How to Tell If a Snake Is Venomous? 9 Things (2024) To Know

Did you know that more than 7,000 Americans each year get bitten by a venomous snake?

For landowners, this can be a worrisome issue.

Managing expansive property means you can sometimes come across various animals and not all of them are friendly.

In this blog, we’ll tell you how you’ll know if you’re encountering a venomous snake or a non-venomous snake.

1. How do you tell if a snake is venomous?

If you want to tell if a snake is venomous, there are a few ways to do so.

It involves memorizing some rules.

The first way to do it is by spotting the differences in snake appearance.

The next section (#2) goes into depth about how to do this.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels confident in their ability to do this, especially in the wild or in an emergency.

The second way to do it is by memorizing the four categories of venomous snakes in the U.S.

We’ll cover those in this section and go into additional detail throughout the article.

bulletCoral Snakes

Coral Snakes defy nearly all the “set” characteristics of venomous snakes.

They have slender heads, round eyes, and no sensing pits.

It’s essential that you understand the distinctions between Coral Snakes and non-venomous snakes to avoid a negative encounter with a snake in the wild.

See #3 for more information about Coral Snakes — we’ll go into additional detail there.


Copperheads are often a household name.

When people talk about scary, venomous snakes that they might find in their garden, it’s often a copperhead.

This is a medium snake that’s 3 to 4 feet in length with a stout, wide body, and broad head.

Copperheads can be light brown or tan with dark, irregular banding that often resembles triangles.

Copperheads are distinct from other similar snakes (like the Northern Water Snake) because of their distinctive neck.

If you’re out in the forest, keep an eye out for Copperheads.

Their pattern makes them nearly impossible to see against the forest floor where they live.

Additionally, they often freeze when approached.

The good news is that they are rarely fatal because of their mild venom.

Additionally, they’re unique because their first strike is often venomless.

That said, you shouldn’t stick around because the second strike won’t be pleasant.


Cottonmouth Snakes are often called the Water Moccasin.

They’re the cousin of the Copperhead.

They’re also medium-sized and 4 to 5 feet in length with a stocky frame that tapers off quickly at the tail.

You’ll find Cottonmouths that are dark brown or light black.

Sometimes, they’ll have light banding on their sides as well.

When you encounter a true Cottonmouth, it’ll open its mouth, and if it’s in water, it’ll hold its head up while its body floats on the water.


This is a really broad category with 32 species of rattlesnakes and 83 subspecies.

If you’re wondering if you’re looking at a rattlesnake, the best way to tell is by looking at the tail.

The rattle is a dead giveaway.

Pygmy rattlesnakes are a bit of an exception with small yellow rattles on their tails.

Baby rattlesnakes are in a similar boat — they haven’t shed their first layer of skin yet.

So, instead of an individual rattle, they have a button.

2. What is the most common type of venomous snake in the U.S.?

The most common type of venomous snake in the U.S. is the pit viper.

It’s named because of the sensitive “pit organs” between each eye and nostril.

This allows the snake to sense and strike warm-blooded pretty.

Here are all the ways you can tell if you’re looking at a pit viper.

bulletA fat  head

Because venomous snakes must carry around venom sacks, they have fatter heads.

While some non-venomous snakes can have a head that’s naturally tapered in appearance, it’s still best to keep your distance so you don’t accidentally mistake one for the other.

Another way to distinguish pit vipers specifically is a narrowing of the neck just before the head.

bulletDivot between the eyes

This divot is a “sensing pit.”

But don’t get closer to try and make this divot out.

Remember that a coiled snake can strike up to two-thirds of its body length.

bulletSlitted eyes

Venomous snakes like the pit viper have slitted, elliptical eyes like cats.

Non-venomous snakes have round, teddy bear eyes for comparison.


Not all pit vipers will have this characteristic, but it is important to recognize it.

If the pit viper’s tail is ratting, then it’s a venomous snake.

In general, shaking the tail is a common defense mechanism for snakes.

The rattling sound comes from where the tail is shaking.

If the snakes are around dry leaves/grass, they may make a rattling sound.

But don’t worry about distinguishing the rattling sound.

You’ll know the low, raspy tone when you hear it.

3. Do all venomous snakes follow the criteria above?

About 90 percent of snakes have the features named above.

Using these rules will help you with nearly all encounters.

However, for the remaining 10 percent, you’ll need to account for the exceptions.

The major exception to the rule is the coral snake which is found in areas like Arizona or near the Gulf of Mexico.

Coral Snakes have the following characteristics:

  1. Slender heads
  2. Round eyes
  3. No sensing pits

As a result, they are often confused with non-venomous snakes like the Scarlet King Snakes and Milk Snakes.

This is where the rhyme “Red against yellow: kill a fellow. Red against black: safe for Jack” comes in handy.

The Coral Snake has red touching yellow which means it’s venomous.

The Scarlet King Snake, on the other hand, has red touching black with yellow in the middle.

This show that it’s harmless.

A black nose also denotes the Coral Snake, so you can keep an eye out for that as well.

4. How do you prevent venomous snake bites?

The easiest way to prevent venomous snake bites is to be cautious and aware.

If you see a snake in nature, back away from it slowly and do not touch it.

You don’t need to get closer to see if it’s venomous or non-venomous.

At this point, it doesn’t matter; you should treat any snake you encounter as potentially dangerous.

