How to Identify Venomous Snakes

by Justin on May 16, 2017

How to identify venomous snakes

How to identify venomous snakes

There is nothing more unnerving than seeing a snake near your campsite, and with the negative stigma surrounding them, we understand this common reaction. While not all snakes are deadly, it’s always wise to take the necessary precautions before you head out to the campgrounds.

In North America, there are four main types of venomous snakes to watch out for: rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads and coral snakes. With the exception of coral snakes, they are considered pit vipers and have heat-sensory pits on each side of their head between the eyes and nostril. This allows the snakes to sense differences in temperatures.

Here are a few more tips to keep you alert and aware while camping and hiking.

RATTLESNAKES
One of the most well-known snakes in the world, rattlesnakes are common pit vipers in North America. They can range from one-to-eight-feet long, depending on the species, and have a potent venom. North America has many different types of rattlers, but here are the most common to watch for when camping.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Eastern diamondbacks are the largest rattlesnakes in North America. They range from two-to-eight-feet in length and can weigh up to ten pounds. Eastern diamondbacks usually live in dry, pine flatwoods, coastal scrublands and sandy woodlands, ranging from Louisiana to North Carolina.

They have a distinct yellow and black bordered diamond pattern with olive centers. These snakes are not keen on human interaction and will attack if they feel threatened. Most bites from eastern diamondbacks occur when taunting the snake or attempting capture. Bites are extremely painful and can lead to death, so be aware and stay far away.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western diamondbacks are usually four-to-six-feet long and prefer to live in relatively dry habitats, like deserts, grasslands and occasionally in pine forests and pastures.

These snakes have broad heads, boldly-marked chevron patterns down their bodies and white tails with black bands. These snakes are also known as “coon-tail rattlers.” If you’re camping in the southwestern section of the United States (Texas, California, Oklahoma, New Mexico or Arizona), be on high alert for these venomous snakes.

Water Moccasin (Cottonmouth)

Cottonmouth

Cottonmouth

Water moccasins are usually large, ranging from two-to-four-feet. They have large mouths, white in color, which explain their nickname “cottonmouth.” These snakes have large triangular heads and thinner necks, which is distinct to the breed. Their thick bodies vary in color from dark brown to black and even olive. Unlike other breeds, like copperheads, water moccasins are not distinctly patterned as adults. As juveniles, they have striking patterns, but these fade as they get older.

Water moccasins are most commonly found in the Southeastern states, from eastern Texas to Florida and all the way up to Virginia. They mostly live in swamps, marshes and other watery areas. You can often find them sunning themselves on branches, rocks or logs near water.

Often confused with nonvenomous snakes, cottonmouths are venomous, although they rarely bite humans unless they feel threatened. To be safe, we advise to be wary of any snake near the water.

Copperhead

Copperhead

Copperhead

Copperheads get their name from their copper-red heads. Usually, these snakes are medium-sized, ranging between two-to-three-feet long, with females averaging longer than males. Like many other snakes, copperheads have a distinct pattern on their bodies, a series of chestnut-brown hourglass shapes over a tan-ish colored body. While their bodies might be distinctly patterned, their heads only have a pair of small dots on the top.

These snakes can be found as far west as Texas and northern Mexico to southern New England. Copperheads are often more defensive at night when moving, than when resting, which is normally during the day. They usually hibernate in communal dens and hunt alone.

Copperheads tend to be more aggressive during mating season (February to May and August to October), so be sure to be on the lookout if you are camping during these months. Although their venom is fairly mild, take all necessary precautions if bitten.

Coral Snake

Coral Snake

Coral Snake

Coral snakes are not only unique in color; they are also the only snakes on this list that are not pit vipers. Compared to their pit viper cousins, coral snakes are small in size, ranging from 20 to 30 inches in length. They have a rounded head and slender body with a distinct coloring of red, yellow and black. They bear a significant resemblance to king snakes, which are not venomous, so remember this rhyme to keep them straight.

Red on black, you’re okay, Jack.
Red on yellow, you’re a dead fellow.

These snakes live in wooded, sandy or marshy areas of the Southeastern United States, like Florida, the Gulf coast and areas of Texas. Coral snakes are reclusive and will usually only bite when handled or stepped on. They have to chew to inject venom, which leads to fewer deaths in humans. They often stay burrowed in leaf piles or even underground.

While having all of this knowledge and wearing protective clothing, like boots or long pants from quality retailers like Carhartt, snake bites can still happen. If bitten by a snake, follow the next steps:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency service immediately.
  • Remain calm and try to restrict movement.
  • Remove any tight clothing or jewelry before swelling begins.
  • Position the bite below the level of your heart, if possible.
  • Clean the wound and cover with dry dressing.

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