How to Tell If a Snake Is Poisonous: General Rules & Exceptions

You are bound to encounter a snake or two in the summer if you own a reasonably large yard. You might be worried that it’s poisonous and should be more careful in getting rid of it, maybe even avoid it altogether. The problem comes, however, in trying to identify its species, considering the number of snakes living across the country.

Your best bet is to try to tell a poisonous one apart, but there isn’t a completely sure way to do so. You can only rely on general rules though if you make the wrong guess, probably taking that chance in the first place is a bad idea. How to tell if a snake is poisonous? Other than having the snake bite someone and see how they react to it. Here are some rules to help you identify the snake.

How to Tell If a Snake Is Poisonous: General Rules & Exceptions


General Rules

If the snake has one or more of the following features, it is potentially poisonous.

  • Vertical eye slits are often seen in venomous snakes while rounder ones are for non-venomous.

  • Brighter colored ones tend to be poisonous since it’s to signal predators that they are venomous and dangerous.

  • Triangular shape for the venomous and boxier looking for the non-venomous species.

  • Heat-sensitive pit (to search for warm-blooded prey) located between the nostrils and eyes indicates a poisonous snake.

  • Rattle means poison. Rattlesnakes are venomous and must be avoided.

  • Single row of scales at the tip of the underside of the tail means venomous. Double rows are for non-venomous.

  • For water snakes, venomous ones would usually skim the top, entire body visible on the surface.

  • This one is probably hardest to find out, so do it only if the snake is dead, unless you have a really good eye. For the bottom of the tail, right behind the anus, the pattern should be the same with the rest of its belly if it's a venomous snake. Non-venomous one has a diamond, cross shape on.


Exceptions of the Above Rules

There are always exceptions to the rules, such as the coral snakes which are under pit vipers in category. Coral snakes feature round pupil and rounded head, with no retractable fangs or heat-sensing pits, all of which are common characteristics of non-venomous snakes. However, they still pack venom pouches, which isn’t injected, but rather seeps in through the bite wound.


Distinctive Features of Poisonous Snakes

The followings are distinct characteristics each type of snakes boasts.

  • Copperheads come in red to gold in color, with a pear shaped body. The younglings have a bright yellow tip for their tail. Normally found in the Eastern US, the snakes could grow as long as 24 to 40 inches from head to tail.

  • Coral snakes come in a fun yellow, red and black rings pattern, with the two bright colors touching each other. Slenderly built with a length of 18 to 30 inches from head to tail on average, it does not possess slit eyes indicative of most venomous snakes. You can find them in the Southern US.

  • Rattlesnakes can be found all around the states, making it the most common of the venomous snake family. There are 32 known types of these snakes, which all come with a rattle for a tail, which they will vigorously shake when they are feeling threatened.

  • Water moccasins, or more adorably known as cottonmouths, come in total black or brown, sometimes sporting on yellow cross bands. Their younger counterparts tend to be more colorful, with yellow-tipped tails just like the copperheads younglings. They are found near lakes and rivers in the Southeastern US, growing to the range of 24 to 48 inches in length.

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