Another issue that people run into in nature when it comes to snakes is those in water.

Many snakes will swim to get to higher ground, and people aren’t aware of this.

Additionally, some snakes will hide under debris or other objects.

If you find a snake in your home, you should back away slowly and immediately call an animal control agency in your county.

If you’re heading out into nature and you’re especially wary of snake bites, you can reduce your odds of being bitten with the following…

  1. Wear long pants and proper footgear when hiking
  2. Be cautious when climbing rocks
  3. Stay out of tall grass
  4. Keep dogs on their leash
  5. Teach children to leave snakes alone
  6. Avoid placing hands or feet into a crevasse or hole
  7. Be aware before grabbing a stick or branch

5. What are the signs and symptoms of snake bites?

Most people will know if they’ve been bitten by a snake.

However, if you’re walking or swimming in high water, you may just feel the bite.

You may not know what you were bitten by.

You could also just think it’s a scratch.

Here are the signs and symptoms of a snake bite, although the exact symptoms will ultimately depend on the type of snake.

  1. A pair of puncture marks at the wound
  2. Redness and swelling around the bite
  3. Severe pain at the site of the bite
  4. Nausea and vomiting
  5. Labored breathing or breathing stopping altogether
  6. Disturbed vision
  7. Increased salivation and sweating
  8. Numbness or tingling around your face and/or limbs

6. What do you do if you’ve been bitten by a snake?

If you or someone you know is bitten by a non-venomous or venomous snake, the actions remain the same.

Here’s what you should do:

bulletLook for the snake – you should remember the size, color, and shape of the snake.

If possible, take a picture (without getting too close).

This can help with the treatment of the snake bite.

bulletKeep the bitten person still and calm as this can slow the spread of venom if it’s a venomous snake bite.

bulletSeek medical attention as soon as possible by dialing 911 or your local EMS as well as your local Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

bulletIf you’re not able to get the person to the hospital right away, follow these steps:

    1. Lay or sit the person down so the bite is below the level of the heart
    2. Tell the person to stay calm and still
    3. Wash the wound with warm soapy water immediately
    4. Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing

Even if the snake isn’t venomous, you should receive medical care sooner rather than later.

7. What should you NOT do if you’ve been bitten by a snake?

The actions you take immediately after a snake bite are vital.

There are also things you shouldn’t do.

Here’s what you should keep in mind.

  1. Don’t pick up the snake or try to trap it
  2. Don’t apply a tourniquet
  3. Don’t slash the wound with a knife
  4. Don’t suck out the venom
  5. Don’t apply ice or immerse the wound in water
  6. Don’t drink alcohol as a painkiller
  7. Don’t drink caffeinated beverages

8. How do you keep venomous snakes off your property?

If you’ve had to deal with snake removal one too many times (especially venomous snakes), you’re probably wondering how you can keep them off your property altogether.

Here are some simple ways that you can solve this issue.

bulletRemove sources of prey

Snakes love frogs, birds, rodents, insects, and even fish.

If you have these animals on your property, then you should consider getting rid of them as well.

This can help resolve your snake problem.

bulletSpray snakes with a hose

Drench the snake from a distance with a hose.

Getting it wet will encourage it to move along without harming it.

Just note that this is only a temporary solution, and the snake will continue to return if there are appealing elements in your yard or garden.

bulletTrap snakes

If you’re certain a snake is non-venomous, you can trap the snake so that it can be captured and removed by a pest removal service.

We recommend using an overturned garbage can for this task.

bulletGet rid of standing water

Standing water sources attract snacks.

Get rid of or cover your rain barrels, bird baths, and ponds to prevent snacks from returning once removed.

bulletFill burrows

Fill in any burrows on your property like old gopher holes.

If they keep popping up on your property, then you should eradicate gophers, moles, and voles.

bulletRemove shelter

If snakes have an easy place to shelter, then they can continue to come back.

Shelters can include coiled hoses, firewood piles, tall grass, dense brush, or other areas under sheds and outbuildings.

We also recommend keeping grass cut to 1 inch or shorter to ensure all snake-proof fencing is flush with the ground, angled outward, made of steel mesh or plastic sheeting, and at least 3 feet high and 4 feet deep.

Good snake-repellent plants include marigolds and wormwood.

These are good to plant in your yard if you want to get rid of snakes.

bulletUse smoke

Snakes are especially sensitive to smells like smoke.

If you dig a fire pit and allow it to smoke for several days, then this can be an effective way to get rid of snakes on your property.

bulletConsider natural predators

Think about the snake’s natural predators and which you can introduce on your land.

These predators include cats, foxes, raccoons, turkeys, pigs, and guinea hens.

A natural snake repellent is store-bought fox urine.

bulletUse natural repellents

Many natural repellents help get rid of snakes without bothering you.

You can pour sulfur, clove, cinnamon oil, vinegar, and others around the perimeter of your property or any spot you’ve noticed snake activity.

bulletCall a wildlife control company

If you’re not confident in your ability to get rid of snakes on your property, don’t hesitate to call a professional.

They can help you take care of this problem without endangering yourself or your family.

Final Thoughts

If you’re still not convinced you can pick out a venomous snake from a non-venomous snake, here’s an easy trick for you…treat them all as venomous!

This makes it easy, and you’ll never have to worry about messing up.

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.


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