow, kill a fellow. Red to black, friend of Jack.' Another variation is 'Red on black, venom lack; red on yellow, deadly fellow'. However, most of the time coral snakes will not bite - they are very shy. There are no known deaths from the Arizona coral snake and only a few from the Eastern Coral snake.
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    Look at the color patterns. Venomous Snakes in the U.S. tend to have varying colors. Most snakes that are one solid color are completely harmless. However, cottonmouths are also venomous so this is not a foolproof way to tell them apart. Also, beware of venomous escaped pets.
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    Check out their head shape. Non-venomous snakes have a spoon-shaped rounded head and venomous snakes will have a more triangular head. this is because of the venom glands (this is less noticeable on the coral snake).
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    Look for a rattle. If the snake has a rattle on its tail it is a rattlesnake, and therefore venomous. However, some non-venomous snakes do mimic the rattle by rattling their tails, but lack the rattle "buttons" that sound like little salt shakers.
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    Look for the heat sensor. Some venomous snakes in the U.S. will have a small depression between the eye and the nostril. This is called a pit (hence "pit viper"), which is used by the snake to sense heat in their prey. Coral snakes are not pit vipers, and lack this feature.
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    Watch out for mimics. Some non-venomous snakes mimic the patterns and behaviors of venomous snakes. Rat snakes can look like Rattlers, and harmless Milk and King snakes can look like Coral snakes.
    • Always treat any snake as a venomous snake if you are uncertain whether it is venomous or non-venomous. And though you should remain cautious, do not kill any snake—it could be illegal to do so, and killing non-venomous snakes allows venomous snake and vermin populations to grow.
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    A water moccasin will have elliptical pupils and the harmless water snake will have round pupils. Either way, leave it alone and allow it to leave the area.

Method 2
Snakes in the UK

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    Look out for the Adder! The adder—common viper, or vipera Berus—features a distinctive V- or X-shaped marking on its head. It also features a vertically-slit pupils, dark zigzag stripes on its back, and dark ovals along its flank. The dark patches range from gray to blue to black (most commonly). The background color is usually a pale gray, though can be brown or brick red.
    • The adder is common throughout the UK, mostly in the southern regions. While painful and requiring prompt medical attention, adder bites are generally not fatal.
    • Adders are not particularly aggressive unless disturbed. Given a choice, they'd rather be anywhere than near you.

Method 3
Snakes in India

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    Watch out for the Big Four. India is host to a number of snakes, many of them venomous, but the Big Four are widely distributed and quite venomous.
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    The Common Cobra. When you think of snake charmers and snakes in a basket (vs. snakes on a plane), the snake you're thinking of is the Cobra.
    • They range in length from about 3 feet (0.9 m) to about 6 feet (1.8 m) in length, and have a broad head. They can spread a hood behind their head, which gives them their famous, very scary appearance.
    • Their body color varies based on their geographical location. Generally, cobras in southern India range in color from yellow to brown. Northern India cobras are usually dark brown or black.
    • Cobras are shy—they'll threaten when provoked, but would prefer to back away. If they attack, they will strike quickly—and sometimes repeatedly. Larger cobras may latch on and dig in, releasing maximum venom!
    • In the event of a cobra bite, seek medical attention immediately—the common cobra is responsible for a large number of human deaths across India.
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    Common krait. The krait ranges in length from about 4 feet (1.2 m) to about 6 ft (3m). Their head is depressed, slightly broader than the neck, with a rounded snout. Its eyes are small and entirely black.
    • The krait's body is black, with single or double milky-white bands. Its scales are hexagonal in shape, and the subcaudal scales (those beneath the tail) are undivided.
    • The krait is nocturnal, and during the day can be found in dark, dry places. They're docile and shy during the day, but at night will attack if provoked.
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    Russel's Viper. The Russel's viper is a stout snake, with a brown body mixed with reds and yellows. The body features three longitudinal rows of eye-like spots of dark brown or black, that start from the head and fade out towards the tail. The spots on either side are smaller and more rounded than the top spots.
    • The head is triangular, pointed at the snout, and much broader at the neck, and features two triangular-shaped spots. Its eyes have vertical pupils, and it's tongue is purplish black.
    • Russel's viper is venomous enough that you should seek treatment immediately. If you provoke one (and not just step on it accidentally), it will warn with a high-pitched whistle like a pressure cooker.
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    Saw-scaled viper. These are the second most common vipers in India, after Russel's viper. They range in size from about 15 inches (40cm) to about 30 inches (80cm). Their body ranges from dark brown to red, gray, or a mix of those colors. Light colored spots of light yellow or very light brown, with dark-colored lines woven through.
    • The saw-scaled viper is very aggressive when provoked, and makes a saw-like sound by rubbing its side dorsal scales together. Don't stick around if you hear that sound—the saw-scaled viper is one of the fastest-striking species in the world!
    • If bit, get treatment. It may dry-bite on occasion, but only a medical expert can say for sure.

