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How to Identify Venomous Snakes

by Shawn Barrington 02 Jan 2024

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.

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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