Method 4
Australia: The Deadliest Snakes in the World

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    Fierce Snake. AKA the Inland Taipan, the Fierce Snake has the reputation of being the most deadly snake on the planet. Its venom is more potent than any other species by far, and yet—there's no record of a human fatality caused by the Fierce Snake.
    • This bad boy can reach a length of over 6 ft (2m), and varies in color from dark brown to a light straw. It's darker in the winter than it is in the summer. It's head can appear almost black.
    • It lives in the black soil plains where Queensland, South Australia, and the Northern Territory borders meet.
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    Eastern Brown Snake. Unlike the most venomous snake, the Inland Taipan, the Eastern Brown Snake is responsible for the most snakebite deaths in Australia. Like all snakes, they would much rather slither away than attack, but if they are threatened, or grabbed, or stepped on, all bets are off.
    • They can exceed 6 feet (2m) in length, and are very fast—especially on hot days. They're slender, with a variable color ranging from tan to gray or dark brown. Their belly is lighter, and has darker orange spots.
    • They inhabit eastern Australia, from the desert to the coast, and prefer open grasslands, pastures, and woodland.
    • Needless to say, if you're bitten by one of these snakes, get help immediately!


  • Remember, snakes are actually more scared of us than we are of them. The only reason they bite is because they are startled or find you as a threat, especially venomous ones. Be careful when traveling on foot.
  • Keep your eyes open, always survey the area you are working in, and make a lot of noise. Give the snake all the opportunity to get out of your way.
  • When in an area with both venomous coral snakes and non-venomous milk-snakes, remember this; Red touches yellow, you're a dead fellow, red touches black you're okay, Jack. Keep in mind that this is 'only true in eastern North America!
  • Don't put your hands and feet where you cannot see their immediate surroundings; this is what gets a fair number of climbers bitten.
  • Look up snakes in your area on the Internet. It's good to know all of the snakes that live around you. If you live in an area where there are a lot of snakes, take a field guide when you go out to help you identify them.
  • If you are young, never go near a snake, unless you are familiar with it.
  • When you are in a place where there are lots of snakes, make sure that you look at your feet once in a while.
  • Never touch a snake if you don't know if its venomous, and never keep a venomous snake as a pet.
  • Wear boots or good shoes, thick socks and heavy slacks, (not shorts), whenever you are going into an area with a high density of venomous snakes. Knee-high rubber boots are often worn by field biologists when treading through these areas.
  • Due to sudden fear, most snakes will inject lot of venom. However, larger, matured snakes know the venom limit. That doesn't make it safe, though!
  • If you see a snake in your neighborhood, let your neighbors know. This way they'll remain cautious for a while when they're outside with children or pets. especially if you think the snake may be venomous.


  • Some snakes that look like they are non-venomous may be venomous or the other way around. Make sure you know the kinds of snakes in your area.
  • Looking at a snakes eyes is not a valid way to identify if it is venomous or not. Cobras, Black Mamba's and other types of very venomous snakes have round pupils, while red tailed boas, emerald tree boas and green tree pythons have elliptical eyes. Do not approach an unknown snake just because it has round pupils, it does not mean it is not venomous.
  • Many venomous snakes are now critically endangered or threatened in the United states. It is against federal law to kill or interfere with any endangered species, and that includes protected venomous snakes. In addition, in many states it is illegal to kill, capture, harass, or possess wild snakes of any sort, venomous or non-venomous.
  • Do not harass a snake or get extra-close to it to try to identify it, unless you are already sure it is not venomous. Most snakes would prefer to avoid you.

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Categories: Snakes